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  • Writer's pictureSTEVE COOKE AATA



Factory International presents Free Your Mind, a large-scale immersive performance based on The Matrix films and created especially for the official opening of Aviva Studios, Manchester’s landmark new cultural venue.

Free Your Mind is a dramatic retelling of the classic 1999 sci-fi film through dance, music and visual effects. Featuring over 50 professional dancers from the North West and across the UK and almost 100 participants from Greater Manchester, this world-first adaptation will take place throughout the building’s ultra-flexible spaces.

Directed by Danny Boyle, Free Your Mind brings together the visceral movement of choreographer Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy with a powerful score from renowned composer Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante (co-founders and artistic directors of the Olivier award-winning Boy Blue), large-scale stage sculptures by world-leading designer Es Devlin and the work of the acclaimed writer Sabrina Mahfouz.

The creative team also includes celebrated costume designer Gareth Pugh, award-winning lighting designer Lucy Carter, sound designer Gareth Fry and renowned video designer Luke Halls.

Working with BAFTA-winning producer Tracey Seaward, this unique cross-art collaboration of world-leading artists, will showcase the breadth and ambition of Factory International’s artistic programme and invites audiences into a new realm of possibilities spanning real and imagined worlds. Free Your Mind will recreate some of the film’s most iconic scenes through hip-hop choreography combined with immersive set design and visual effects, provoking visions of an alternate future.

Created for Manchester, the birthplace of the world’s first industrial revolution, Free Your Mind will explore where the digital revolution has the power to take the world. Free Your Mind journeys from 1999, the year The Matrix was first released and the moment before people’s lives were irrevocably entwined with technology, to the present day, where the Metaverse is about to engulf the world. The show will bring the words of The Matrix character Neo to the forefront: “I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin.”

Free Your Mind is a world premiere commissioned and produced by Factory International.

Based on the Warner Bros films written and directed by the Wachowskis, produced by special arrangement with Warner Bros Theatre Ventures.

Factory International is the organisation that runs and programmes Manchester International Festival and the landmark new cultural venue, Aviva Studios, a global destination for arts, music and culture in the heart of Manchester. Factory International will commission and present a year-round programme of original creative work, music and special events at its new venue, online, and internationally through its network of co-commissioners and partners.

Designed by Ellen van Loon, OMA Partner and lead architect, the ultra-flexible building is based around vast, adaptable spaces that can be constantly reconfigured, enabling artists to develop works of invention and ambition, of a kind not seen anywhere else in the world. The venue’s development is led by Manchester City Council, with backing of £99.05m from HM Government and £7m National Lottery funding from Arts Council England.


Free Your Mind

Aviva Studios, Water Street, Manchester, M3 4JQ

UNTIL 5 November 2023

Standard Tickets £20, £25, £30, £40

Concessions from £10

Over 12's only. Under 16s must be accompanied by an adult over 18.


Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante MBA – Composer

Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante MBE is a renowned producer, composer and DJ, whose 20-year career history is firmly etched in the UK black music industry. As co-artistic director of hip hop dance theatre company Boy Blue, founded in 2001 with Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy, Asante is credited with the direction and composition of REDD (2019), the film R.E.B.E.L (2018), Outliers (2018), Blak Whyte Gray (2017), The Five & the Prophecy of Prana (2013), Touch (2011), Legacy (2011) and Pied Piper (2007). As a producer, Asante has worked with major label artists including Delilah, Raleigh Ritchie, Estelle and George The Poet. Notably Asante has worked extensively with Kano including engineering and production on the critically acclaimed album Made In The Manor and the albums Home Sweet Home, London Town and 140 Grime Street. Recent television and theatre work includes composition for Tree, a Kwame Kwei-Armah and Idris Elba creation for Manchester International Festival, composition for Clotilda: Last American Slave Ship a National Geographic documentary special, the BBC documentary The Three Lives of Michael X, and a collaboration with Brian Eno over two series of Netflix’s Top Boy.

Outside of the studio, Asante mentors and delivers master classes in directing, choreography and music and is also found residing in the Guildhall School of Music and Drama’s faculty as a Professor of electronic music, from where, in 2018, Asante was awarded an Honorary Fellowship (HonFGS). Asante received an MBE to Hip Hop Dance and Music in the 2022 New Year’s Honours.

Kenrick ‘H2o’ Sandy MBE – Choreographer

Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy MBE is the co-founder and co-Artistic Director of Boy Blue, an Artistic Associate of the Barbican, London, and a renowned choreographer and performer.

Sandy’s credits are extensive; as choreographer he’s responsible for the film R.E.B.E.L (2018), the dance theatre shows REDD (2019), Blak Whyte Gray (2017), The Five & the Prophecy of Prana (2013), A Night With Boy Blue (2018, 2016, 2015, 2013) and Pied Piper: A Hip-Hop Dance Revolution (2007). Off the main stage, Sandy collaborated with director Danny Boyle for the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony, winning the Evening Standard’s Beyond Theatre award. Sandy and Boyle reunited in 2017 to film Boy Blue’s Emancipation of Expressionism, a set work on the GCSE Dance syllabus. On screen work includes choreography for The BAFTA Awards, All Stars and T2 Trainspotting, plus appearances on Street Dance 3D and the BBC’s So You Think You Can Dance. Sandy has also created choreography for artists FKA twigs and Rita Ora and brands Nike, adidas and ASOS. Sandy was awarded an MBE for services to dance and the community in 2017 and a Companionship from LIPA and an Honorary Fellowship (HonFGS) from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in 2018.

Danny Boyle – Director

Household name Danny Boyle has delivered some of the most iconic moments in cinema over the past 30 years as one of Britain’s best loved directors. From the seminal Trainspotting to unnerving hits like The Beach and 127 Hours to the multiple Academy Award- and BAFTA- winning Slumdog Millionaire, his works are known and revered world-over. His career also spans theatre and television; Boyle directed the widely acclaimed Frankenstein for the National Theatre and Pistol, a six-part TV series based on guitarist Steve Jones’ 2018 memoir Lonely Boy: Tales From a Sex Pistol.

Boyle also directed the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony. For Free Your Mind, he joins forces with Kenrick Sandy MBE who choreographed part of the ceremony, as well as long-term collaborator and creative producer, Tracey Seaward.

Es Devlin – Set Designer

Artist and designer Es Devlin’s recent works include the large-scale choral sculpture ‘Come Home Again’ at the Tate Modern Garden which fused drawings and voices of 243 endangered London species; Conference of the Trees, which brought together 197 trees at COP26 in Glasgow; Memory Palace at Pitzhanger Manor which mapped shifts in human perspective over 73 millennia; Forest of Us which forms part of the inaugural exhibition at Superblue Miami alongside new works by TeamLab and James Turrell. Her recent theatre work includes The Crucible, Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, Ugly Lies the Bone at RNT, A Number at the Old Vic, Girls and Boys and The Nether at the Royal Court, Faith Healer at The Donmar, Hamlet at the Barbican, Chimerica at the Almeida. Devlin has conceived stage sculptures with Beyoncé, The Weeknd, U2, Kanye West, Saint Laurent, Dior and the 2021 and 2022 Super Bowl halftime shows featuring Dr Dre, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem as well as Olympic Ceremonies in London and Rio. She was the first woman to design the UK Pavilion at EXPO 2020 and her practice was the subject of the Netflix documentary series Abstract: The Art Of Design, her design for The Lehman Trilogy won the 2022 Tony Award and she has previously been awarded The London Design Medal, three Olivier awards, doctorates from the Universities of Bristol, Kent and UAL and a CBE.

Sabrina Mahfouz – Writer

Sabrina is a writer and performer, raised in London and Cairo. Sabrina recently performed her cross-genre show A History of Water in the Middle East at the Royal Court Theatre and was one of the inaugural writers in residence at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre for 20-21, co-writing an adaptation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Sabrina’s debut non-fiction book is These Bodies of Water: Notes on the British Empire, the Middle East and Where We Meet. Her poetry collection, How You Might Know Me (Out-Spoken Press), was a 2017 Guardian Best Summer Read and she was an essay contributor to the award-winning anthology The Good Immigrant (Unbound). Sabrina has also edited numerous anthologies including The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write (Saqi), which was a 2017 Guardian Book of the Year. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (FRSL).

About Factory International Factory International commissions, produces and presents a year-round programme of original creative work and special events at Aviva Studios, its landmark new home in Manchester, online, and internationally through its network of co-commissioners and partners. It also stages the city-wide Manchester International Festival every other year.

Factory International builds on the legacy of Manchester International Festival, one of the world’s leading arts festivals, and the first to be entirely focused on the commissioning and producing of ambitious new work. Staged every two years in Manchester since 2007, MIF has commissioned, produced and presented world premieres by artists including Marina Abramović, Damon Albarn, Laurie Anderson, Björk, Boris Charmatz, Jeremy Deller, Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-Armah, Elbow, Tracey Emin, Akram Khan, David Lynch, Ibrahim Mahama, Wayne McGregor, Steve McQueen, Marta Minujín, Cillian Murphy, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Yoko Ono, Thomas Ostermeier, Maxine Peake, Punchdrunk, Skepta, Christine Sun Kim, The xx, and Robert Wilson.

These and other world-renowned artists from different art forms and backgrounds create dynamic, innovative, and forward-thinking new work reflecting the spectrum of performing arts, visual arts and popular culture, staged across Greater Manchester – from theatres, galleries and concert halls to railway depots, churches and car parks. Working closely with cultural organisations globally, whose financial and creative input helps to make many of these projects possible, much of the work made at MIF also goes on to travel the world, reaching an audience of 1.7 million people in more than 30 countries to date.

Manchester residents play a key role in Factory International, participating in flagship commissions, co-designing programmes of activity, and shaping the organisation through involvement in its public forums. Skills, training and development opportunities for local people are provided through the Factory Academy, helping to build the technicians, producers and other talent that will bring the future alive, and providing opportunities for careers in Manchester’s ever-growing Creative Industries.

A space for invention and discovery, the design of Factory International’s new home, Aviva Studios, is led by Ellen van Loon of the world-leading practice Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). Built with flexibility in mind, the building is based around large, open, adaptable spaces that can be constantly reconfigured, enabling artists to develop and create large-scale work of invention and ambition, of a kind not seen anywhere else in the world. Audiences will be able to enjoy the broadest range of art forms from major exhibitions and concerts to intimate performances and immersive experiences, while the venue’s outside areas will come alive with pop-up performances, events and markets, creating a thriving new riverside destination for all.

This new cultural landmark will strengthen the city’s status as a national and international centre for culture, creativity and innovation, as well as a major visitor destination. Its economic impact will be considerable, creating or supporting up to 1,500 direct and indirect jobs and adding £1.1 billion to the city’s economy over a decade.

The venue’s development is led by Manchester City Council, with backing from HM Government and Arts Council England.

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