2015 was the second year that I volunteered at the Manchester International Festival, it is biennial so the last time it was in Manchester was 2013. There were quite a few returning performers and collaborators including Bjork, Damon Albarn, Maxine Peake and Jamie XX. Being a volunteer is a great opportunity to see the shows, meet people and get event experience. My role was as a festival fronteer which generally involves front of house duties and ticketing.
The volunteers are managed by a lovely team and they are a pleasure to work alongside. Saying that, I did previously work as a social media researcher I was hoping to be involved on that side but there weren’t opportunities available.
This year there were less found venues than last year when many performances were at such as the Albert Hall and the Mayfield Depot. Some of the venues this year such as the Opera House and the Palace Theatre have their own volunteers and staff so there were slightly less volunteer opportunities.
However, there were still shifts going at the art galleries, festival square, Granada Studios and the Pavilion Theatre. I especially loved Granada Studios as I think it is an amazing creative space and it was good to see it without all the sets. I had a brief contract working at ITV Granada on Quay Street before the move to MediaCityUK and I loved all the history of the place. It is now due for regeneration into flats, restaurants, shops and ‘event space’. If the studios are demolished this seems like a huge shame.
The Beatles gave their first television performance there and King Lear, Corrie, The Royle Family, Brideshead Revisited and Cracker were all filmed there. The festival gave my an opportunity to wander round the studios for a last time. In one night I had shifts at Flexn and for the FKA Twigs Soundtrack 7 performances.
Flexn, a Brooklyn based dance troup who did a ‘creative exchange’ with Manchester dancers and they all performed together.
I thought that they were incredible and show that contemporary dance can be explicit as opposed to conceptual. That dance can ultimately be about gang culture and violence as well as the well-trodden themes of love and sadness.
As much as I enjoyed the contemporary ballet Tree of Codes, I liked being able to understand what I was seeing. I loved seeing the collaboration between the groups and did I mention those guys are DOUBLE-JOINTED?! Apparently it hurts the first time.
As if Flexn weren’t awesome enough, FKA Twigs was also doing her final performances after her week long Soundtrack 7 residency. As I couldn’t get in as a volunteer I bought a ticket to see her 40 minute closed performance. Her dancing was amazing and her dancers were out of this world.
The dances were accompanied by her music and spoken word monologues. The dark studio was the perfect atmospheric location. I wasn’t sure if her work would be undermined by the press attention she receives due to her partner being with her all week, however, she totally owned it. It did annoy me that my tweets were mostly favourited by Robert Pattinson’s fanpages when she is such a respected talent. My friend even got to shoot her behind the scenes film – what a dream job!
As well as all the great shows in GS, the Opera House, galleries and the Palace Theatre, there was also the Pavilion Theatre, the pop up venue in Festival Square (pictured below). I was lucky to volunteer on some of the great comedy shows that were held there including Sara Pascoe and the Museum of Robot Pussycats, Adam Buxton and friends and The Crocodile.
The Crocodile was based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky short story and was very odd and amusing. Adam Buxton had many funny photoshopped pics and social media tales but Sara Pascoe was my absolute fav. She was deeper and more charming than the average comedian.
I love being a volunteer and being part of this quintessential Manchester event but I think they should try to pay more people to be there. It’s certainly incredible to see such great talent in Manchester though and I love to see it.