Belfast International Arts Festival

The city's flagship arts festival returns with a packed programme of specially commissioned works and colourful, cultural entertainment

Festival Details


Tuesday, 11 October 2016 to Saturday, 29 October 2016



The Ulster Bank Belfast International Arts Festival has revealed details of its 2016 programme.

Built around three central festival themes of Bending the Bard (Shakespeare 400 years on), World in Motion (migration and refuge) and Nineteen Sixteen (legacy of the war years), there’s plenty of colour, history, culture, arts and entertainment in store in the packed programme.

Two of the festival highlights showcased at the launch were the hugely-anticipated first appearance in Northern Ireland of New York performance artist, Taylor Mac. An actor, playwright, singer and songwriter, Mac’s show combines all the glitz and dazzle of the campest cabaret, along with daring political and social commentary and audience participation. He is funny, articulate, outspoken and highly entertaining.  

A 24-Decade History of Popular Music has been jointly commissioned by the Belfast Festival and 14-18 NOW, with a range of international partners, and will explore gender, authority, class, and war, incorporating Mac’s own take on Irish history.  Expect music, glitter, feathers and stunning costumes (by Machine Dazzle), interaction with the audience and a rollercoaster of emotions, ending with the start of a love affair with the act described as 'The critical darling of the New York scene' (New York Times).  It is anticipated that Taylor Mac’s shows will be the talk of the town, so they are not-to-be-missed.

Also showcased at the launch, with a taster performance of her new piece, Run to the Rock, was critically acclaimed Irish performance artist (and last year’s Festival Artist in Residence), Amanda Coogan. This live art work, specially commissioned by the festival with the support of the British Council’s Shakespeare Reworked programme, combines choreographed movements inspired by translations of Shakespeare into British Sign Language (BSL) and Irish Sign Language (ISL) with live multi-media messaging, projected images and sound, along with a stunning set and costumes.

Run to the Rock will involve deaf performers from Northern Ireland and South Africa and is based around the Robben Island Bible, a copy of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare which was smuggled among the prisoners of the South African Robben Island prison, during the period of Nelson Mandela’s incarceration.

Dance fans will be thrilled to hear that after much persistence, Belfast Festival has secured Bessie-award-winning New York dancer, Faye Driscoll, who will give her UK and Ireland premiere of Thank You for Coming: Attendance at The MAC. This will sit in the dance programme alongside Butterflies and Bones from Fearghus Ó Conchúir, exploring the Roger Casement story, and a double bill of specially commissioned new dance solos from joint Festival Artists in Residence, Leonie McDonagh (of ponydance) and Oona Doherty. 

One of Europe’s most acclaimed choreographers, Jan Martens returns to the festival after his last visit in 2013 with Victor, to bring The Dog Days are Over, an astonishing production of physical endurance described as 'a minimal, political and jumped work for eight performers' – based around only one physical action, the jump: it’s sweaty stuff and a must-see.

The festival’s opening event this year is in association with Poetry Ireland.  Weaving together the power of poetry, music, drama and imagery with the works of the likes of Heaney, Muldoon, Longley and John Hewitt, In Dreams Begin Responsibilities is a celebration of reconciliation on the island of Ireland over the last 100 years and on the 18th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

Also celebrating the spoken word, the UK premier of The Fever at the Grand Opera House will be an evening filled with drama, words and music and a host of guests, exploring the Great War and the ripple of developments that continue to develop today. The transformation of the international system and its impact on the independence of Ireland is considered in a series of performances and talks hosted by Fintan O'Toole.

In theatre, a Greek tragedy takes centre stage in this year’s festival programme, in the form of Aeschylus’ The Suppliant Women in a new version by David Greig at the Grand Opera House.  Telling the story of the mythical fifty daughters of Danaus, who escaped across the sea with their father and wound up seeking refuge at Argos, the parallels of this play with the ongoing refugee crisis are evident, relevant and thought-provoking.

David Grieg’s previous work, The Events, was acclaimed as The Guardian’s Best Play of 2013 and his modern-day retelling of The Suppliant Women will be performed by a local community cast performing alongside players from the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh and Actors’ Touring Company.

Local theatre artists and companies are also well represented with Prime Cut showcasing a double bill at An Culturlann of the critically acclaimed Scorch by Stacey Grieg and A Sinkhole in Guatemala, which marks Sarah Gordon’s writing debut as part of Prime Cut’s Reveal programme.

There's also Kabosh’s world premiere of Green and Blue, examining the historical realities of patrolling the border from the perspectives of serving RUC and An Garda Siochána officers; Brassneck Theatre Company’s latest offering, Belfast Rising and a new Belfast-based resetting of Chekhov’s Three Sisters by Lucy Caldwell playing at The Lyric Theatre.

Female artists feature strongly throughout this year’s festival and no more so than in the talks and literature strand of the programme. Contributors include feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez (best known for the campaign to put Jane Austen on the £20 note and author of Do It Like a Woman), Lisa McInerney, Irish author of Bailey’s Women’s Fiction prize winning The Glorious Heresies, former New York Times art critic and Pulitzer prize winning author, Margo Jefferson, writer of Negroland and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, who will be exploring the contemporary relevance of Shakespeare with the help of theatre director Conall Morrison and a group of local actors.  This year’s Amnesty International lecture will be given by Labour MP Yvette Cooper on Fixing the Refugee Crisis.

Musical attractions span from multi-award-winning legends of the folk music scene, Martin Carthy and Martin Simpson, through to Belfast’s Jonathan Byers playing Bach on cello, and from indie rockers Augustines and nu soul sensation, Michael Kiwanuka, through to Italian classical pianist Emanuele Arciuli, making his Irish festival debut.

Family entertainment at this year’s Belfast Festival will come (for free) in the form of Micro-Shakespeare, dancing Trolleys and a spectacular underwater-themed acrobatics and lights show called Mú, all of which will be co-presented by Belfast City Council in various parks and venues across the city: tickets are limited in number so booking is highly recommended for all of these free events.

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