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Belfast Festival celebrates its 60th with a packed programme

As the Belfast International Arts Festival announces its 2022 programme, David Roy sees what's in store this autumn as the annual celebration of arts and culture turns 60...

Violinist Joanne Quigley McParland with Jackie McCoy (BIAF), William Leathem (ACNI), Lord Mayor of Belfast Christina Black, Richard Wakley (BIAF) and Siobhan McGuigan (Tourism NI). Picture by Darren Kidd
David Roy

THE Belfast International Arts Festival (BIAF) has announced its 2022 programme, which will run from October 5 to November 6 and feature over 320 events spanning music, theatre, dance, film, visual arts and discussion.

The autumn programme follows the festival opening in April 2022, when BIAF celebrated the beginning of its 60th anniversary year with an outdoor production of Cristal Palace by French company Transe Express featuring a local community cast.

Belfast International Arts Festival's chief executive and artistic director Richard Wakely believes the 60th edition of the festival offers an opportunity to take stock and set out a vision for its future.

"Sixty years is a momentous occasion, and we pause to reflect on the artistic talent and creative commissions that have seen Belfast International Arts Festival reach this significant milestone, our diamond anniversary," he says.

"This year's festival is, however, determinedly future-facing, underscored by creative collaboration and a truly international programme that reflects our core values; global connectivity, community, access and participation, and contemporary arts practice.

"The festival has evolved much over the past six decades, and it continues to do so with this year's programme demonstrating the unique ability of artists to respond to the changing world around us.

"From homegrown talent and platforms such as our Artist in Residence and new Featured Artist programmes to significant bodies of work from Canada, Europe and the Middle East and North Africa, our festival this year reflects the vital role we play in the very fabric of Belfast and its contribution to the city's growing status and appeal as a major cultural capital."

The festival's autumn season opens on October 5 with the UK premiere of Dinner With Groucho, a new play by renowned Irish writer Frank McGuinness. Produced by Bespoke theatre company, the performance promises "blistering wit, brilliant buffoonery, and reflections on the ephemeral nature of life" from the award-winning writer of Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, Someone Who'll Watch Over Me and The Factory Girls.

Fans of traditional Irish music will be pleased to note that celebrated fiddler Martin Hayes is bringing his latest musical project The Common Ground Ensemble to the Grand Opera House on Tuesday October 25, with ex-Mike & The Mechanics man Paul Carrack taking to the stage there the following evening.

As mentioned, this year's programme has a special focus on Canada, the Middle East and North Africa. Canadian events include Vivek Shraya's How to Fail as a Popstar – "a reflection on the power of pop culture, dreams, disappointment and self-determination" – and the European premiere of new opera The Queen and Me from Teiya Kasahara exploring how race, gender, and sexuality are policed in the opera industry via comedy and drama.

The critically acclaimed Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools will close the festival by bringing together two artists to examine their intertwined histories, colonial legacies and the changing climate we all face.

Another Lover's Discourse is a newly commissioned work from Palestinian interdisciplinary artist Riham Isaac, there are new stage works from Egyptian choreographer Shaymaa Shoukry and Moroccan live performance and visual artist Youness Atbane, and there will be a concert featuring recently arrived refugees from across the Middle East.

Additionally, the BIAF will host an exchange of delegations between BIAF and Cairo's D-CAF (Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival) with Belfast welcoming D-CAF's Director, Ahmed El Attar in October with an opportunity for local audiences to hear him speak about the current contemporary arts scene in Egypt and the Arab world.

The BIAF22 Talks & Ideas strand brings together international and local names to explore thought-provoking topics including state violence, freedom of speech and movement, culture, society, impermanence and the creative possibilities opened up by our digital world.

As part of the festival's long-standing partnership with Institut Français, French novelists Gauz and David Foenkinos will join a free digital event to discuss their latest works.

Acclaimed English novelist Jonathan Coe will also be appearing at this year's festival to read from and discuss his new novel, Bournville.

Complementing its long running Artist in Residence programme, this year's BIAF includes a new strand of programming, the Featured Artist, which takes a more in-depth look at the work of a leading artist or ensemble.

The first Featured Artist is the young rising star of French and European dance, Noé Soulier, whose works will be showcased live and online.

Leading NI dancemaker Oona Doherty's largest project to date Navy Blue will make its homecoming appearance from October 25 to 26. Among other featured home-grown talent is double Ivor Novello-nominated composer Conor Mitchell's Propaganda: A New Musical, which will play at the Lyric, The Ghost House by Cahoots and an adaptation of Owen Booth's Frankenstein's Monster is Drunk and The Sheep have all Jumped The Fences by Big Telly Theatre.

BIAF welcomes old and new partners with the Belfast Music Society's Northern Lights Mini-Fest and the popular free BBC Radio 3 concert series. Belfast Harbour will once again sponsor the community ticketing scheme, while a new collaboration with Design & Crafts Council Ireland, Craft NI and National Museums NI will bring the outdoor exhibition Irish Craft Heroes, which highlights 50 years of craft making and makers, to Botanic Gardens .

:: Tickets and full programme information at belfastinternationalartsfestival.com.

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