The opening night of “Free Your Mind” at Aviva Studios was nothing short of a dazzling spectacle.
It was hard on the walk home not to feel like the city is back at the cutting edge of culture in a big way.
But then again, we’ve always been up there.
Directed by the legendary Danny Boyle, this performance marked not only the birth of a sensational show but also the launch of Aviva Studios, a £242 million cultural epicentre from Factory International.
Free Your Mind at Factory International
It was the coolest party of the year, bringing together art, technology, and Manchester’s rich history.
A Vision of the Future Inspired by the Past
“Free Your Mind” offers a fresh perspective on the 1999 film “The Matrix,” seamlessly blending 90s nostalgia with a thought-provoking take on the rise of artificial intelligence.
It’s a captivating exploration of humanity’s increasing dependence on algorithms, a warning encapsulated in Alan Turing’s words.
The show doesn’t just reflect on the movie; it’s a love letter to Manchester, with a cutting-edge auditorium and a Warehouse space that defies convention, providing a novel and arresting backdrop.
A Dance Extravaganza
In the midst of a large ensemble of 50 dancers, the story of Neo, played by Corey Owens, might seem somewhat overshadowed.
However, choreographer Kenrick “H2O” Sandy orchestrates these dancers with incredible precision, forming striking set pieces that underscore the relentless march of AI.
Sandy’s embodiment of Morpheus is nothing short of magisterial. Their one-man dance towards the end in glowing white light provoked jaw-dropping responses from the crowds either side of the futuristic stage, flanked by the ‘red’ part of the audience one side, and the ‘blue’ the other.
Manchester’s Cultural Heritage Comes to Life
Danny Boyle, the genius behind the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, uses the second half of the show to offer a rapid montage of Manchester’s cultural history.
From Ian Curtis to Tony Wilson, the spirit of the city is brought to life by the pulsating beats of New Order’s Blue Monday. It got the crowd moving and honestly made you well up with pride to be from the city.
The show vividly portrays the corporate takeover of big tech, with a creative set design by Es Devlin that echoes the early mechanisation of cotton weaving.
A Wake-Up Call for the Digital Age
“Free Your Mind” reminds us that we are gradually surrendering control to machines and tech giants.
In a surreal depiction of modern life, dancers are entranced by their smartphones, mirroring the audience’s fixation with filming the performance.
This isn’t dystopia; it’s our reality.
The show might have some disconnection between the Matrix story and the broader narrative, but the second half offers a breath of fresh air and an urgent plea to stay aware.
The Birth of Aviva Studios
Aviva Studios, born out of the Manchester International Festival’s vision, has risen on the city’s edge as a space where artists can explore the extraordinary.
This grand venue, spanning 13,350 square meters, is a symbol of flexibility and endless creative possibilities.
It has already hosted a few MIF events, but “Free Your Mind” is its official opening show, setting the stage for a vibrant artistic future.
A Dazzling Rendition of “The Matrix”
The first act, set in the Hall, welcomes the audience with a projection of mathematical equations and a nod to Alan Turing’s legacy. The show draws from a multiverse of creative work inspired by the original film, creating a complex narrative. It’s a visually stunning dance performance that introduces the story while keeping the audience in awe.
Surreal Touches and a Few Missed Opportunities
The presence of rabbit-headed characters and other surreal elements adds a layer of intrigue to the experience with men and women in brown coats adding a layer of intrigue.
In the show’s foyer, there are models in the classic Matrix poses, a key maker and plenty of strange goings on. It’s a wonderful adventure into the unknown.
The Ongoing Dialogue with Technology
“Free Your Mind” reflects on our evolving relationship with technology.
While visually captivating, it occasionally offers a somewhat simplistic view of contemporary tech issues and some of the work is a bit on the nose.
Scenes highlighting the perils of Amazon and smartphone addiction come across as somewhat heavy-handed. But this is not to detract from what is overall an astounding performance and one you’ll want to go and see again and again.
A Feast for the Senses
The second half unfolds on a massive traverse stage with screens projecting digital marvels.
It’s a visual feast, with a powerful score by Michael “Mikey J” Asante.
However, the absence of live music is a missed opportunity to elevate the experience.
A Glimpse of Manchester’s Creative Future
“Free Your Mind” is a spectacular and flamboyant show that hints at the creative possibilities offered by Aviva Studios.
With a promise of affordable pricing, this venue is set to become a hub for diverse artistic expressions, supporting thousands of jobs and boosting Manchester’s economy.
A Landmark for Culture
Cllr Bev Craig, Leader of Manchester City Council, rightly acknowledged earlier in the day that Aviva Studios is a landmark moment not just for Manchester but for the entire UK.
It promises to inspire creativity, nurture careers in the arts, and contribute significantly to the city’s vibrancy.”
“Free Your Mind” at Aviva Studios is a sensational celebration of Manchester’s artistic and technological heritage.
While it may have a few storytelling hiccups, it’s a remarkable visual spectacle that hints at the exciting possibilities the venue holds for the future.
It’s hard to come away from it not to feel like the city’s art scene is back on top – and in a big, big way.
This is a production that would not be out of place in any of the huge metropolis of the world.
Don’t miss it.
You can get your tickets here