On Top of the Moon in Manchester
Updated: Jul 7
During the time of the lockdown, I was looking at the earlier columns I have published this year. One evening I read an article in a local magazine about the band "Joy Division" how poignant and edgy they were. How their songs are still relevant and powerful as "Isolation". (so meaningful to our time) I have received an alarming call.It brought back to my mind, an article I wrote of my incredible experience at the MIF Festival in Manchester.
Not in the far past, just July last summer,unconscious of what is yet to occur.
I remembered, my impressions during that Festival as if I was pulled away from the safe ground into a brand-new dimension. perhaps heading to the unknown that was then so unclear to me. Suddenly it all made sense. Usually, an art performance is all about the creation of a new reality, the one that is in the head of the artist.It has appeared that nearly all the shows that I have seen in MIF had one thing definitively in common.They were investigating the space and the existence we are living, in kind of metaphysical, philosophical way. As if they were prophetic somehow.It was so efficacious that only a few months later, isolating myself in my Apartment in Paris, with the outburst of the Covid19, they erupted in my memory bonding mysteriously to the new reality we were all living in March, April 2020.
On Top of the Moon in Manchester
I have already expressed my great enthusiasm from the British Theater, as I have reviewed in a previous article the play "Pinocchio" at the National Theater in London,
But London is not only Great Britain.How easy it is for a tourist to stay only a week or two in the Capital and to stuff it with all the possible plays and Musicales that it has to offer.
So that's it. There is much more to explore and to see beyond the golden curtains of the showbiz in London.
Beginning of July. Only two hours' drive from London-Euston train station and I arrived to Manchester Piccadilly.
It was warm, agreeable weather that has greeted me. In a city that is famous for a rather rainy climate and greyish sky. I was happily surprised by the high temperatures.
Manchester is very well known partly because of its football team. (I admit, I have little knowledge in that field and I didn't visit the football museum, which is another main tourist's attraction)
I was aiming and hoping to find the alternative Manchester, the anti-conservative one. I was preparing myself to a cold wind, but I wouldn't pay attention as long as there would be good music in the background.
It is so notorious for its past bands as:Joy Division,New Order, the Smiths,the Stones Roses.Even if it was so long ago,this music has been for ages the soundtrack of this city.
Manchester from afar and from films that I have seen, have appeared to my eyes industrial,rough,as if it was hiding backstage. Maybe,that what has made it so intriguing and appealing in the same time. Cause the creativity has often risen and bubbled from the clashes and the contradictions.
So here I was in Manchester and it was as well mainly for the International Festival of Manchester = MIF. ( happens every two years.) This year it was from the 4- 14 of July 2019.
My landing in this city was particularly smooth.
Not only because of the gratifying weather but essentially that festival was all I have expected it to be. Flamboyant, vivid, vigorous, uncompromising. The red colour which I have found quite dominant in Manchester, as it is the texture of the building's bricks was filtering into the festival itself. Whether it was a theater play, a dance performance or a concert. it was a mind-blowing experience.
Next to the impressive,beautiful town hall,in Albert Square,every day,took place, free concerts, parties all through the night. Different stalls offering a variety of drinks and food, plenty of white lounge chairs, and the beer? if you were worried for a minute was flooding like water.
"So how Manchester so far?" asked me a Londoner who arrived especially at the renowned festival.
He was sitting right next to me on the lounge chair, enjoying being caressed by the sunlight. He was pretty much impressed that I came all the way from Paris.
"Why not? London is the obvious choice. The classic one. But there are other important cities in the UK that have so much to offer,and it is time to discover them. Manchester is the second big city after London,no?"
"Bermingham" he corrected me. "Manchester is the third but it's much more fun".
I was lying on that comfy chair,chilling out,looking at the bright blue sky above,searching vainly for hidden stormy clouds. The sun kept shining intensively as if it was defeating constantly all my speculations about a rainy, coldish summer in Manchester.
The Mif has welcomed me to an electrifying, surreal atmosphere, with a variety,original program.
The opening was "The Invisibles Cities"(director Leo warner and 59 productions) in an abandoned hangar, used to be a train station. Enormous stage,many dancers, two main actors, and an imaginative, innovative interpretation of the italian author Italo Calvino's masterpiece book.
Conversations between the emperor Kublai Khan and the explorer Marco Polo about cities existing maybe only in the reflections of the heroes. Checking constantly the endless space of imagination and its hazy borders with reality. The places and cities, they were referring to were projection from the ancient times through history and mythology.
Huge video screens, special sounds effects have all brought very much alive this extraordinary adventure.
In one of the most striking scenes. The stage was cracked open and inside water running as if inside canals. The actors paddled the Gondolas. The spectators have also been separated from reality. "Are we in Venice or Manchester"?
To the moon
A creation of Laurie Anderson and Hsin chien Huang.
A tribute to the sensensational landing of Louis Armstrong-The Apollo 11 on the moon.
The two artists have collaborated to create a most unusual experience.it was a unique,cosmic virtual adventure Few people were sitting in a room and took off to space, observing an astronaut with a digital screen and special headphones."If you feel dizzy you can stop at any moment" we were being advised before.
The technical effects were so convincing, that you could truly believe you went to a journey in space and have reached the moon. Surrounded by a dark infinite universe adorned by sparkling stars. Every step you take on the snowy surface is crucial. We were able to perceive the black void from afar. As Laurie Anderson has defined it "Let me take you to the dark side of the moon"
With every turned head You were being exposed to spectacular visions from the Outer Space. The magnetizing electronic sounds that accompanied the chimeric sights were amplifying this mystical,sensorial experience.
Only when I took off the headphones from my ears I was relieved.
I landed safely back on earth.
A tao of Glass
Another fascinating theater play that I saw was a creation inspired by the beautiful melodies of the well-known composer "Phillip Glass" In the theater "Royal Theater Exchange."
The distinguished theater from outside looks like another old,classic building but once you enter inside,you are astounded to discover a marvelous interior design,extravagantly colourful, refined, and stylish.
it has a very nice veggie Cafeteria.Where it is possible to sit there before the performances begin, enjoying the architecture,the food and the special ambience.You might even notice that the actors and the director are sitting just beside you. The energy is uplifting.
The play "Tao of Glass"(tao=road) is a spiritual, meditative journey of a man who finds himself in one of those crossroads.He has to stop,reflect back while listening to the compositions of Phillip Glass.(his music passes like a thread between different periods of his life and correlates them). It is the story of the actor Phelim McDermott who has been admiring from childhood the composer Philip Glass His music inspired him deeply and had made a great impact on him. He has always been dreaming to meet him one day and to put on a show based on his creations, on the stage of the Royal Exchange.
During his life, he encounters some difficulties.The path was sometimes rocky and fragile.
He meets himself as a child(a marionette that was manipulated by puppeteers.) that will be transformed later to be his own child who pleads him persistently to meet Phillip Glass
"Ask him please about David Bowie"
Towards the end of the moving, enthralling performance
In an unexpected moment, Phillip Glass himself has appeared on stage and played one of his magnificent compositions.
The Gothic Cabaret of David Lynch.
The somnambulant,surrealistic trip to the unknown and the irrational had received other meanings as some singers and musicians gave their vocal, lyrical interpretation. Dedicated to the avant-garde,innovative creation of the cinema director David Lynch. Inspired by his vision.
In another great venue in Manchester "Home"
There was an exhibition of paintings, drawings, and sculptures of the director and live performances that brought to life the "Blue Velvet" fantasy.
Krysta Bell who has been collaborating years with David Lynch presented the shows and the musicians with the appearance of a Cabaret performer.
I was especially impressed by Anna Calvi who has an incredible voice and a hypnotizing presence. The audience kept applauding her with immense exhilaration and didn't let her leave the stage.
Another remarkable band was "the Young new Puritans" who brought to the stage theatrical strong energies.
From the summit of the shiny(yet dark) Moon of Laurie Anderson, we plunged into the cryptic foggy universe of David Lynch.
Manchester is a mixture of old and modern architecture, living together harmoniously side by side.I loved strolling in the long buzzy street Deansgate. Visiting Manchester Art Gallery, the Central Library in St Peter's square .and John Rylands Library in Deansgate. Finding spontaneously hidden alleys where I could have enjoyed a good roasted coffee.
The more I have explored it the more I have found it rich,interesting with multiple facets.
I did some lovely day trips during my week. To a charming, quirky arty village. "Hebden Bridge". it was vividly recommended to me.
This village is an ideal picturesque countryside. It has various quaint tea rooms, small art galleries, walking peacefully on the bridges above the flowing river, being surrounded by green scenery,only half an hour with train from Manchester.
I have also visited Liverpool,that charmed me as an elegant port city and Chester a medieval town. cities charged with history and culture, with a lot to see and explore(they deserve their own detailed article)
Back to Manchester.
Wandering in the Northern quarter.This funky neighborhood is lurking somewhere,behind the train station.Its wild soul sends you the right indications where it starts.(no need for google maps) It had reminded me the good old Kreuzberg in Berlin.Cheeky and authentic.Between a veggie restaurant,a cosy,creative coffee shop. Graffitis on the walls and ice cream shop above a second hand store.The bohemian atmosphere that was revealed to me in one summery after noon has justified the reputation of the cool, alternative, rebellious Manchester i was looking for.
I left the city feeling I was indeed,on top of the moon.
Images credit - MIF