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Manchester International Festival 2021

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Press Release


Manchester International Festival (MIF), the world’s first festival of original, new work and special events, today unveils its 2021 programme, which will take place across 18 days (1-18 July 2021).  Events will take place safely in indoor and outdoor locations across Greater Manchester, and a rich online offer will provide a window into the Festival wherever audiences are, including livestreams and work created especially for the digital realm.


With almost all the work created in the past year, MIF21 provides a unique snapshot of these unprecedented times. Artists have reflected on ideas such as love and human connections, the way we play, division and togetherness, equality and social change, and the relationship between the urban and the rural. As one of the first major public events in the city, MIF21 will play a key role in the safe reopening of the city’s economy and provide employment for hundreds of freelancers and artists

Tickets will be on sale on from 20 May 2021 and can be purchased from mif.co.uk.


  • Choreographer Boris Charmatz invites audiences to join an extraordinary new dance piece on the opening night of MIF21 - Sea Change - a huge human flipbook sprung to life on the streets of Manchester
  • Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner, Jon Hopkins, Aoife McArdle, Cillian Murphy, Max Porter present All of This Unreal Time, a unique cross artform collaboration which candidly explores one man’s failings. 
  • Manchester Camerata, Dobrinka Tabakova and Hugo Ticciati present the World Premiere of The Patience of Trees, an intimate, site specific concert inspired by the healing potential and power of the natural world.
  • Notes on Grief, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s powerful reflection on family, love and loss journeys from page to stage in Rae McKen’s new production.
  • Following the sell-out success of The Welcoming Party at MIF17, Theatre-Rites returns with The Global Playground - an uplifting new show mixing dance, music, theatre and puppetry for children and family audiences.  
  • Postcards from Now presents five films from leading international artists including Akram Khan & Naaman Azhari, Lola Arias, Lucinda Childs & (LA)HORDE, Ibrahim Mahama and Angélique Kidjo. Commissioned and created at the height of the global lockdown, they consider what happens next?
  • Deborah Warner presents Arcadia - the immense open spaces of the Factory site will be transformed for one weekend only in a new sound and light installation by the theatre and opera director.


Manchester International Festival Artistic Director & Chief Executive, John McGrath said: “MIF has always been a Festival like no other – with almost all the work being created especially for us in the months and years leading up to each Festival edition.  But who would have guessed two years ago what a changed world the artists making work for our 2021 Festival would be working in?”


“I am thrilled to be revealing the projects that we will be presenting from 1-18 July this year – a truly international programme of work made in the heat of the past year and a vibrant response to our times. Created with safety and wellbeing at the heart of everything, it is flexible to ever-changing circumstances, and boldly explores both real and digital space.


“We hope MIF21 will provide a time and place to reflect on our world now, to celebrate the differing ways we can be together, and to emphasise, despite all that has happened, the importance of our creative connections – locally and globally.”


For the full festival programme, please visit mif.co.uk


Sea Change

Join Manchester International Festival on the opening night of MIF21 for an extraordinary new dance piece – a huge human flipbook sprung to life on the streets of Manchester.


On Thursday 1 July 2021, MIF21’s opening night, French choreographer Boris Charmatz (10000 Gesutres MIF19) presents a daring new dance work designed for Deansgate and featuring more than 150 Greater Manchester residents among the cast. Sea Change is a huge human jigsaw, and it’s down to the audience to put together the pieces and complete the picture.


Sea Change will fill Deansgate with a chain of professional and non-professional dancers, each performing and repeating a section of the choreography on the spot. Rather than the work moving on in front of audiences, it will be up to them to ‘move on’ the work: walking or even running past waves of dancers to animate the action into their very own living flipbook.

Created especially for the Festival, Sea Change is a unique and captivating response to the pandemic – a joyous celebration of togetherness in a post-lockdown world, and the warmest welcome back to the city and the Festival.


Boris Charmatz said:  “I was invited to design an event that is both a large festive gathering and a work of art. So Sea Change works on two levels, viewers will have both the perception of a single organism, one single continuous movement made by the many, as well as each participant singularly embodying the piece”


Commissioned by Manchester International Festival. Produced by Manchester International Festival and [terrain].


All of This Unreal Time 

Six critically acclaimed artists have come together in a new collaborative partnership to present the world premiere of All of This Unreal Time, a unique cross artform collaboration which candidly explores one man’s failings. 

‘I came out here to apologise. You know. I find myself, at the midpoint of my life, in a dark wood, and now I’m here, in the forest of my mind, and every tree is shame, every living thing is a reprimand, and I realise, I must speak freely now, before I lose you.’ 

A man – any man, everyman – walks alone through night and the city. From subway to pavement to wide open marshland, he confesses his failings: emotional, physical, political. To whom, and for what? Ashamed and alarmed, he considers both the smallness of human life and the scale of the world, and ultimately our most pressing obligation: to care for those alongside us, and for the earth that sustains us.


A film starring Cillian Murphy, written by Max Porter, directed by Aoife McArdle and with music by Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner and Jon Hopkins, All of This Unreal Time will be presented as an immersive installation in surround sound.


Aoife McArdle said: “It was easy to be inspired by the range and power Cillian has as an actor and the poetry of Max’s words. Rainy, empty, lockdown streets became vivid canvases. Working with all of these artists has been one of the purest collaborative journeys I’ve been on.” 


Cillian Murphy said: "I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to make this work during turmoil and sadness of 2020. It has been a great journey of collaboration working with these uniquely talented artists to bring Max Porter’s beautiful words to life.”


Max Porter said: "It's been a joy creating this piece with these people whose work I admire so much. What started as a conversation with Cillian has become this living breathing hybrid of film and music, language and light. We had no idea the world would look this way when we set out to make this piece, but we did know we wanted to make a work about being humbled, scared, ashamed and amazed. So we hope it works well for these times, and keeps moving and changing as the viewer brings their own feelings and thoughts to it."


Creative Team

Max Porter - Writer

Cillian Murphy - Actor

Aoife McArdle - Film Director

Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner & Jon Hopkins - Composers

Mary Hickson - Creative Producer

Michael Brown - Production Designer


Commissioned and produced by Manchester International Festival. 


The Patience of Trees

Two world premieres will be staged as part of a site specific concert.


A new work by composer Dobrinka Tabakova is at the heart of this intimate concert inspired by the healing potential and power of the natural world - performed live with Manchester Camerata, one of the UK’s most exciting and versatile orchestras.  


A whisper of melody, played by a lone violin, gradually grows and shapes into the stirring sweep of a full string section – echoing, perhaps, the resolute journey of a seed from the Earth towards the Heavens. This is The Patience of Trees, a new concerto for violin, strings and percussion by acclaimed composer Dobrinka Tabakova. 


Devised by Hugo Ticciati, designed by Amanda Stoodley, with lighting design by Andy Purves and performed with Manchester Camerata, the programme also features Tabakova’s reflective Frozen River Flows, Steve Reich’s pulsing New York Counterpoint – and a brand-new commission for strings by the winner of the O/Modernt Composition Award, to be announced in May.  Together, the works combine into a timely meditation on nature and the city – and a reflection of sorts on our welcome emergence from our last year.


Dobrinka Tabakova said: “The concept for this new work began when Hugo Ticciati first approached me to write a concerto for him, while we were both artists in residence at the Davos Summer Festival in 2018. I began sketching more intensely, just as the pandemic forced global lock downs. I was reading Max Adams’ 'The Wisdom of Trees' and Peter Wohlleben’s 'The Hidden Life of Trees' as well as poetry which complemented the strong desire to connect even more deeply with nature, as we were isolated from each other.


Hugo Ticciati said: “The moment I heard the music of Dobrinka Tabakova I was drawn by its contemplative immediacy. Her music’s elemental nature perfectly evokes the journey of a solitary tree as it looks within to discover that it is in fact connected to everything - a beautiful metaphor of our own journey of searching.


Bob Riley Chief Executive, Manchester Camerata said: "Our long relationship and collaboration with MIF is something we are really proud of. Together, we get the opportunity to re-imagine, dream big, and conjure new ways of experiencing music, and most importantly to have such a great platform on which to welcome back our audiences and invite in new ones to a live concert in our home town. This time we have the great privilege of premiering a new piece written by Dobrinka. The orchestra love her music and style and we can’t wait to play this new piece, which is all the more special because it is with our great friend and the mercurial spirit which is Hugo Ticciati." 


The winner of the O/Modernt Composition Award 2021 will be announced on Tuesday 3 May. The jury for this year’s award is: Tobias Broström, Jill Jarman, Fabián Panisello Matthew Peterson, Caroline Pether Morten Ryelund, Albert Schnelzer Dobrinka Tabakova and Mark Tatlow.


Creative Team
Curator / Composer: Dobrinka Tabakova
Violin: Hugo Ticciati
Orchestra: Manchester Camerata
Designer: Amanda Stoodley
Lighting Designer: Andy Purves

The Patience of Trees is commissioned by Manchester International Festival, O/Modernt, Orquestra de Câmara de Cascais e Oeiras and Musik i Dalarna. Produced by Manchester International Festival

Competition winners supported by O/Modernt and Manchester International Festival


Notes on Grief

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s powerful reflection on family, love and loss journeys from page to stage in Rae McKen’s new production.

I last saw my father in person on March 5th, just before the coronavirus changed the world.

On Wednesday 10 June 2020, the scholar James Nwoye Adichie died in Nigeria. Three months later, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the acclaimed author of Half a Yellow Sun and Americanah, published a beautiful tribute to the father she loved ‘so much, so fiercely, so tenderly’, a poignant meditation on the meaning, impact and nature of grief, in the New Yorker. Out of that essay grew a book, which will be published in May 2021.  


Director Rae McKen takes Adichie’s words and transfers them to the stage in this new production: a space for those who have experienced loss to gather and reflect, and a powerful and timely MIF21 world premiere.


Commissioned and produced by Manchester International Festival.


The Global Playground


A group of dancers meet to make a film – but things get wonderfully weird when the camera takes on a life of its own… 


Following the sell-out success of The Welcoming Party at MIF17, Theatre-Rites returns to the Festival with a team of international collaborators – and an uplifting new show mixing dance, music, theatre and puppetry for children and family audiences.  


We can now connect with anyone, in person and on screen – but is the camera our friend, our playmate or something else entirely?  Partly inspired by our year under lockdown, The Global Playground explores the magic of our first encounters, how we play together, how we connect and sometimes disconnect – and ultimately how we make the most of the time we spend together, however we spend it. This joyful show invites us to celebrate both the people we are and the people we cherish, and reminds us all to treat one another with kindness and care. 


Sue Buckmaster, Artistic Director of Theatre-Rites said: “This has been an unexpected journey of collaboration with an extraordinary talented group of artists and a unique set of challenges. As we embarked on our creative discoveries last year, I questioned whether the artistic process would be robust enough to survive a digital playground. But, of course, the joy is that artists, just like children, can collaborate, adapt and play under exceptional circumstances. Children are at the heart of everything Theatre-Rites does and now more than ever we have a responsibility to inspire and care for them. I am delighted that The Global Playground marks our return to Manchester International Festival and allows us to celebrate our 25th Birthday with our young audience wherever they are and however they are connecting.


The Global Playground will be directed by Theatre-Rites’ Artistic Director, Sue Buckmaster  (The Welcoming Party MIF 17; Chotto Desh, Akram Khan Company). Designing the production is  Ingrid Hu (A Slightly Annoying Elephant, Little Angel Theatre;  Curiouser, made by Flexer & Sandiland with dybwikdanss UK tour) who will be joined by acclaimed South African choreographer Gregory Maqoma (Tree MIF 19, Vuyani Dance Theatre), composer Ayanna Witter-Johnson (London Symphony Orchestra; The Hip-Hop Shakespeare  Company), sound designer Nick Sagar (Palace of Light, Noor Festival; Horrible  Histories ‘Tudors & Egyptians’, UK tour), lighting designer Guy Hoare (Sea Wall/A  Life, Broadway) and Martin Riley (The Great  Staycation – Dot’s Farm, BBC One; Emmeline Pankhurst: The Making of a Militant, BBC One) who will manage the digital film and production. 


Casting for the production will be announced soon.


The Global Playground is co-produced by Manchester International Festival and Theatre-Rites. 


Postcards from Now


The global COVID-19 pandemic is changing our world in countless ways: some already visible, others as yet unknown. It has shattered much of what we knew and understood about our lives. But could this tragedy also be an opportunity – a moment for us to reimagine, reshape and rebuild society to be fairer, brighter, better?


Postcards from Now presents five distinct perspectives from leading international artists of every stripe – choreographers, musicians, visual artists, theatre-makers, animators and more. Commissioned and created at the height of the global lockdown, these five films explore everything from community to communication, patriarchy to power. And in very different ways, they consider the question that we’ve all been asking ourselves and others: what happens next?


Breathless Puppets

Akram Khan & Naaman Azhari

Forced apart in childhood by the expectations of their cultures and the disapproval of their fathers, two men with a passion for dance reconnect through the tragedy of the pandemic. Choreographed by Akram Khan and directed by Naaman Azhari, this powerful short film uses rotoscope animation, created by hand-drawing over live action footage.


Akram Khan said: "The project is a response to Covid 19....it is about 2 men who are friends. Their history and how that affects their future..... it reflects life: Life is never clear, you recognise some parts of life, you think you are in control of some parts of life and really, you are not."


Naaman Azhari said: “It's been a real honour and privilege to be collaborating with Akram Khan and MIF on this project. Working with Akram has opened my eyes to the world of dance and its power in storytelling. He is an incredibly generous artist and I couldn't be luckier to have worked with him on this piece. This would not have been possible without MIF, who have given consistent support and the freedom and flexibility that any artist would wish for.


I’m Not Dead (working title)

Lola Arias

The pandemic has excluded elderly people from social and political life, exposing their carers to more stressful and precarious working conditions than ever before. Everybody speaks in the names of those who are older as they are in the care of others – but who is really taking care of whom? In Lola Arias’s film, the daily routine of one elderly person and their carer becomes an unexpected act of love and resistance.


Building momentum under lockdown - Lucinda Childs meets (LA)HORDE

Lucinda Childs & (LA)HORDE

When travel restrictions forced Lucinda Childs to postpone a project with the Ballet national de Marseille, the American choreographer began meeting the Ballet’s Artistic Directors – LA(HORDE) – via Zoom. Intimate, playful and relatable, this short film chronicles their ongoing digital collaboration, and explores how the distances enforced by the pandemic raise unexpected possibilities for creative interaction.


Love Campus ABCD (2019-2021)

Ibrahim Mahama

The Savannah Centre for Contemporary Art and Red Clay Studios, established by Ghanaian visual artist Ibrahim Mahama (Parliament of Ghosts, MIF19) in his hometown of Tamale, run a series of experimental programmes designed to educate, stimulate and encourage young people from communities with high levels of poverty and low levels of education. This film tells their story.


Ibrahim Mahama said: Love Campus takes on the promises of technology as a starting point through establishing relationships between old airplanes and modern drones. These relationships manifest themselves through a series of workshops within the cockpit and fuselage of airplanes transported across the country in Ghana to a rural settling for renewed social and ideological reconditioning. What happens when two technologies from different timelines occupy the same space? Is there a possibility of a singularity and what promises or potentials does it have for another generation? The birth of new imaginations promises another era of rethinking life on all levels beyond the human experience.


Angélique Kidjo

Benin is rooted in a patriarchal culture, with households headed by men yet run by women. But in moments of crisis, whether in private homes or wider communities, it’s women who come to the fore – as musician and activist Angélique Kidjo demonstrates in this potent portrait of her home country and the women who inhabit it.


During her last trip to Benin, pre-COVID, Kidjo was accompanied by a professional videographer who recorded hundreds of hours of footage, interviewing and documenting the lives of women and girls around the country. Traditionally Benin is a patriarchal culture where households are headed by men but run by women; in moments of crisis, it is the women who come to the fore, utilizing their domestic skills for the sake of the community. This was epitomised early in the pandemic when a cottage industry of mask-making was swiftly developed by women needing new ways to feed their families. 


Working with a black female film editor to shape her existing footage, Kidjo aims to give these women their stories back, put their voices front and centre and show the real women of Benin. The resulting film will be an artistic piece showcasing Kidjo’s talent as a political artist.


Series commissioned by Manchester International Festival, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Théâtre du Châtelet and Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay. Breathless Puppets is also commissioned by Sadler’s Wells.

Series produced by Manchester International Festival. I’m Not Dead (working title) is also produced with the collaboration of Staatstheater Hannover and Galerie im Turm. 




The immense open spaces of the Factory site will be transformed for one weekend only in a new sound and light installation by theatre and opera director Deborah Warner. Inspired in-part by a painting of Manchester by William Wyld, Arcadia will see a field of luminous tents, emitting an original sound composition that weaves together some of the greatest nature poetry ever written by poets including Sappho, John Clare, WB Yeats, G. E. Patterson, Seamus Heaney, Jackie Kay, Simon Armitage, Alice Oswald and Sabrina Mahfouz, among many others. There will also be recorded contributions from leading actors and musicians including Jonathan Pryce, Jane Horrocks, RoxXxan, Brian Cox, Simon Russell Beale, Lioness and David Thewlis.


Bringing the natural world into the heart of the city, Arcadia is designed as a space for thought and reflection, inviting the audience to connect with nature and consider the relationship between the urban and the rural. 


Creative Team

Conceived & Created by Deborah Warner

Composer & Sound Designer Mel Mercier

Designer Justin Nardella

Lighting Designer Mike Gunning


Commissioned by Manchester International Festival and Stanford Live at Stanford University. Produced by Manchester International Festival.





Tickets will be on sale on from Thurs 20 May 2021 and can be purchased from mif.co.uk.

Sea Change
Thursday 1 July 2021, 5 - 8pm - timed ticketed entry 


All Of This Unreal Time
Venue and timings to be announced
Friday 2 - Sunday 4 July


The Patience of Trees
Venue and timings to be announced
Friday 16 July


Notes on Grief
Manchester Central (Auditorium)

Timings to be announced

The Global Playground
Unit 5, Great Northern Warehouse, 235 Deansgate, Manchester M3 4EN 

Friday 2 July – Sunday 18 July 2021
Performance times: Thursday – Friday, 7pm; Saturday – Sunday, 11am and 3pm . There will be an additional performance on Wednesday 14th July at 7pm . This production will also be presented digitally full details to be announced.
£12 adults/ £6 children
Running Time: 75 minutes 


Postcards from Now
Details to be announced


The Factory
Saturday 10 -  Sunday 11 July 

Free but ticketed




About Manchester International Festival

Manchester International Festival (MIF) is an artist-led festival of original, new work and special events reflecting the spectrum of performing arts, visual arts and popular culture. MIF21 takes place from 1 - 18 July 2021.


Staged every two years in Manchester, MIF has commissioned, produced and presented world premieres by artists including Marina Abramović, Damon Albarn, Laurie Anderson, Björk, Boris Charmatz, Jeremy Deller, Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-Armah, Elbow, Philip Glass and Phelim McDermott, David Lynch, Wayne McGregor, Steve McQueen, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Yoko Ono, Thomas Ostermeier, Maxine Peake, Punchdrunk, Skepta, The xx, Robert Wilson and Zaha Hadid Architects.


These and other world-renowned artists from different art forms and backgrounds create dynamic, innovative and forward-thinking new work, staged in venues across Greater Manchester – from theatres, galleries and concert halls to railway depots, churches and car parks. MIF works closely with venues, festivals and other cultural organisations globally, whose financial and creative input helps to make many of these projects possible and ensures that work made at MIF goes on to be seen around the world.


MIF supports a year-round Creative Engagement programme, bringing opportunities for people from all backgrounds, ages and from all corners of the city to get involved during the Festival and year-round, as volunteers, as participants in shows, through skills development and a host of creative activities, such as Festival in My House.


MIF will also run The Factory, the new landmark cultural space currently being built in the heart of Manchester and designed by the internationally-renowned architect Ellen van Loon of Rem Koolhaas’ OMA. The Factory will commission, present and produce one of Europe’s most ambitious and adventurous year-round creative programmes, featuring bold new work from the world’s greatest artists and offering a space to create, invent and play. 


Attracting up to 850,000 visitors annually, The Factory will add up to £1.1 billion to the economy over a decade and create up to 1,500 direct and indirect jobs. Its pioneering programme of skills, training and engagement will benefit local people and the next generation of creative talent from across the city, whilst apprenticeships and trainee schemes are already underway during the construction phase.


MIF’s Artistic Director and Chief Executive is John McGrath.



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