Idris Elba, Yoko Ono and Skepta announced for Manchester International Festival 2019

© photograph by David Sandison
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An all-star lineup has been revealed for the 2019 Manchester International Festival.

Yoko Ono, Idris Elba and Skepta have been announced as the first artists taking part in the biennial festival which returns to the city from 4-21 July 2019.

The opening event Bells of Peace will be a huge public gathering in Cathedral Gardens led by Yoko Ono, where everyone will ring bells and sing out a message of peace to the world.

(photo Matthew Placek, copyright Yoko Ono)

Hollywood actor Idris is teaming up with Kwame Kwei-Armah, the new Artistic Director of London’s Young Vic, for the world-premiere production of Tree, which will take place in the round within Upper Campfield Market Hall, one of Manchester’s most atmospheric spaces.

Tree takes audiences on a journey in search of the soul and spirit of contemporary South Africa, with Idris’s album Mi Mandela providing the soundtrack.

Meanwhile Mercury Prize winner Skepta will perform at a secret Manchester location for Dystopia987 – which is described as a waking dream that presents Skepta’s singular vision of the future: deep, dark, radical and riveting.

Featuring a live set from Skepta, guest appearances from hand-picked performers and DJs, a wealth of new technology, and a cast inhabiting a hidden netherworld, Dystopia987 is a journey into eternity.

Guardian Guide, September 2016

Talking about creating the opening event, Yoko Ono said: “The beauty of this piece will break the sky and more. One of the reasons this is very different is the fact that all of us will be making the sound together. More than ever, we must come together to heal each other, and the world. PEACE is POWER! I love you all.”

Idris and Kwame’s new work features music, dance and film combined with a dynamic cast to explore the past, present and future of a country at a crossroads – all through the eyes of one young man on a journey of healing.

“Kwame and I have both had a strong desire to work with each other for a long time now,” said Idris.

“We’ve known each other since we were in our very early twenties and have talked about the kernel of an idea for this show for a while. Our joint ambition being to make a piece of work inspired by South Africa, using the album Mi Mandela as a starting point. We’ve both experienced personal moments of healing connected with the country and we’re starting to explore that together.”

“The idea of dancing with a friend whose art and ideas have inspired me for as long as we have known each other simply thrills me,” said Kwame. “To bring this work to MIF and the Young Vic is as exciting as it gets for me.”

Skepta described his project as “Real Life Magic”.

MIF Artistic Director John McGrath made the announcements on Monday morning.

He said: “I’m thrilled to be announcing the involvement of such extraordinary artists in Manchester International Festival 2019. Yoko Ono will be creating a very special opening event for Mancunians – and the world – in the city centre: a joyful response to our complicated times.

“Idris Elba is one of the most dynamic creative figures working today, and in this new collaboration with the wonderful Kwame Kwei-Armah, he brings his vision and passion to a brand-new piece of musical theatre. And Skepta, an artist known for pushing musical boundaries, is going to be surprising everyone with a vision of the future that is immersive, high tech and personal.”

More pre-Factory events will be announced as part of the full MIF19 programme, which is due to be announced in March 2019.

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