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A Manc on the Manchester International Festival

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When I’m on holiday and folks find out I’m from Manchester, the responses will invariably include one of the following "Hey! Liam Gallagher!", "Ahh, Boddingtons!" or "Whoo! Manchester United/City!".

I’m giving it about ten years before "Wahey! Manchester International Festival!" is added to the list.

Think I’m being too optimistic? Well, having had some time to reflect on the third MIF (which ran from 30 June to 17 July 2011), I believe that this festival will get the artistic world talking, not just about Manchester, but about new work and about what’s possible.

A biennial event, the Festival showcases specially-commissioned new work from prolific international artists. Programmed to appeal to a diverse audience base, this year’s festival featured a nostalgic musical from Victoria Wood (Grandma smiles), an interactive Dr Who show for children by Punchdrunk (your niece jumps up and down in the air), a live debut of Bjork’s new album (your cool sister nods emphatically) and a comic play from Johnny Vegas (Dad and his mates raise their pint glasses).

The festival also reaches out local communities across the city through MIF Creative, its creative learning programme. I was chuffed (and a bit jealous that I’m 22 years too late to participate) to see my first school, North Reddish Infants, on the list of creative partners for this year’s Music Boxes project.

It is true that ticket prices for some events were particularly high, making them less broadly accessible than others, but this is tempered by the amount of reasonably priced and free events featured in the festival.

I saw Antony Heggarty and Willem Dafoe strut their (abstract and creepy) stuff in The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic and heard Damon Albarn’s soaring ode to Dr Dee for around £15 per show, before giving my wallet a rest and heading over to the free admission events 11 Rooms at Manchester Art Gallery and Audio Obscura at Piccadilly Station.

I’d be lying if I said I loved everything I saw. What I loved was having the opportunity to experience ground-breaking new work on my doorstep. I loved that the city was buzzing with anticipation and life and debate. I loved being able to brag to my London-based friends as the word spread that there was more to Manchester’s art scene than Coronation Street.

Word has it that MIF’s director Alex Poots is already well into the planning of the next festival. I’ll see you there in 2013!

- Sara Cocker


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