In a pivotal moment for Manchester’s cultural landscape, the much-anticipated Aviva Studios, the permanent home of Factory International, swings its doors open today (October 18, 2023). Marking its inauguration is the world premiere of “Free Your Mind,” a monumental immersive performance inspired by The Matrix. Crafted by a stellar creative team and featuring 50 professional dancers, this reimagining of the iconic 1999 sci-fi film unfolds throughout Aviva Studios’ adaptable spaces.
Directed by the renowned Danny Boyle, “Free Your Mind” melds the kinetic choreography of Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy with a compelling score from the celebrated composer Michael’ Mikey J’ Asante (co-founders of the Olivier award-winning Boy Blue). The visual tapestry is woven together by the imaginative set design of world-leading artist Es Devlin and the literary prowess of acclaimed writer Sabrina Mahfouz.
Aviva Studios, a brainchild of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), emerges as a global hub for arts, music, and culture. Nestled in the heart of Manchester’s burgeoning St John’s neighbourhood, this architectural marvel boasts the backing of Manchester City Council, £99.05m from HM Government, and £7m National Lottery funding from Arts Council England. Principal partner Aviva, the UK’s leading Insurance, Wealth, and Retirement business, substantially supports this venture.
This 13,350-square-meter wonder is a testament to flexibility and innovation. Its vast, open spaces, meticulously designed by OMA Partner Ellen van Loon, can be endlessly rearranged, enabling artists to craft large-scale, ambitious works rarely seen elsewhere. The Warehouse, soaring 21 meters high and boasting a movable acoustic wall, can host up to 5,000 standing spectators. Its versatile counterpart, The Hall, accommodates up to 1,603 seated or 2,000 standing audience. Together, these spaces merge seamlessly, offering a canvas for boundless creativity.
Curated and operated by Factory International, the force behind the Manchester International Festival, Aviva Studios promises a year-round calendar brimming with original productions and special events spanning all artistic realms. The 2024 lineup unveiled today reveals a stellar array of performances. Director Robert Wilson collaborates with the surreal folk duo CocoRosie to reinterpret Kipling’s Jungle Book (March 2024). Maxine Peake, Sarah Frankcom, and Imogen Knight join forces with Gazelle Twin and Daisy Johnson for a feminist reimagining of John Bowen’s Robin Redbreast (May 2024). Dance artist Ivan Michael Blackstock presents the Olivier award-winning TRAPLORD (Sept 2024), a meditation on life, death, and rebirth. Laurie Anderson’s ARK (Nov 2024) explores the world’s necessary transformation for salvation. These performances merely scratch the surface of the rich tapestry of events planned.
Aviva Studios doesn’t just end at performances. It serves as a cornerstone for Manchester’s thriving music scene, hosting an array of gigs and collaborations with local and national promoters. Its economic impact is projected to be substantial, adding £1.1 billion to Manchester and the surrounding region over the next decade and generating 1,500 direct and indirect jobs. Beyond economic contributions, Aviva Studios plays a pivotal role in shaping the future creative workforce through the Factory Academy. Its training programs and talent development initiatives champion accessibility and inclusivity, providing avenues for artists from all backgrounds.
Factory International’s commitment to inclusivity is further underscored by its affordable ticketing strategy. For “Free Your Mind,” 5,000 tickets have been priced at £10 or less, ensuring access to a broad audience.
As Aviva Studios flings open its doors, Manchester’s cultural scene stands poised for a transformative journey, bringing together creativity, innovation, and a celebration of diverse voices. The Guardian celebrates this monumental step forward for Manchester’s arts, marking the birth of a vibrant, inclusive cultural haven.