Fest set to cross artistic borders and push boundaries

Cuban-born singer, Yaite Ramos-Rodriguez, known as La Dame Blanche
Cuban-born singer, Yaite Ramos-Rodriguez, known as La Dame Blanche
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The programme for the 57th Belfast International Arts Festival has been launched, with a showcase performance by one of the Festival’s signature artists, Cuban-born Parisian musician, La Dame Blanche, who will perform at the Belfast Empire on Saturday October 19. Yaite Ramos Rodriguez is the daughter of the creative director of the Buena Vista Social Club. Reflecting the festival’s key themes of internationalism and artistic fusion, La Dame Blanche brought guests at the launch to their feet with her infectious and unique blend of hip-hop, cumbia and reggae.

Festival artistic director Richard Wakely unveiled the programme, which will this year feature over 200 events from the world of music, dance, film, visual arts, literature and theatre. He revealed that Belfast has been chosen to contribute to two major international cultural celebrations, Japan-UK Season of Culture and FranceDance UK.

He said: “The 2019 Belfast International Arts Festival will open on October 15 with the UK premiere of Median, a contemporary paring of choreography with digital projection and electronic sound from Japanese multi-disciplinary artist Hiroaki Umeda. Think of the most creative music videos by Radiohead and Aphex Twin, meets the stealth and intensity of The Matrix. Also featuring in the programme will be ASUNA, a wonderful young artist from Tokyo with his quirky, immersive sound installation, 100 Keyboards. It is an honour to have been selected to host some of Japan’s finest artists.”

Richard went on to reveal another major arts first for the city. He said: “Showcasing the best of international dance for Belfast audiences has always been one of my biggest goals for the Festival. I am especially pleased to announce that on the weekend of October 25-26, Belfast International Arts Festival will be co-hosting the first ever all-Ireland dance conference, Co-Motion, in partnership with Dance Ireland, Dance Resource Base and Queen’s University Belfast.

“That weekend’s Festival programme will include performances by Shobana Jeyasingh Dance performing an Irish premiere of Staging Schiele (the story of radical Austrian nude artist and self-portraitist, Egon Schiele) before it heads to Southbank’s Queen Elizabeth Hall for its London run; and acclaimed French company (LA)HORDE performing their high energy jumpstyle piece To Da Bone. This is a captivating, contemporary rebel-call to the social media generation, both in its narrative and in the way that the cast was crowd-sourced from across Europe, through an open audition on the internet. The work of (LA)HORDE will be recognisable from the multi-million-viewed music video for Christine and the Queens’ track Girlfriend.”

This year’s Embrace free public events programme will be headlined by a breathtaking UK and Irish premiere performance by French all-female circus-arts troupe led by Chloe Moglia, called La Spire, which will take place in Belfast’s Botanic Gardens on Saturday October 19 and Sunday 20. This is a free, unticketed event, no booking required.

In a typically surprising sidestep for the festival, Belfast architects Hall McKnight will showcase an immersive large-scale installation at Ulster University for three weeks, which was originally presented at the prestigious Venice Biennale International Architecture Exhibition. Entitled Unique Instruments, Expectant Spaces, this critically acclaimed installation looks at the re-imagining of civic spaces – an interesting subject, as the Cathedral Quarter and University undergoes its own landscape re-imagining.

Meanwhile, the eclectic musical offering in this year’s programme will feature two shows in the Grand Opera House by Glen Hansard, which have all but sold-out on pre-release, Co Down-born Two Door Cinema Club and Joshua Burnside, 70’s ska favourites, The Selecter and a host of classical performances including NI star pianist Ruth McGinley and violinist Darragh Morgan performing as a duo for the first time; and classical pianist Lucy Parham, joined by Juliet Stevenson and Tim McInnerny, performing Beloved Clara which brings to life the love triangle story between Robert Schumann, his wife Clara and Johannes Brahms.

In the field of theatre, and underscoring the continuing importance of cultural relations across the island, the festival brings together some of Ireland’s finest, including Dublin-based Fishamble with Pat Kinevane’s searing solo choreography and theatre piece Before, which touchingly combines some of the best-loved songs from musical theatre with a family drama centred around the closing day in Dublin’s iconic Clery’s department store; and an edgy, of-the-moment piece by Chalk it Down Productions, Spliced, a study of mental health and male identity in the uber-masculine sports world of gaelic games.

On the lighter side, Forced Entertainment will bring its mesmerising and Beckett influenced hit play, Real Magic to the MAC; while Northern Ireland’s Big Telly Theatre Company will premiere The Worst Café in the World, a special for the festival, in a make-believe pop-up café in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter. Here, the diners will become flies on the wall as reality theatre unfolds around them through a histrionic chef, a menu of real-life pathos, comedy and drama, and waiting staff who just, well, wait. Performances will run from October 23 to 27.

The literary and film sections of the programme are packed with highlights and big names, including author Michael Rosen and Booker longlisted authors Max Porter and Kevin Barry, along with hotly tipped Kerry Hudson, Emilie Pine, Meena Kandasamy, the Octavia Poetry Collective and a special event on October 30, the eve of Brexit, featuring journalist and author Gavin Esler talk about his latest book Brexit without the Bullsh*t.

Always seen as an important platform to profile some of Northern Ireland’s top artists, this year’s festival season will close with a tour-de-force UK and Ireland premiere of Lady Magma by Belfast-born choreographer and dancer, Oona Doherty. In partnership with Prime Cut Productions, Oona will come, fresh from Edinburgh Festival, to perform this brand new ode to female strength and new femininity.

Roisín McDonough, chief executive, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said: “This is a programme of art of a truly international quality, carefully curated from around the world, the likes of which we would not otherwise have the opportunity to enjoy.

“This is not just a boon for local audiences, but it raises Northern Ireland’s creative reputation at home and abroad and strengthens opportunities for cultural exchange between international artists and our homegrown talent.

“The Arts Council is very proud to be the principal funder of this strategically and artistically important festival. We support it with Public and National Lottery funds which allow Belfast International Arts Festival to continue to deliver a hugely ambitious and inspiring programme of artistic excellence.”

l Belfast International Arts Festival, October 15 - November 3. For more information visit www.belfastinternationalartsfestival.com/.