Northern star: performance art shines at Manchester International Festival

Northern star: performance art shines at Manchester International Festival

The Manchester International Festival has been tempting Londoners north of the Watford gap for more than a decade with its programme of cross-disciplinary events.

Of this year’s eclectic catalogue, the live performances are the hot tickets in town. One of the more sought-after stubs was last week’s minimalist revival of the ballet ’Available Light’ at the Palace Theatre, with sets by Frank Gehry, music by John Adams and choreography by Lucinda Childs. It marked 35 years since the ballet’s original, groundbreaking performance in the nascent Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, still under construction.

’This is the kind of cross-cultural collaboration for which MIF has become wildely renowned,’ says John McGrath, the festival’s artistic director and CEO. ’Three artists from very different fields – in this case classical music, contemporary dance and architecture – come together to make a work that none of them could have envisaged, let alone created, without the other.’

New Order and Liam Gillick at the Old Granada Studios

It’s easy to see how the maverick trio might have fought against one another unproductively, as big personalities often do – after all, they’d never met before this collaboration. But they waltz. Gehry’s split-level set, backed by a chain-link screen downstage, acts as an industrial, multi-platform backdrop for the choreography, which is similarly elemental. Childs’ dancers hypnotically re-enact the same restrained sequences, in chorus and rondo, with impeccable synchronicity. Likewise, Adams’ pure, reverberating synths speak to the clinical severity of the architecture and choreography.

The score recalls the city’s great traditions in popular synthetic music. And it’s not been the only one. Over two weeks, visual artist Liam Gillck has joined forces with Factory Records stalwarts New Order on a series of spectacles in the Old Granada Studios. ’New Order have had an enormous influence on the way I make art,’ says Gillick, who contructed an immersive, ’responsive’ stage on which the band perform an avant-garde set, refusing to resurrect their classics. ’Their music continues to create new levels of intensity and control based on a constant testing of fundamental structures.’

To balance the big-ticket evening events, daytime treats are dragging festival-goers out of synthesised hangovers. ’True Faith’, a monumental exhibition on the visual legacy of Joy Division and New Order at Manchester Art Gallery, centres on four decades of contemporary work from artists inspired by the two bands. It’s an impressive list, including Gillick, Jeremy Deller, Mark Leckey, John Baldessari, Barbara Kruger and Raf Simons.

As always, it’s a (Northern) star-studded scene. And Wallpaper* is making its own appearance. At the soon-to-be-developed London Road Fire Station, we have launched our own project: bespoke interior design service, Wallpaper* Composed. Find out more in our October issue, on sale 7 September.

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