Factory International today announces more details of the opening season of Aviva Studios as the landmark venue prepares to officially open with the Matrix-inspired Free Your Mind.

It follows news that over 230,000 visitors have already been welcomed to the venue this summer when audiences were given the opportunity to preview the new building with a series of events including a spectacular exhibition by one of the world’s most loved artists, Yayoi Kusama, a series of gigs in the hall and a host of free performances and activities in the newly-created outside spaces.

Premiering on 18 October, the official opening production, Free Your Mind is a large-scale and immersive retelling of the classic sci-fi film The Matrix through dance, music and visual effects, created especially for the building’s flexible spaces.

With a creative team including co-founders and artistic directors of the Olivier award-winning Boy Blue Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy, Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante, world-leading designer Es Devlin, the acclaimed writer Sabrina Mahfouz and Danny Boyle, Free Your Mind features over 50 dancers from the North West and across the UK.

Alongside the venue’s opening production, Factory International will also present a programme of free public events including a monumental immersive installation from Es Devlin in the warehouse space at Aviva Studios.

Within the sculptural world of Free Your Mind, An Atlas of Es Devlin (until 3 Nov) encompasses the viewer in choral music, spoken word and vivid colour as Devlin’s voice weaves thought-provoking reflections on finding freedom through human reconnection with the biosphere.

Programmed over two years by a cross-section of Greater Manchester residents, The Welcome (11-19 Nov) is an invitation from local people to celebrate the new cultural space opening in the heart of their city. From a reflective group performance inspired by Tai chi and Qigong to a full-day Mancunian street-culture takeover of rap battles, workshops and skateboarding demonstrations, The Welcome offers an array of opportunities for local people to come together, take part, and explore different parts of the building.

Two larger-than-life exhibitions as part of The Welcome, showcase the diversity of Greater Manchester: Inside Out: This is Manchester – part of the global Inside Out Project created by world-renowned artist JR – comprises large-scale black and white photographs of more than 200 local residents aged from 5 to 90; while Under Construction, an exhibition by photographer Ming de Nasty will feature life-size portraits of some of the construction workers involved in the creation of Aviva Studios, exhibited across the building.

Other highlights of The Welcome include Kalabanté Productions’ Afrique en Cirque filling the venue for four nights with high energy acrobatics, dance, live Afrojazz and traditional West African instruments; and Balete Spacecraft, a sprawling spaceship-like installation by Filipino artist-designer Leeroy New which takes waste materials and transforms them into a colourful tangle of roots, inspired by the sacred Balete tree of the Philippines, highlighting the universal issues of waste and consumerism.

In December two one-off gigs will inaugurate the huge Warehouse space at Aviva Studios. For the first time, Johnny Marr and his band will be joined by a 30-piece orchestra for an expansive celebration of the last decade of Johnny’s solo body of work – 10 prolific years since the release of his 2013 debut solo album, The Messenger. Led by conductor Fiona Brice, the orchestra has been assembled by Johnny Marr specially for the event and is composed of musicians from across the North.

Fans can expect to hear songs from across Johnny’s revered catalogue in what is set to be an emotional and epic finale to Johnny Marr’s 2023 live performances. (7-8 Dec).

Hip-hop and soul duo, Children of Zeus, known for their critically acclaimed debut album Travel Light and 2021 follow up Balance, have curated a night of special guests who have inspired and influenced them over the years. Performing with a full live band, joining them on the night are rap-and grime MC icon Ghetts, and legendary R&B band Loose Ends. Manchester talent is also on show with soul artist [ K S R ], R&B singer-songwriter Akemi Fox, plus soul singer and rapper KinKai. More artists will be announced over the coming months for this genre-spanning show (9 December).

Building on previous creations in virtual realms, such as avatar artist LaTurbo Avedon’s 2020 installation in the gaming platform Fortnite which saw more than 1.5m visitors, Factory International will continue to harness emerging digital technologies to create experiences beyond the physical structure of its new home.

Launching 31 October, I CAN’T FOLLOW YOU ANYMORE is a new free-to-play browser-based video game by artist and game designer Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley exploring the idea of a Black Trans revolution. In the glitchy style of a 90’s PlayStation 1 horror game, the player must dance or fight to convert others to their ideology whilst facing positions which challenge their own.

Using Factory International’s new digital creative platform Factory Settings, fashion designer and Free Your Mind costume designer Gareth Pugh, and 3D artist and illustrator Jack Sachs will each create interactive digital experiences that blend real and virtual worlds accessed primarily via a free augmented reality app. And New York-based academic and writer McKenzie Wark takes over Factory International’s online platform Factory+ as Editor in Residence for autumn 2023, sharing a range of cutting-edge fiction, reflections and essays from a range of voices exploring the themes within Free Your Mind and The Matrix films.

Taking place on 23 November, Our National Health Stories Live is a powerful and moving portrait of the NHS on its 75th Anniversary. The special one-off performance directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah, celebrates the stories of the staff of the NHS, in their own words.

Featuring NHS staff on stage alongside professional performers and a live band, their stories will be brought to life through music, poetry, film and dance. The performance has been developed as part of an unprecedented national collaboration between 19 hospital trusts, and is the finale of a six-month programme of creative activity undertaken by thousands of staff in hospitals across England.

The stellar creative team is led by Kwei-Armah, with award-winning writer and playwright Chris Bush, original music by composer Ruth Chan and Associate Director Jennifer Tang.

A stage adaptation of Oliver Jeffers’ award-winning book Lost and Found (13 Dec – 6 Jan), will close out the year. Adapted for the stage by BAFTA award-winning director Will Brenton with music from Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals, the heart-warming, magical story of friendship and loneliness, told through a mix of puppetry and performance, will follow the journey of a little boy who one day finds a penguin on his doorstep.

Reflecting Factory International’s commitment to ensuring access to the widest possible audiences, Aviva £10 tickets will be available for all shows as part of an affordable pricing strategy that will see discounted tickets for Manchester communities across its year-round programme.

John McGrath, Artistic Director & Chief Executive of Factory International said: “We’re delighted to share some more details of our inaugural autumn programme following the fantastic news that over 230k people have already been welcomed through our doors to preview our new home. From world-class performance with opportunities to get involved to dynamic new artworks crossing real and virtual worlds, we hope that the season will give a flavour of the venue which we hope will be a place for artists to let their imaginations fly, for citizens of Manchester and the world to meet and dream, and for people of all ages and backgrounds to build skills and gain experience.”


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