Belfast Festival hits the refresh button
Global talent comes to town for celebration of the arts
Drumroll ... lights down, curtain up. There'll be something of an international feel to Belfast over the next couple of weeks, as performers from as far afield as Australia and Asia, Bosnia and Brazil gather to make us laugh, cry, dance and sing for this year's Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's.
While we'll be welcoming the usual strands of theatre, visual arts, dance and film, this year will also see the return of the much-loved and late-lamented Festival Music Club, in which a dressed-down Elmwood Hall will be the cabaret-style home to a broad range of sounds – from roots, folk and Americana to jazz, blues and alternative music.
A couple of big-hitters have been brought in to kick off the festival today – tenor Jose Carreras at the opening concert this evening in the Waterfront Hall, while Cuban-American artist Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada has been busy creating the huge land art portrait Wish, which is being unveiled this afternoon in the city's Titanic Quarter.
The man behind this year's programming is new director Richard Wakely. As a student at Queen's, he previously worked as a volunteer in the festival box office. It whetted his appetite for all things artistic, so he's very much putting his personal stamp on many of this year's events.
"Following our 50th anniversary celebrations last year, I felt it was time to refresh and re-energise the festival," he says. "I'm aiming to create a genuine city-wide, international event that brings the very best contemporary arts events to Belfast."
And festival is certainly spreading its tentacles across the city this year, with theatre pieces in Titanic Belfast and choral ensembles in St Gerard's Church, north Belfast, classical music in Clonard Monastery, a dance weekend at the Mac and community drama on the Shankill. And for the first time there's a collaboration between the festival and its siblings, East Belfast Arts Festival and Feile an Phobail, with a circus spectacular in Belmont Park.
The Lyric Theatre will be turned into a People's Parliament, where the audience run the show, in Pending Vote. Guardian journalist Ian Cobain will also discuss Britain's undercover use of torture.
Meanwhile, BBC presenter Mark Carruthers has been talking to public figures here.
Local company Prime Cut returns from a triumphant run in Mostar with their spectacular show The Conquest of Happiness and Kabosh are inviting us to view Belfast by Moonlight, in a new play by Carlo Gebler, with music by Neil Martin.
Phileas Fogg travelled around the world in 80 days. We can manage it in just 10, with Belfast Festival's Passport to the Arts. Get on board!
Unmissable highlights for your diary
By Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada
Remember those huge pictures Neil Buchanan used to create on television's Art Attack? Well, Cuban-American artist Jorge Rodríguez works along the same lines, creating massive artworks only seen properly from above.
He's been busy for the past few weeks, creating a new face for Belfast at the Titanic Quarter, called 'Wish'. Based on a photograph of an anonymous child from the city, the portrait – created out of earth and grass – is situated on 11 acres of land. It's an evolving piece – as nature takes its course, the image will eventually return to the ground. It can best be seen from high on one of the adjacent buildings – or if you're flying in to City Airport.
Bullet Catch Lyric Theatre, October 24-26
This is so dangerous that even the great Houdini refused to attempt it. Since its conception in 1613, Bullet Catch has claimed the lives of at least 12 people. This time, the man at the end of the barrel is performer, director and magician Rob Drummond. He's taking on the role of William Wonder in a show which features mind-reading, levitation... and a loaded gun. It's the first time in Ireland. Hopefully, it won't create too much of a splash...
Memòries d'una puça
The MAC, Friday and Saturday
A road movie transformed into dance. Spanish company Sol Picó Cia De DanzaIn tell the story of three characters who start out on a journey which is to change their lives. Inspired by Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, the performance uses classical and electronic music, combined with stunning visual imagery and plenty of black humour, to explore how the current economic crisis has devastated parts of Europe.
Elmwood Hall, tomorrow
There are plenty of premieres at this year's festival – and here's another one. Portugal's brightest new star, Fado singer Carminho (left) makes her first visit to Ireland especially for the festival. Her music crosses into other genres, like Brazilian popular music, jazz, pop and rock.
She combines the Fado songs of the quayside tavernas with Brazilian arrangements. Expect an evening of emotionally charged singing with goosebumps free of charge.
Elmwood Hall, Saturday
Are you a fan of folk? Maybe you prefer a bit of roots, or perhaps you're hooked on indie? This New York band is a combination of many musical genres, covering ground ranging from 19th century American parlour music through Appalachian Folk, Gospel, early Jazz and even contemporary classical sounds. They'll be showing off their talents in this, their first Belfast gig. Sounds good...
And don't forget to vote for your favourite...