16 July
NCP Car Park Bridgewater Hall and Tony Wilson Place

Communist themed music, beard-making, art, film, poetry, modern slavery talks, unions, bollard making and parades: feeling dizzy yet? This was certainly the effect of Ceremony, an event billed as the closing of Manchester International Festival’s ‘18 extraordinary days’ that resulted in multiple visitors expressing bemusement across social media.

This is a shame, because within the noise, Ceremony contained a thought-provoking film and statue. The film celebrated the arrival of the aforementioned statue of communist writer Friedrich Engels to Manchester, after been salvaged by Turner Prize-nominated artist Phil Collins from the process of Soviet iconography removal in Ukraine and been taken across Europe on the back of a truck.

It was interesting to witness the stern-faced statue’s travels and view reactions, but I felt the film could have benefited from greater inclusion of voices of those shown, but not heard, who lived through the shared Soviet history of the sculpture and their thoughts on its new English home.

In contrast, attendees frequently heard presenters through live links that suffered technical hitches and jarred with preceding film interludes. Such links contained abundant swearing and interviews with Collins and Maxine Peake that never scratched surface opinions, alongside all-too-easy and regularly drawn comparisons between Victorian England and austerity politics, instead of the real insight into Engels’ work and life I hoped for.

Other live elements, combined pans of the square outside of HOME, where exchanges about modern slavery and unions sat uncomfortably alongside opportunities for visitors to decorate Engels-themed beards and dress as modern interpretations of his lover, Mary Burns.

Overall, Ceremony provided a kaleidoscope of components grappling for attention that ultimately left the statue, its journey and Engels’ work lost in the mix.

Beth Dawson

Available Light

6 July
Palace Theatre

The Palace Theatre buzzes as the considerable and diverse audience prepares itself for Available Light, the much-anticipated collaboration between choreographer Lucinda Childs, composer John Adams and architect Frank Gehry. The staging is minimalistic and intriguing, consisting of two basic levels against a stark backdrop of wire mesh.

The lights go down and the dancers enter: slow, considered, expressionless, each dressed simply in black, white or red. There are generally ten on stage, occasionally eleven, filling the space. Moving competently and synchronously to an unusual and often harsh composition, the group creates a spectacle that is at once elegant and unsettling.

It is tempting to try to pick out some kind of narrative - I entertain a vague theory that the dancers in white, who tend to be positioned on the higher level, represent angels - but this becomes very difficult as we are given few clues to a story, there is little characterisation and as mentioned the dancers maintain neutral facial expressions. The piece must be taken as it is: a performance within its own world, existing outside of convention and context.

There is a point where the spectacle can begin to feel repetitive. It could be shorter, or have more moments when a single dancer or small group is showcased rather than the ten. There could be more experimentation with light, as what we do see in that respect is exciting. Overall, however, Available Light is a fascinating, intense and unnerving experience, and one worth sampling.

Elizabeth Gibson