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  • Writer's pictureSTEVE COOKE AATA


Updated: Oct 27, 2023

Review by Steve Cooke

To mark the official opening of Manchester’s enormous Aviva Studios – the new permanent home of Factory International - Free Your Mind, a reimagining of the cult, seminal film The Matrix is the perfect show to highlight the full extent of this wonderful performance/exhibition space’s potential.

The invited audience were invited to follow the white rabbit [literally] to be taken on a thrilling journey through the film’s most iconic scenes being realised through stunning hip hop dance with extraordinary costumes, music, and visual effects.

Created by Danny Boyle [Director], Es Devlin [Set designer], Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy [Choreographer], Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante [Composer], Sabrina Mahfouz [Book writer] with

Lucy Carter [Lighting designer], Gareth Fry [Sound designer] and Luke Halls [Video/projection designer].

The core team of creatives have some track record with Danny Boyle having worked previously with the co-founders of hip-hop dance company Boy Blue – Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy and Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante on a segment involving hundreds of dancers for the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony and Es Devlin, who has worked on everything from the 2012 Closing Ceremony to the Super Bowl half-time show in 2022.

Together, with writer Sabrina Mahfouz they are the creators of a piece featuring 50 professional dancers from the North West and across the UK, and almost 100 participants from Greater Manchester.

The Matrix hit cinema screens in 1999 since when a tremendous amount of change has occurred in the everyday technology affecting our lives including such as social media, google, amazon, smart phones, and all-seeing CCTV.

Free Your Mind opens in the Hall - Aviva Studios’ 1,603-seat theatre and concert space – with and AI simulation of Alan Turing on a 1940’s television. Ian Harris dances as Turing as his words take us through how the computer scientist came to the city in 1948 to work on the Manchester Baby, the first machine with memory. Resonating with the current debate around the future of AI we are asked ‘Should we have worried at machines being able to think?’ Poignantly we are also given a glimpse of Turing’s personal tragedy as a gay man in post-war England.

Matrix motives then bombard our senses with Corey Owens as Neo, the handsome hacker on the run, Nicey Belgrave his love interest Trinity rocking a red wig and long black leather coat, Mikey Ureta, looking sharp in sunglasses, leading the troop of predatory agents. One memorable segment calls to mind the amniotic pods of the film; mouths pressed up against the fabric in silent howls.

For the interval we follow white rabbits into the cavernous public space to encounter ‘floating’ agents that makes us gasp and reach for our phones.

For the second half we are divided into two groups, red banded and blue banded, and guided into the Warehouse, demonstrating the space’s versatility, and looking very different from my last visit for the MIF23 Yayoi Kusama’s You, Me, and the balloons exhibition. This space, that is almost as long as a Boeing 747, has a catwalk stage slicing through its centre and similarly long, narrow video screens above it. As the video screen rises, we see our red banded fellow audience members situated on the other side of the catwalk.

We are blitzed with striking images, both on stage and on screen. Gareth Pugh’s costumes stunningly capture technology in wearable form, from the familiar blue ticks and thumbs-up of social media to ominously ubiquitous CCTV surveillance cameras.

Free Your Mind is an ensemble affair, the brilliantly directed and choreographed dancers working crisply and with great style in numerous battle scenes – plus some welcome moments of genuine humour and style.

We rapturously applauded for several minutes at the end with several of the ensemble seeming genuinely moved. The applause should also be shared with the wonderful staff and volunteers that made this the perfect opening for Manchester’s new creative hub - a welcoming, inclusive, exciting, and stimulating space.

Free Mind is on until 5 November at AVIVA STUDIOS, WATER STREET, MANCHESTER, M3 4JQ.

Running time 2hrs 30mins

Cast includes.

Ian Harris, Joe Price, Mikey Ureta, Nicey Belgrave, Tanaka Bingwa, Yolanda Newsome, Emma Houston, Jordan Clarke, Paris Crossley, Hanna Dimtsu, Jimmy Allan, Kyron Jake Anthony, Emily Bajic, Kristine Berget, Mark Boyce, Ellis Brownhill, Kyrah Decoteau, Emily Dodd, Annie Joy Edwards, Lexi Finch, Lia Garner, Jamie Graham, Lauren ‘Fidget’ Haywood, Kotoha Ito, Chase Johnston, Anmol Kaur, Antonia Lomas, Ariana Leon, Kyah Lomax, Brandon Mallipal, Cara Marsh, Kelsey ‘Hydro’ Miller, Reon Nash, Corey Owens, Miguel Semedo, Kieron Simms, Rita Spider, Lauren Stewart, Chad Taylor, Masaiya Thomas, Iona Turnbull, Jules Valentine, Jack Webster, Samuel Wise, Gabriela Wołosik, Cameron Woolnough.

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