2021: A Year in Review

6 January 2022

While 2021 saw a continuation of extraordinary obstacles due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Galway International Arts Festival prevailed with another extraordinary Autumn programme in 2021.

From the 28th of August to the 18th of September, the 44th annual Galway International Arts Festival delighted in-person and at-home audiences with exceptional theatre, outstanding visual arts, moving musical performances, and thought-provoking First Thought Talks.

For a second year in a row, the Festival was reimagined and adapted to an Autumn programme to align with government guidelines and HSE recommendations, but there were many silver linings, especially when it came to digital access. This year the Festival rolled out its biggest ever digital programme, bringing world class events and performances online to audiences around the world.

MEDICINE by Enda Walsh: A Tour-De-Force

A major highlight of the 2021 Festival was the Landmark Productions and GIAF co-production of Medicine by Enda Walsh, which premiered at Edinburgh International Festival before coming to the Black Box in Galway as part of the Festival and going on to tour at St. Ann’s Warehouse in New York City. Standing ovations and rave reviews greeted this exciting new production, which starred actor Domhnall Gleeson alongside a sensational cast made up of Clare Barrett, Aoife Duffin and drummer Sean Carpio. Devastatingly funny and profoundly moving, Medicine examines social responses to mental health concerns, while deconstructing the fabric of theatrical performance.

Domhnall Gleeson onstage as John Kane in 'Medicine' by Enda Walsh. Photo by Jess Shurte

This remarkable production wowed critics and audiences alike inEdinburgh, Galway, and New York. Medicine was hailed as a superb production' by The Scotsman, which gave it five starts, and said, 'the text is beautifully and bravely teased out by a magnificent cast’.

The Irish Times also gave the production five stars, saying ‘Domhnall Gleeson is a force to be reckoned with', with a performance that 'cuts you to the bone. The Telegraph (★★★★★) alluded to 'the wonderfully explosive Aoife Duffin' and 'Clare Barrett on barnstorming form' while The Sunday Times, also giving five stars, lauded the ‘Magnificent performances' from the 'outstanding actors’.

Medicine also generated a lot of buzz online from viewers who were able to watch live theatre from the comforts of their home. Over the course of the Medicine Livestream and On Demand campaign, the hashtag #MedicinefromHome became flooded with tweets sharing the joy of experiencing the play virtually.

GIAF and Landmark Productions are grateful to the support of Culture Ireland in bringing this production to New York.

GIAF21 Festival Highlights

This year Galway International Arts Festival amended its programme so that as many festival-goers as possible were able to safely enjoy the 44th annual Festival. For three thrilling weeks, the Festival put on 13 First Thought Talks, 11 theatre productions, 9 Visual Art Exhibitions, 4 Live Vinyl Hours Podcast Episodes, 2 music productions, 1 Other Voices X GIAF Livestream and 1 public spectacle. That’s a whopping 41 total events that took place across Galway City, Connemara, all the way to the Aran Islands, and virtually beamed all around the world!

Luke Murphy and Will Thompson in 'Volcano'. Photo by Emilija Jefremova.

Praise for the 2021 edition of the Festival was significant and hugely positive. The Irish Times alluded to the Festival’s excellent and ambitious work’ that ‘hit multiple high notes’, while the Guardian commended GIAF’s endeavours to deliver its biggest digital programme to date, saying the Festival had adapted to Covid-19 restrictions with ingenuity, embracing ‘hybrid forms of performance: live in theatres, streamed, filmed, recorded for headsets or available for a single audience member to encounter alone.

President Michael D. Higgins at Happy Days, Inis Oirr
Sabina Higgins, Bríd Ní Neactain, President Michael D. Higgins and Raymond Keane pictured in front of the set of Leathanta Shona (Happy Days) on Inis Oírr, Aran.Photo By Andrew Downes.

GIAF 2021 included 10 theatrical premieres and commissions and two New York Times Critics’ Picks: Medicine by Enda Walsh and Donmar Warehouse’s Blindness. Luke Murphy’s ★★★★ Volcano was performed live as well as available to watch online as an episodic experience and was ‘unexpectedly exhilarating’ according to The Guardian.

Another hybrid hit was Druid’s On Demand version of The Seagull (After Chekhov), directed by Garry Hynes, which the Sunday Independent called ‘enthralling’ and the Business Post called ‘a masterful revival’. The Irish Times called Sruth na Teanga by Branar ‘immersive, vivid, and playfully persuasive’ and Brú Theatre’s Ar Ais Arís ‘a highlight’ of the Galway International Arts Festival 2021. The Guardian gave Decadent Theatre’s There are Little Kingdoms four stars, citing its chiselled script’, while the Irish adaptation of Leathanta Shona (Happy Days) by Company SJ and Abbey Theatre on Inis Oirr was attended by President Michael D. Higgins.

Beyond traditional theatre, GIAF 21 included outstanding performances like After Love by Dani Gill, directed by Laura Sheeran and choreographed by Stephanie Dufresne, and Fidget Feet's A Handful of Dreams.

After Love
Lewis Wilkins and Stephanie Dufresne in 'After Love'. Photo by Declan Colohan.

The visual arts exhibitions at the Festival Gallery featured the works of Joy Gerrard and an installation, House of Memory, by Architecture at the Edge. Joy Gerrard’s Precarious Freedom: Crowds, Flags, Barriers featured meticulous ink drawings on themes of protest and urban space. Drawing on over a decade of image–making and research, Joy Gerrard painstakingly remakes media–borne crowd images on subjects such as climate change, Brexit, BLM protests and women’s equality. After the last eighteen months where many of these issues have surfaced as vital conversations to reckon with, Gerrard’s work felt most pressing.

House of Memory
Installation view of the House of Memory at the Festival Gallery. Photo by Emilija Jefremova

Nestled into its own quiet and dimly-lit space in the Festival Gallery stood House of Memory, commissioned by Architecture at The Edge and designed by David Kelly. Audiences were invited to leave a note or memento within the various levels of the wooden structure in memory of those who have passed away. By the end of the Festival hundreds of notes transformed the structure into a sacred enclosure

The First Thought Talks series returned to explore the big issues and challenges of the day, with a wide range of speakers including Executive Director, WHO Health Emergencies Programme, Dr. Mike Ryan, writer, educator and disability advocate, Sinead Burke, American–British playwright Bonnie Greer, Author Misha Glenny, Artist John Gerrard, Journalist Fintan O’Toole and many more. These talks were recorded and can be watched back on GIAF’s website and YouTube channel.

Mirror Pavilion Continues to Dazzle

Galway International Arts Festival was thrilled to announce in March 2021 that John Gerrard’s Mirror Pavilion, Corn Work, which premiered at GIAF 2020 at the Claddagh in Galway City as part of GIAF20, was to feature as part of South Korea's Gwangju Biennale, one of Asia’s leading visual arts biennale.

Then, in April, Galway International Arts Festival and energy partner Flogas celebrated winning the 2021 prize for Best Use of Creativity in the Community supported by Irish Life at the Business to Arts Awards. The award recognised their extraordinary partnership on the Mirror Pavilion installation.

“We were proud to supply 100% renewable electricity to power the Mirror Pavilion and delighted that our partnership with GIAF has been recognised by Business to Arts,” remarked John Rooney, Managing Director Flogas Ireland.

Mirror Pavilion, Leaf Work
John Gerrard’s Mirror Pavilion Leaf Work in the extraordinary setting of Derrigimlagh Bog, Connemara. Photo by Ros Kavanagh

After the success of Mirror Pavilion, Corn Work in the Claddagh during Galway International Arts Festival 2020, artist John Gerrard made his return to the Festival, debuting a brand new virtual world, Leaf Work. The much-anticipated second part of John Gerrard’s Mirror Pavilion, Leaf Work (a Galway International Arts Festival commission for Galway’s European Capital of Culture 2020) opened the 2021 Festival, premiering in Derrigimlagh Bog Connemara. The pavilion is a beautiful and striking structure, with three sides and the roof clad in a highly reflective mirror and the fourth wall a high–resolution LED wall. This year, Mirror Pavilion hosted a new artwork, Leaf Work, which unfolded on the LED screen. The artwork is powered by sustainable energy sources.  Derrigimlagh Bog was the site of the station built by Marconi to send his new transatlantic messages and where Alcock and Brown crash-landed after the first transatlantic flight in 1919. In Leaf Work, a character performs a lament for the effects of these and other accelerating human advances on the non–human world. Interpreted by dancer Finola Cronin the leaf figure performed a lament for a heating planet. Cronin’s movement was motioned captured in the artist’s studio and transformed into data. This data is then constantly recombined to create an endless flow of movement, which we saw on the LED screen.

Over 8,500 members of the public made the trek along the Wild Atlantic Way and deep into Connemara to experience this structure shine brilliantly within a 6,000 year-old bog.

Other Voices x GIAF's ‘Courage’ Livestream

In September, Galway International Arts Festival teamed up with Other Voices to produce a legendary livestream performance from St. Nicholas’ Church in the heart of Galway. The stunning line up included Galway dream-pop band and BBC 6 Music darlings NewDad, soulful rising afro-pop-star Tolü Makay, pioneering avant-garde composer and performer Anna Mullarkey and the spectacular duo of gifted multi-instrumentalist Susan O’Neill and renowned Irish songwriter Mick Flannery who performed a special set together ahead of their duets album released later that September.

Other Voices
Mick Flannery and Susan O’Neill perform at Other Voices in St. Nicholas’ Church. Photo by Declan Colohan.

Despite being long time admirers of each other's work, this unique livestream marked the first time in their collective 64 years that the two legendary West of Ireland festivals have collaborated together.

GIAF Announces Inaugural ELEVATE Bursary

The festival was delighted to also announce details of a new commissioning/bursary strand Elevate. The aim of the bursary is to support artists as they create and present original, contemporary and captivating ideas to engage both live and digital audiences. Elevate is an opportunity for Irish artists, working across all artforms, to develop new projects and ideas, engaging with contemporary and social issues of 21st Century Ireland.

The Elevate 2021 artists are Joselle Ntumba and Beulah Ezeugo for Éireann and I, a digital archive documenting the experiences of Black migrants in Ireland; dancer and choreographer Kristyn Fontanella who will create a new short solo dance based on her Irish step dancing lineage; director Andrew Flynn and writer Donal Ryan for workshopping a new play adapted from Ryan’s novel From a Low and Quiet Sea; musician/composer Michael Chang for his project in development Cuimhne Uisce, an immersive and interactive experience featuring the live performance of his original compositions; and singer/songwriter Niamh Regan for work on new music In The Meantime.

Coming in 2022

The 45th Galway International Arts Festival will take place from 11-24 July 2022. During the two packed weeks, the Festival will feature the very best of the performing and visual arts from Ireland and around the world, with an international programme of theatre, opera, dance, circus, exhibitions, spectacle, music, comedy, talks and discussions.

Tickets are on sale now for the Heineken®Big Top lineup, which includes two concerts by the Pixies and performances from The Flaming Lips, The Stunning, The Academic, Jon Hopkins, Kaiser Chiefs and Sinéad O’Connor.

The full Festival programme will be announced in May 2022.

Thank You

Galway International Arts Festival would like to thank all its artists, attendees, funders, sponsors and Friends for their continued support in 2021. We look forward to seeing what 2022 brings and are hopeful for a return of spectacular Festival moments, celebrating world-class art, music, theatre, and so much more.

Galway International Arts Festival would like to acknowledge the support of its principal funding agencies the Arts Council and Fáilte Ireland, Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture, Education Partner NUI Galway, Festival Energy partner Flogas and Drinks Partner Heineken®.

The Festival would also like to acknowledge the support of Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture for funding Mirror Pavilion, and for the additional support provided by Festival Energy Partner Flogas, Festival Partner Aerogen and Bluesky Ireland.

For full programme details, Festival updates and previews, visit www.giaf.ie