Artists and footballers warm up for the Manchester International Festival

A group exhibition of 11 pairs of footballers and visual artists, an exhibition of Yayoi Kusama inflatables and a new work by pioneering Japanese experimental composer Ryuichi Sakamoto will take center stage at this year’s Manchester International Festival, which runs from June 29 to 16. July.

Artistic director John McGrath said this year’s festival, which will also feature a city-wide artistic Easter egg hunt by artist Ryan Gander, a three-day residency from Janelle Monáe and the world premiere of Kimber Lee’s acclaimed nameless f*ck m*ss s**gon play, would “again take the temperature of our times and imagine possibilities for the future.

“The festival will expand its reach throughout the city: finding unexpected venues to showcase his work, and working with local artists and residents to perform and participate. MIF23 will be a true celebration of the city and its cultural offerings.”

This year’s festival marks the first time for the public to enter Factory International, the 13,000-square-foot arts center that has been under construction in the city since 2019. The Kusama exhibition, titled You, Me and the Balloons, will be the first major display in space designed by Dutch architect Ellen van Loon. Sarah Maxfield, Arts Council England area director for the north, said: “As well as welcoming its internationally renowned festival, the city is also showcasing work in the Factory International venue and new public spaces for the first time. This is a huge moment for both Manchester and the wider northern cultural scene.”

The home cinema room will host the world premiere of an adaptation of Larry Mitchell and Ned Asta’s seminal queer fable The Fagots and Their Friends Between Revolutions, directed by Ted Huffman, as well as the UK premiere of All right. Welterusten., a performance about the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 by the German theater group Rimini Protokoll.

Lee’s play, which won the 2019 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting International Award, takes place at the Royal Exchange Theatre, directed by Roy Alexander Weise. The production “jumps through time – twisting into and then exploding lifetimes of repetitive Asian stereotypes”. The play’s run will notably overlap with a controversial revival of Miss Saigon at the Sheffield Crucible.

At the recently reopened New Century Hall in Manchester, London record label Young will host a series of club nights with Israeli dance company LEV entitled ROSE, featuring music by Ben UFO. The music program also includes opening weekend performances from Janelle Monáe, Alison Goldfrapp performing her new solo material, and a set of Patsy Cline covers by John Grant and the Richard Hawley band.

Celebrated Beninese singer Angélique Kidjo returns to Manchester for the first time in 10 years with a performance featuring local musicians, while electronic musician Afrodeutsche will collaborate with chamber orchestra Manchester Camerata.

Japanese musician, composer, producer, pianist, activist, writer, actor and dancer Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Japanese musician, composer, producer, pianist, activist, writer, actor and dancer Ryuichi Sakamoto. Photo: Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images

A highlight in the festival’s visual arts program is The Trequartista – Art and Football United. Curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and footballer Juan Mata, the collaboration will see 11 contemporary artists and 11 footballers create new work inspired by the specialized and increasingly rare role of the trequartista – a player who operates between midfielders and strikers. Works produced at The Trequartista will be presented in a group exhibition at MIF 2025, with the project’s first work, by Mata and German artist Tino Sehgal, on display at this year’s festival.

Sakamoto’s new work, a collaboration with mixed reality content production studio Tin Drum, is titled Kagami. The public will wear “optically transparent devices” to watch a virtual Sakamoto play piano pieces at Versa Manchester Studios. Sakamoto made his rectal cancer diagnosis public in January 2021, saying that “I will live alongside cancer from now on. But I hope to continue making music for a while.”

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