Belfast Telegraph

Belfast International Arts Festival 2017: Everything you need to know

The Belfast International Arts Festival returns for another year, with a huge programme of events on offer across the city - and here's everything you need to know:

When does the Belfast International Arts Festival take place?

BIAF 2017 runs from Friday, October 6 to Saturday, October 28.

How big is this year's programme?

This year's programme boasts 191 events over the 23 days, including 12 premieres.

What will open this year's festival?

The UK and Irish premiere of Compassion: The History of the Machine Gun will kick off BIAF 2017 at the Lyric theatre in Belfast on Friday, October 6. There will also be a performance on Saturday, October 7.

What is is about?

Director Milo Rau's semi-documentary double-monologue is based on interviews with NGO workers, clerics and war victims in Africa and Europe, and ventures into contradictory terrain: how do we endure the misery of others and why do we watch it.

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Compassion: The History of the Machine Gun

What are the highlights of this year's festival?

With 191 events taking place it's hard to pick a favourite, but here are a few 'must see' shows and exhibitions:


Wind Resistance, The MAC - October 10-11

Four-time winner of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, Karine Polwart is a Scottish singer, song-writer and musician. A stunning exploration of the myths and stories of the land around us, Karine’s story telling captivates and her beautiful music will stay with you.

Atlantic Arc Orchestra & Lula Pena, The Grand Opera House - October 16

Founding member of Planxty, Dónal Lunny is the musical director behind the Atlantic Arc Orchestra – a collaboration  of the world’s most respected traditional musicians.

This special double bill also sees the revered Portuguese singer, composer and musician, Lula Pena who brings a deeply emotional and intense approach to folk blues, flamenco and Latin.

Lula Pena. Pic credit: Lucile Dizier


Tordre, The MAC - October 13-14

Meaning wrought, Tordre is a haunting duet of stories, with two solo dancers giving intensely physical performances. They each paint a raw, captivating self-portrait drawing on hypnotic whirling gestures.

Celui Qui Tombe, The Grand Opera House - October 19 - 20

This gravity-defying show is described as a "circus-influenced physical theatre spectacle".

The performance takes place on a suspended podium on which the cast must withstand its forces as it begins to spin, pivot, swing and elevate with choreography from tracks from Beethoven and Frank Sinatra.

Hard To Be Soft, The MAC - October 26 -28

A reflection on their hometown, this four-part dance work is based on the experiences and realities of people living in today’s Belfast.

Bringing the Festival to a close it is an ensemble of Northern Ireland’s top artists – choreographer Oona Doherty, internationally renowned Belfast DJ and composer David Holmes and Ajendance Dance Company, Ryan O’Neill, Bryan Quinn, John Scott.  It incorporates interviews with people from across Belfast, and young offenders from Hydebank Wood.

Special Events

Poppies: Weeping Window, The Ulster Museum - October 13 - December 3

National Museums Northern Ireland and the Belfast International Arts Festival have partnered to bring Poppies: Weeping Window to Belfast for people to experience this unique, powerful and deeply moving sculpture.

The sculpture by artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper, is one of two touring as part of 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary. 

Cascading from the top of the Ulster Museum, Poppies: Weeping Window will be in situ from the October 13 through to December 3. 

As part of the Festival, several talks, theatre and music are also running during October, contributing to the Contested Legacies content of this years’ programme.

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Poppies: Weeping Window by artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper

Visual Arts

The Tempest: Ireland Memory Identidy, Carlisle Memorial Methodist Church - October 10  - 28

Hughie O’Donoghue is one of Ireland’s leading international artists. He was elected as a member of the Royal Academy, London in 2009 and to Aosdána in 2013.

This exhibition of paintings, painted constructions and sculpture draw on the artist’s own experience and connections, people and places that he knew or knew of.  Fore grounded are three new major works, some over six meters in length and an extended version of the moving sculpture A Distant Thunder.

The four characters O’Donoghue has evoked are the revolutionary, the soldier, the sailor and the rural farmer. Through their differing perspectives the events that have shaped the century are alluded to in an attempt to explore the subjective and fugitive nature of truth.

Special family events


  • Writers Square - Saturday, October 7 at 12pm & 3pm
  • CS Lewis Square - Sunday 8 October 12pm & 3pm

Three daredevil acrobats appear and disappear from a vehicle to perform increasingly absurd and reckless tricks. With great skill and humour they fly off a huge seesaw, tumble with giant bouncing balls, juggle on skis, pogo, throw weights and push themselves to their physical limits.


Gardens Speak, Crescent Arts Centre - October 11 - 12

Award-winning creator, Tania El Khoury premieres in Ireland at the Crescent Arts Centre. The interactive sound installation portrays the oral histories of the people buried in Syrian gardens during the Syrian uprising.

Narrated by the friends and family of the deceased, the participating audience, glimpse into ten stories which can no longer be told by those who lived them.


Mariinsky Orchestra, The Ulster Hall -Wednesday, October 11

Founded in 1783 and heralding from St. Petersburg, the Mariinsky Orchestra has been named as one of the top orchestras in the world by the classical magazine Gramophone. 

Brought to us in partnership with Titanic Belfast, Valery Gergiev, Artistic Director and Mariinsky Orchestra will perform an all Russian programme.

The first half of the programme is dedicated to Russia’s national poet, Alexander Pushkin. Starting with Tchaikovsky’s Waltz and Polonaise from the opera Eugene Onegin and Rimsky-Korsakov’s famous Flight of the Bumblebee from the opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan. 

The finale is the almost film-like score of Shostakovich’s epic Symphony No.11, which describes the momentous events in St. Petersburg during the 1905 Russian Revolution.  

Where can I get tickets for BIAF 2017?

Full event and ticket information can be found at


From Belfast Telegraph