High five: Manchester International Festival shines in the spotlight

High five: Manchester International Festival shines in the spotlight

The air is sweet and the sun is beating down on the Whitworth Art Gallery, Britain’s newly crowned Museum of the Year. It takes some reminding that we’re in Manchester – the only place to be this week if you are turned on by immersive contemporary art and theatre. And if you’re reading this, it stands to reason you are.

The fifth Manchester International Festival launched last week with Tree of Codes, the new ballet choreographed by Wayne McGregor, with art direction by Olafur Eliasson, music by current radio-house darling Jamie xx and text by Jonathan Safran Foer. 

The ballet’s sold out run ended on 10 July, but visitors can still experience a dozen other events around town – not least two free art exhibitions of note at sister galleries the Whitworth and Manchester Art Gallery. At the former, outgoing festival director Alex Poots has, in collaboration with curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist, connected Gerhard Richter and Arvo Pärt for a small one-room show that will see painter and composer present overlapping works inspired by the other.

On three walls are Richter’s enamelled glass Double Grey diptychs. Facing them is Birkenau, four large-scale photographs of abstract paintings, themselves based on photographs taken by a concentration camp prisoner in 1944. These were were spurred on by the first-ever meeting of the artist and composer in Dresden in 2013.

Meanwhile, Pärt has composed a new, angelic choral work called Drei Hirtenkinder aus Fátima, with lyrics borrowed from Psalm 8: ‘Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast Thou ordained strength.’ Throughout the festival, the Estonian choir Vox Clamantis appears at 15-minute intervals to sing the piece. Scattered randomly about the room in plain clothes, the singers are at once players and works of art. (And therapists, if the number of tears shed are anything to go by.)

Over at the Manchester Art Gallery, multimedia artist Ed Atkins has commandeered three rooms for his digital work-in-progress Performance Capture. Atkins has recruited 120-odd festival employees – from dancers to ticket collectors to technicians – to read from his self-penned script of the same name; only, they do so before a camera wearing body sensors and motion-capture gloves, the first time Atkins has incorporated the public into his practice.

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