Friday, October 02, 2015

What's being served up at this year's Belfast Festival? (9 Oct - 1 Nov) #BelFest

When the Belfast Festival lost support from the local Russell Group university earlier this year, the organisers could have walked away with an enormous chip on their shoulders. Instead indefatigable festival director Richard Wakely has embraced the opportunity to make a fresh start and produced a programme of events for 2015 that is even larger and more alluring than last year.

Renamed the Ulster Bank Belfast International Arts Festival, over 24 days between 9 October and 1 November, 134 events from 23 countries will take place in 30 venues across the city. Around 30,000 places are available for free events during the festival, with an average ticket price of £12 for the paid performances.

Belfast has a thriving culture and arts scene, not to mention countless festivals. By now emphasising ‘international’ in the title it’s a bit more obvious what makes Belfast Festival distinctive from its sister organisations.
“Audiences here in Northern Ireland get to see work that they wouldn’t otherwise get to see elsewhere … so you don’t have to travel to Edinburgh, London, Paris, New York or Dublin to see the best of international arts. You can see it on your doorstep here in Belfast.”

With a week to go before the festival opens, what’s on offer? [full programme PDF]

On the evening of Sunday 18 October the front of the Belfast City Hall will come to life in The Animotion Show, a live collaboration between Russian visual artist Maria Rud, projection artist Ross Ashton and percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie. Audiences will watch virtual brushstrokes being painted on top of the Portland stone face of the civic building, as musician and artist engage in an artistic conversation. Free, but booking required.

The Kitchen takes fusion cooking to a new multi-sensory level, mashing together the sights, sounds, smells and even tastes of South Indian cuisine in a theatrical treat. With a huge set, a team of drummers, and a couple cooking in tandem with big enough pots to feed a crowd, this wordless drama serves up the traditional Indian dessert of payasam in the Grand Opera House, Wednesday 21 – Friday 22 October. Tickets £12–£24.

Chivalry is Dead sees two men decked out in full suits of armour – deprived of trusty steeds, damsels in distress and holy grails – question whether knightly valour is all it’s cracked up to be in today’s popular culture. Today’s society tries to rid itself of heavily patriarchal structures, yet the concepts of chivalry and chauvinism are dangerously intertwined. Performed by Alexander Deutinger and Alexander Gottfarb, it promises to be a quirky yet serious part of the festival’s dance programme in The MAC, Wednesday 14 – Thursday 15 October. Tickets £10–£12.

Nicholas McCarthy hypnotised the audience at the festival launch event in September with his mastery of the piano and rendition of familiar classical works. Uniquely for a concert pianist, he specialises in the ‘left hand alone’ repertoire (itself the result of First World War injuries). The one-handed pianist who performed at the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Paralympics is in First Presbyterian Church, Rosemary Street on Saturday 10 October. Tickets £12–£14. Nicholas is also giving a free talk and demonstration to young people at 11am.

Turandot’s most hummed tune is Nessun Dorma, made famous at the Italia 90 World Cup by Luciano Pavarotti and the BBC’s coverage. In an enormous co-production with the State Theatre of Nuremberg and Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse, Northern Ireland Opera are bringing Calixto Bieito’s English-language version of Puccini’s opera to the stage of the Grand Opera House to close the festival between Friday 30 October and Sunday 1 November. Staged in a slave labour factory under totalitarian rule, it questions modern day consumerism and the capitalism that feeds our demand for shiny technology at cheap prices. Over on Slugger O’Toole you can delve into some of the issues the shocking production hopes to raise. Tickets £18–£46.

Lyndee Prickitt reacted to the gang-rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student on a bus in New Delhi in December 2012 with outrage. She went on to create the multimedia narrative We Are Angry to blend together the written word, video recordings, vox pops and photos to “capture the real swell of anger” in the country and to give voice to the traditionally unheard victim in patriarchal India. The innovative 360 degree digital storyteller will be in conversation with Fionola Meredith in the Brian Friel Theatre on Friday 23 October. Tickets £6–£8. The film India’s Daughter is being screened in the QFT on Tuesday 20 October.

A free mad-cap double-bill of family fun in Belfast City Hall on Saturday 10 and Orangefield Park on Sunday 11 October with Waste (three Armenian brothers in concert with trashy musical instruments) and Le Poids de la Peau (tightrope artists Sébastien Le Guen maintaining his balance on gravity defying, rotating see saw). Free.

Who owns the news? Whose news is it? How do our own personal stories fit with today’s media priorities? Sister of Another Mama are artists in residence at the Belfast Telegraph. They’ll work with 11-14 year olds and the paper’s journalists to produce a supplement to accompany the daily paper one day during the festival. You can also drop into PSsquared between noon and 8pm on Saturday 24 October to explore some of the more performative aspects of their practise.

Other performances that jump out of the programme:

Having listed a play above that’s set in a huge kitchen, Mydidae is a play which shifts to the much more intimate setting of an ordinary household bathroom and the couple who use it over the course of a day. Facing up to each other, the state of their relationship and the long term effects of losing a child. Or as a reviewer of a different company’s production phrased it: “a ruddy great elephant has taken up residence in the extremely small bath”. (The play takes its name from the cosmopolitan family of scarily large flies.) Prime Cut Productions’ Irish premiere of Jack Thorne’s play is in the MAC, Tuesday 20 – Sunday 25 October. Tickets £12–£17.

Amnesty International’s annual festival lecture brings Gulwali Passarlay to the stage of the Crescent Arts Centre on Thursday 29 October. Aged twelve he fled Afghanistan and the conflict that claimed his Taliban father’s life. Smuggled into Iran, he eventually entered the UK in the back of a refrigerated lorry from Calais after a twelve-month odyssey across Europe that included prison, hunger and nearly drowning. Now twenty one Gulwali wants to positively change attitudes towards refugees … and one day run for President of Afghanistan. Tickets £4–£6.

Blending jazz and rhythm’n’blues, Georgie Fame plays the intimate 150 seat Black Box on Saturday 17 October for an evening to remember. £14 – £16. SOLD OUT

With an emphasis on Mexico and India throughout this year’s festival, the Queen’s Film Theatre is screening five Mexican films:
  • Güeros (Friday 23) – poetic and comedic film that pays homage to French New Wave with a Mexican twist as a misbehaving teenager is sent to live with his brother.
  • A Separate Wind (Monday 26) – sister and brother rite-of-passage road trip across Mexico in the wake of family illness
  • Poison for the Fairies (Tuesday 27) – gothic horror in which a school girl friendship is complicated by the confession that one is a witch.
  • María Candelaria (Wednesday 28) – 1944 Cannes-award winning melodrama detailing the intolerance of a prostitute’s daughter in pre-revolution Mexico.
  • The Obscure Spring (Thursday 29) – destructive lust between a couple working in a photocopier factory.

Originally from Derry, Darran Anderson’s book Imaginary Cities is “a work of creative nonfiction” and roams through cities made up by artists, writers, architects and lunatics to point out that we already inhabit real-world equivalents. Darran Anderson is in conversation with Mark Hackett in PLACE, Tuesday 27 October at 6pm. Tickets £3–£5.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Back in 2011 I gave away 48 free copies of Mark Haddon’s book as part of World Book Night. Adapted for the stage by Simon Stephens, this technically complex production takes advantage of a rich soundscape and projections to create sets that allow the audience to step inside 15 year old Christopher’s head, experiencing his world and at times the sensory overload, as he tries to resolve the mysterious death of his neighbour’s dog. Grand Opera House, Tuesday 13 – Saturday 17 October. Tickets £13–£32.50.

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