57th Belfast International Arts Festival Kicks off with Japanese Masterpiece

The 57th Belfast International Arts Festival begins this week (Tuesday 15 October 2019) with over 200 events from the world of music, dance, film, visual arts, literature and theatre.  The Festival will run from 15 October to 3 November and includes 14 UK, Irish and world premieres.  

As a partner in the Japan-UK Season of Culture, Belfast Festival kicks off in breath-taking style with a UK and Ireland premiere by Japanese artist Hiroaki Umeda, with his mesmerising choreography, music and digital projection show, Median at The MAC on Tuesday and Wednesday (15 and 16 Oct). 

Describing the performance, Festival Director Richard Wakely said, “Median sums up everything we in the western world admire in Japanese culture: Hiroaki’s work fuses the very latest in digital technology in light, lasers, and sound and his choreography marks out the incredible precision and accuracy we associate with Japan’s monochrome clean lines and zen-like calm”. 

“Hiroaki draws inspiration from the cellular level of the human body, the ebb and flow of living human cells.  These shapes form the light projections in which the stage and dancer are immersed: and through ultra-high-tech digital technology, the dancer’s movements are mapped, matched and reflected in the morphing projections all around him, meaning his movements both dictate and become the backdrop.  With his every, precisely calculated, movement, the whole space comes to life and becomes an extension of his body.  Couple this with electronic sound technology which allows his movements to call the shots on the music’s rhythms and it’s all incredibly spectacular.”  

Richard Wakely gave heartfelt thanks to Festival supporters and funders, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Tourism Northern Ireland, the British Council, Belfast City Council, the Department for Communities, and the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, without whose backing the Festival would not be possible.

Roisín McDonough, Chief Executive, Arts Council of Northern Ireland said, The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is immensely proud to be Principal Funder of Belfast International Arts Festival which continues to bring world-renowned acts to Belfast, as well as offering a platform for our own impressive artists and performers. The importance of staging an international arts festival in Belfast cannot be overstated and the Arts Council recognises this festival’s enormous contribution to arts and culture.”

Jonathan Stewart, Director, British Council Northern Ireland said: “The British Council is delighted to be supporting this year’s festival. The festival once again has succeeded in bringing the best of local and international artists and work to Belfast. This year we are really excited about the international connections the festival is making through the Japan-UK Season of Culture 2019-2020, which celebrates connections in culture and education between the UK and Japan. Involvement in this international season will enable local audiences to enjoy leading Japanese choreographer and artist Hiroaki Umeda on the opening night and we hope these connections will lead to further opportunities and international interest in the festival.” 

Also featuring from Thursday to Saturday this week (17-19 Oct) as part of Japan-UK Season of Culture will be Tokyo artist, ASUNA, with his quirky, immersive sound installation, 100 Keyboards, also at The MAC.  Taking 100 multi-coloured keyboards and kids’ toys pianos placed in a circular layout, lit under a single standard lamp, ASUNA tweaks and adjusts their sounds to swell and reverberate around the space in this quirky, fascinating experience. 

Elsewhere in the programme, a free public event, La Spire will take place in Botanic Gardens on Saturday and Sunday (19 and 20 Oct) as well as three free performances in St Mark’s Church by the Albion Quartet on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (16, 17 and 18 Oct), The Playboy of the Western World at the Lyric Theatre and a host of other film, literary and music events and exhibitions. 

Week two highlights include two sold out concerts by Glen Hansard, Irish theatre fresh from Edinburgh and Dublin theatre festivals, a pop-up restaurant drama in the Cathedral Quarter and three major international dance performances on the weekend of 25 and 26 October, including French arts collective (LA)HORDE, bringing the electrifying To Da Bone to the Grand Opera House, following their appearance at Glastonbury and featuring in Christine and the Queens’ Girlfriend video. Both To Da Bone and La Spire feature as part of the prestigious FranceDance UK programme in selected cities across the UK and supported by the Institut Francais du Royaume-Uni. 

The festival’s closing event running from 31 Oct – 2 Nov, will see Bangor-born contemporary dancer-turned-international choreographer Oona Doherty bring the UK and Ireland premiere of Lady Magma, a timely look at femininity, sexuality and female strength, produced in partnership with Prime Cut Productions, to The MAC. 

For full programme information visit  or call 02890 246609 to book.

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