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Belfast International Arts Festival unveils 2017 programme

Schaubuhne Berlin’s Compassion: The History of the Machine Gun. Photo: Daniel Seiffert Schaubuhne Berlin’s Compassion: The History of the Machine Gun. Photo: Daniel Seiffert
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Four major UK and Irish theatre premieres have been announced as headline events in this year’s Belfast International Arts Festival.

The festival’s opening event will see the first performance in the UK and Ireland of Milo Rau’s Compassion: The History of the Machine Gun. Presented by Berlin’s Schaubuhne company, it is a “semi-documentary double-monologue” based on interviews with NGO workers, clerics and war victims in Africa and Europe.

It was seen at the Belgrade International Theatre Festival in 2016 when The Stage described it as a “brilliantly acted” and “vigorous and none-too-gentle inspection of the contradictions and complexities of humanitarianism”.

Also making its UK and Irish debut is French choreographer and dancer Rachid Ouramdane’s Tordre (Wrought). A duet between British dancer Annie Hanauer and Lithuanian Lora Juodkaite, it sees each woman “paint a raw, captivating self-portrait”.

Seen at London’s Barbican Theatre in 2016 – when it was nominated for an Olivier award – Compagnie Yoann Bourgeois’ He Who Falls (Celui Qui Tombe) will make its Irish premiere during the festival.

It will also feature Karine Polwart’s Wind Resistance, commissioned by the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, which was described by The Stage as a “delicate tale of human tragedy that combines music, storytelling and natural landscapes to find universal themes” when it ran in Edinburgh in 2016.

Festival director Richard Wakely said: “Belfast International Arts Festival thrives on the challenge to identify and bring dynamic, quality, cutting-edge works from across the globe to the Belfast stage.”

He added: “Our aim with every festival is a simple one; to create a genuinely civic event of contemporary arts and ideas of international appeal and stature. With each event we set out to bring the very best to our audience and artists are always keen to take part in this established arts festival, recognised in the industry as one of the best.”

The festival has struggled financially in recent years with the loss of two major sponsors – Queen’s University, Belfast in 2014 – after a 50-year association – and the Ulster Bank in 2016.

Its current principal funder, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, recently increased its support for 2017-18 by 15.5% to £218,293.

This year’s festival opens on October 6 and runs until October 28.