REGRET comes in many forms.
Often it’s the childish regret of staying in when your mates are playing out.
That was the case with the Alina Ibragimova gig at Chetham's School of Music for Manchester International Festival (MIF). I was sat at home, fists clenched in frustration thinking I wish, I wish, I wish I'd seen this, when Lo! like Willy Wonka with a golden ticket the MIF people secured me a press pass on the third to last performance of the Russian genius.
It was a beautiful event, with beautiful music, in a beautiful space, from a beautiful musician. Ibragimova stood in a bronze dress echoing the red/buff sandstone of the old building and played as though she had eight hands and four violins. The hairs rose on the back of my neck.
It was a classic MIF event: original, moving, surprising in its setting. This is why on our rating system we scored performances with marks for 'originality' and for 'audience delight'. MIF is different and needs new scoring models.
General opinion was that in its programming and in its countless venues, galleries, theatres, concert halls, containers, stations, marquees, parks, places of worship and elsewhere, MIF did well. For the committed Festival goer it was a grand time. As one of these folk said after seeing the Albarn, Wood and Staton shows, "We're being spoilt aren't we?"
Of course this being a festival of pioneering performances some gambles didn't pay off. Even at the Ibragimova, a video by the excellent Quartet Brothers, to back the musical performance ended up as a distraction. Given the lovely surroundings, clever lighting and the talent of the artist, the Nosferatu-like, Expressionist silver screen presence wasn't needed.
The inclusion of stadium names such as Snoop Dogg was problematical. As our reviewer Lynda Moyo pointed out (click here), the Snoop gig seemed incidental to MIF, shoe-horned in for reasons hard to fathom. Snoop didn't even bother to mention MIF during the performance. The festival is more comfortable when it brings us one-off events, clever collaborations, surprises.
Maybe if Snoop had co-written a production with, say, Victoria Wood, it would have felt better. Dogg Pound Gangster Crips meets Dinner Ladies and Acorn Antiques perhaps?
MIF can be as good as it gets at arts festivals when it keeps to the shock and awe of Marina Abramovic, the power and the glory of Candi Staton at the New Testament Church of God, the voices in your head leaving you dazed and confused at Piccadilly Station with Lavinia Greenlaw's Audio Obscura - or even Dave Haslam's cosy chats with Bernard Sumner and Paul Morley.
Most of the bad this time round - aside from a weak Johnny Vegas show - concerned the Festival Village in Albert Square. We criticised the food here and the terrible drinks offer - which along with Mark Garner's personal tirade against the way MIF is run, click here - was about all we did criticise.
MIF went all Soviet on us in the face of these opinions. One high up official in the MIF hierarchy even went so far as to ignore us in the Pavilion, saying of Confidential "you're always so negative". It was as if only approval were allowed in the Village Compound - our name for the city centre festival focus in 2011.
Anyway here's more criticism. Many felt that the Village Compound simply didn't have the magic of 2009. Even in decor its stark white was chilling, with fewer brightly coloured tables and deckchairs jollying things up.
Howard Sharrock, man about town, and a regular at MIF performances (he stayed until 2am at the Village on at least three occasions) told us: "The special atmosphere of milling around, bumping into people from all over the city and from all walks of life wasn't the same. The weather was worse than 2009, certainly towards the end of the Festival, but not hugely worse. Where were the performers this time mingling with the punters?
"Then there was the addition of the Glasshouse - that bungalow with a roof terrace," continues Sharrock. "This was poor. The roof terrace was fine, when you could get on it. But the space below seemed corporate. And all those fences about the place dampened the atmosphere. There was definitely more of an 'us' and 'them' feel about the place. It felt more exclusive than inclusive."
Little things irked so much you felt like screaming. Or laughing. I almost did both on the last day of MIF while wandering into the Festival Village to attend the Vertical City event.
I'd innocently bought a Starbucks coffee and in doing so I'd become an evil transgressor. In the Pavilion in the Compound I was surrounded by security guards and made to stand outside the perimeter fence in the rain like a naughty child.
It might have made commercial sense for the approved Heathcotes Catering concession to monopolise the consumption of single cups of coffee in Festival Village - even though Albert Square is a public square - but it made a bloody mockery of the spirit of the occasion.
A final curiosity was the lack of a finale.
Festival devotees were unable to seek closure for the demise of 'eighteen days of extraordinary events'.
This is where our argument for running Manchester Day during MIF would have reaped rewards - click here. It would have made a gorgeous community cortege. The whole city celebrating MIF and itself in one vast parade.
Still as stated above, much that MIF 2011 did was utterly right. It underlined how in a mere three seasons it has become a festival force to be reckoned with. It already has an enviable national reputation, the luvvies love it - can you imagine the media coverage next time, given the BBC move to MediaCityUK?
I personally felt real pride in my city as I walked up an animated Oxford Street to the Albert Square Compound after loving Albarn's Dr Dee. That personal aspect is important.
Festivals such as this are all about the individual. As punters we want to see things we’ve not seen. The attitude should be, ask not what you can do for your festival, ask what it can do for you.
So let's forget the big policy stuff (we'll cover that later this week or early next week in any case).
Let's forget about using the festival to build city reputation and boost inward investment, let's forget about it drawing in non-arts aware audiences into New Century Hall or luring in Hale to high heel it into Manchester Art Gallery. Let's concentrate on the personal.
After all, art carries no baggage except that which we give it. Gerrard’s Infinite Freedom Exercise (click here), with its choreography of death, may make you think about the big themes, in this case what impulses drive nations to war. But that’s for you to decide, that's for you, solely, personally, to do.
Forgive me if this sounds like something from Private Eye's Pseuds Corner, but the best of MIF made me feel clean, or rather, purified. It's as though the soul was purged of all the minutae of detail that clogs my days like the grease gathered in a fast food aircon vent.
At Dee, Ibragimova, the Infinity Machine, I was dissolved in ideas, my senses were opened. I walked away with a daft, contented grin on my face. Therein lies the power of art.
So because of that, I personally can't wait for the 2013 programme to be announced. Just let's get that Festival Pavilion working as it did in 2009 please. And take the criticism without getting too upset. Now what about Snoop - can we get that collaboration with Victoria Wood moving?
You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield
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