Hundreds of dancers perform living flipbook to open Manchester international festival

Sea Change by French choreographer Boris Charmatz saw professional and amateur dancers perform unique ‘funny, awkward movements’

This year’s Manchester international festival opened with an ambitious new dance piece, Sea Change, that united Deansgate in a celebration of togetherness after many months of Covid-19 restrictions.

The piece saw a line of dancers across a roughly 400m stretch of the street, which runs north-south through Manchester city centre, each performing unique gestures to create a living flipbook as the audience walked past.

The work is the brainchild of French choreographer Boris Charmatz. Describing Sea Change as a “mad dance” he said: “It’s not a chorus line at all. People really have the chance to express what’s in their gut even if that’s funny, awkward movements.

“We thought for the reopening, it would be great to do something for Mancunians and the city. The whole piece is about our shared need to be together and how now is the time to party after the confinement of lockdown. If we’d done the same piece three or four years ago, the smell would have been completely different and that makes the piece very special.”

Sea Change features more than 150 Greater Manchester residents among the cast, which includes a mix of professional dancers and “community performers”, amateur volunteers drawn from the area.

More than 150 Greater Manchester residents featured among the cast.
More than 150 Greater Manchester residents featured among the cast. Photograph: Andy Barton/SOPA Images/Rex/Shutterstock

Emily Paris, 25, a professional dancer from Manchester, said that in the lead-up to the reopening there was “no segregation between professionals and amateurs. Boris has pushed us to our own personal limits and, as much as the outcome is stunning, we’re all so proud to be part of something with this level of community spirit.”

Ambient music blared from roadside speakers, further adding to the carnival atmosphere. The performance ran continuously for three hours in total, but the audience can view a complete cycle in 5-10 minutes.

“The description online was very conceptual and it’s been a lot to absorb,” said Alex Hancock, a distribution manager from Old Trafford. “I’m glad I took the plunge though … it’s surreal to be out like this after a year without the arts.”

Museum worker Emma McBeath, 47, said it was one of the first times she’d been out on account of having to shield for much of the last 16 months.

“One of my friends is a volunteer performer in the show. We used to go out clubbing all the time, so when we heard they were dancing in a big, public event we had to see it!” she said.

Aside from Sea Change, the festival features a number of newly commissioned works including Big Ben Lying Down With Political Books by the artist Marta Minujín, a 42m structure made from 20,000 books which are being given away at the end of the festival. The work comes “as a response to some of the battles between north and south over the last year,” said festival director John McGrath. “Manchester has a rich history, from the Peterloo massacre and the founding of the Guardian to the music industry of the last few decades, and it’s really important that the north maintains a strong cultural voice.”

The visual and performing arts festival features artists from the north-west and from more than 20 countries. “MIF isn’t inward looking, and that’s why we’ve invited artists from around the world to be part of our celebration,” said McGrath.


Alex Mistlin

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Fantasy, folly and fancy footwork: cosmic dance comes to Manchester
Dancers, actors and digital animation combine for a spectacle in an old railway depot, while Alphabus flexes its muscles at Manchester international festival

Sanjoy Roy

07, Jul, 2019 @11:38 AM

Article image
Manchester international festival: your reaction

Alex Needham: From Björk to Damon Albarn via Factory Records and Sarajevo, the Manchester international festival kicked off with an arts bonanza. Here's what you thought ...

Alex Needham

05, Jul, 2011 @4:28 PM

Article image
Manchester International Festival: 65 hours with Nikhil Chopra
Indian performance artist will spend the best part of three days in the Whitworth art gallery for his show 'Coal on Cotton'

Jim Norton

13, Jun, 2013 @7:00 AM

Article image
The Global Playground review – silliness at full throttle as cameras roll on dance moves
Fun, mischief, comic puppetry and rather frustrating lulls abound as a dance company attempts to film its latest show

Kate Wyver

05, Jul, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
Yoko Ono, Skepta and Idris Elba to take part in Manchester international festival
Thousands will ring bells with Yoko Ono to kick off July 2019 arts festival, ahead of a dystopian rave from Skepta and a musical by Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-Armah

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

29, Oct, 2018 @12:01 AM

Article image
Manchester festival makes room for Elbow, Hallé and Kraftwerk

Biennial event highlights electro pioneers, Lou Reed and new Wainwright opera

Mark Brown, arts correspondent

20, Mar, 2009 @12:01 AM

Manchester International Festival: Shelley, Macbeth and Massive Attack

Biennial festival's premieres include Maxine Peake reciting The Masque of Anarchy and Kenneth Branagh's Shakespeare role

Maev Kennedy

28, Feb, 2013 @6:47 PM

Article image
What if women ruled the world?
An end to abuse, a law against mansplaining, and reparations for two millennia of injustice … as a new sci-fi art show imagines a female-led future, we ask comedians, writers, politicians and CEOs for their vision

Interviews by Susanna Rustin, Harriet Gibsone and Hanna Yusuf

05, Jul, 2017 @6:00 AM

Article image
Lucinda Childs: ‘In the US, my work wasn’t something people could deal with’
From being taught by Merce Cunningham to collaborating with Philip Glass, the choreographer who helped shape the New York dance scene – now ‘81 on paper’ – looks back

Lyndsey Winship

30, Jun, 2021 @7:00 PM

Article image
Opera for babies joins New Order at Manchester international festival
This year’s highlights include series of intimate shows by the rock band and a pioneering piece of music theatre

Helen Pidd North of England editor

09, Mar, 2017 @11:49 AM