Words: Emily Mullen
The festival returns October 6 – November 7 with in-person performances across the city and a series of online events
Hoping to satiate the island’s demand for culture, and celebrate the retreating impact of the pandemic, Northern Ireland’s largest contemporary arts festival, is back for its 59th edition. Taking in the breadth of the iconic city, the Belfast International Arts Festival [BIAF] features a month-long programme of theatre, dance, music, independent film, visual art exhibitions, outdoor events and talks.
The 2021 edition aims to explore themes as wide-ranging as gender equality, multi-culturalism, representation, the climate crisis, and democracy.
Running over a month, the programme hosts a series of special performances from the likes of Glen Hansard, the Ulster Orchestra and Eímear Noone (the first woman to conduct the orchestra at the Oscars).
A nod to the shared history of traditional and folk music on the island, Dervish will be performing their album The Great Irish Songbook alongside Glen Hansard, Brian Kennedy, Cara Dillon and Eddi Reader.
“Our programme to enhance cultural relations across the Irish border continues unabated” Festival director Richard Wakely has said. The festival features a wide range of creatives from all over the island, Uncle Ray by David Bolger, a new stage work from CoisCéim Dance Theatre and Irish language films at the Queen’s Film Theatre such as The Queen v Patrick O’Donnell and Wolfwalkers/Na Conriochtaí.
Covid travel restrictions curbing their usual lineup of international artists, BIAF is still managing to welcome some artists from across the world, including playwright and Canadian science journalist Alanna Mitchell who will perform the critically acclaimed Sea Sick, an urgent call to action ahead of COP26.
Programmers have made a concerted effort to include local artists, such as the stunning film projection of Epilogue: A Dancer Dies Twice created by Festival Artist in Residence, dancer Eileen McClory, to an airing of The Border Game from award-winning writers Michael Patrick & Oisín Kearney and Irish Times Theatre Award-winning director Emma Jordan. There are also two exciting world premiere interactive theatre events from leading Northern Ireland companies. Cahoots NI’s The Grimm Hotel is an immersive spin on Grimms’ Fairy Tales featuring close-up magic and high-tech illusions in a walk-through theatre experience, while Big Telly smash together flash theatre and physical fiction in Department Story – a hybrid event where an online audience can collude with a physical one to shape what happens live.
There will be a powerful exhibition exploring the continuing legacy of the Rwandan genocide from photographer Paul Seawright entitled Beasts of Burden, alongside John Rainey‘s sculptural exploration into portals, post-internet worlds through his solo exhibition.
There will also be a number of online screenings of conversations between literary titans, including Colm Tóibín in conversation with South Africa’s Damon Galgut, Australia’s Laura Jean McKay & Meg Mason, France’s Dominique Barbéris & Gaëlle Josse all speaking about their latest books.
Add to that, screenings of Oona Doherty’s latest dance films The Devil and Hunter Filmed, Sebastian Barry’s critical and popular hit play On Blueberry Hill and two major showcase events of new and innovative new works from poets of the North of Ireland called Acts of Commission 1 & 2.
To check out the full programme and consider a visit to Belfast, click here.