An immersive Matrix films-themed dance, music and visual effects experience directed by Danny Boyle is to be the opening production at one of Europe’s most anticipated cultural venues.
Designed by Ellen van Loon, a partner at Rem Koolhaas’s Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) practice, the Factory, which from one angle resembles a spaceship, has been built on the site of the former Granada television studios.
It will have an industrial warehouse vibe to it, with super-sized movable walls allowing for different configurations, and everything from intimate performances to events on a grander, more eye-popping scale.
The Boyle production will, they predict, be at the blockbuster end of things. It will feature “spectacular visual effects, a cast of professional dancers and hundreds of Manchester participants” coming together to recreate scenes from the Matrix films “provoking visions of an alternative future”.
Boyle did not want to reveal too many details when talking about it on Thursday. But he did say: “You know what it’s like, especially at the moment, you think: what the fuck is going on? This is a project where we try to address that … through dance, really. That’s not giving too much away but it does reveal some of the ambition of it.”
Boyle said community involvement was a key part of it but not in an “am-dram” way – it would be “pushing people to the highest level of performance”.
The production is called Free Your Mind and will be the building’s official opening event in October 2023. It will feature choreography by Kenrick “H20” Sandy, music by Michael “Mikey J” Asante, stage sculptures by the designer Es Devlin and work by the poet and playwright Sabrina Mahfouz.
It was in 2014 that details of a plan for a large-scale, “ultra-flexible” arts venue in Manchester first emerged. Supporters said it would combine the qualities of the London Coliseum and Tate Modern and would be like nowhere else.
The then chancellor, George Osborne, pledged £78m towards its capital costs, revealing during his budget speech that it would be named after Tony Wilson’s Factory Records. “Anyone who is a child of the 80s will think that is a great idea,” he said.
With money from Manchester city council and Arts Council England as well, the Factory is the largest investment in a UK cultural project since the opening of Tate Modern in 2000.
The Factory will be programmed and operated by the Manchester international festival, and before the formal opening it will be part of the 2023 festival by staging a Yayoi Kusama show in July and August.
Kusama, 93, is one of the world’s most popular living artists and the Manchester show – You, Me and the Balloons – will feature spectacular inflatable sculptures she has made over three decades.
The artistic director and chief executive of Factory International, John McGrath, said the venue was about allowing artists to “let their imagination fly” and “think about the impossible”.
The building essentially consists of a theatre space with fixed seating, rammed up against a huge warehouse the length of a Boeing 747 plane. Devlin said it felt like London’s Royal Festival Hall smashed into Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall.
McGrath said he and his team were not daunted by having to programme so much new work, week in, week out, for such a large building.
“We take artists on site quite a lot now,” he said. “I have never had an easier sell to artists in my life. Even people we had to work to get here, they were a bit reluctant. They walk in and they are like, ‘sign me up’. We could programme through to the end of the decade quite quickly.”
McGrath estimates the venue will stage about 80 gigs a year. After Free Your Mind, there will be a nine-day programme of events – entitled The Welcome – developed by residents of Greater Manchester. It will be art, music, circus and fashion, with the possibility of spoken word poetry in the venue’s gender-neutral toilets.
The director of Tate, Maria Balshaw, is among the Factory’s supporters. She said she had never seen a space like it. “I don’t know of another one in the world. It has been made with the audiences of the future as well as the art of the future in mind, she said. “I think art that none of us have ever encountered before is going to be made in Manchester.”
The Factory is predicted to create or support as many as 1,500 direct and indirect jobs and add £1.1bn to the city’s economy over a decade. It is part of the regeneration of the St John’s area, along with new flats, offices and studios.
It is OMA’s first major public building in the UK. Previous high-profile projects include the China Central Television Headquarters in Beijing, Seattle Central Library and the Garage contemporary art gallery in Gorky Park, Moscow.
Van Loon, said the venue would be “a new type of performance space … a unique crossover between a fixed theatre and flexible warehouse”.
She added: “I hope that whenever people come to the Factory they always experience something different, as if with each visit they encounter a different building.”