Festival review: Rent Party and the Vogue Ball at Curious Arts Festival

Vada Voices

Words by Susan Kerr

Curious Arts is a Newcastle Gateshead based not-for-profit organisation developing LGBT+ arts, artists and audiences across the North East of England. Their work celebrates and explores lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer culture through the arts increasing visibility, dialogue and understanding of the LGBT+ community.

I went to see two events for this: Rent Party and the Vogue Ball. I was delighted to see that Phil Douglas the festival director had done what I was beginning to think was impossible: he has curated a festival which embraces and celebrates the enormous and wonderful diversity within our community.

Darren Pritchard, revolutionary

British choreographer Darren Pritchard, who with Cheryl Martin wrote Rent Party and hosted the Vogue Ball, is a revolutionary. By that I mean he is someone who advocates for and engages in political revolution that promotes complete or dramatic change within not only our queer community but within our larger community.

He does it by honouring his talent and by showcasing the talents of others. He is bravely daring to demand forgotten and suppressed voices be heard. He draws on his passion for dance, history and equality and shares that gift in an explosive, creative, exhilarating and truly fierce fashion.

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Rent Party

Rent Party is inspired by the poetry of Langston Hughes and the rent parties of the 1920s Harlem Renaissance. These parties were held in New York when African-Americans faced disproportionately high rents. They threw wild and flamboyant jazz parties for paying guests to cover their rent.

The performance inspired by these rent parties cleverly weaves cabaret, dance, song, audience participation, comedy and drama to highlight inequalities in the UK right now, and to create a picture of what it means to be young, gifted, black, poor and LGBT+ today. And it is done so stylishly, drawing on the exceptional talents of the stunning cast.

Curious Vogue Ball

Vogue is a dance style developed in the 1980s by LGBT+ people of colour. A historical perspective highlighting the stages of its development was beautifully demonstrated as part of the performance, putting its black origins at the centre of the evening.

Performances were by professional vogue houses from across the North, but were also open to newcomers within the community. We were treated to breathtaking performances by members of Darren’s Manchester houses who went on to judge the event.

Then the competitors took to the runway to compete in a number of categories. The standard was exceptionally high. The dancers were accomplished, stylish and slick, creative not only in their stunning costumes but oh the sharp, model-like poses and unique inspired interpretations.

Darren had coached some of houses, which in a very short space of time had excelled, winning competitions within the Northern vogue ball scene – and it was easy to see why.

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I identify as black and queer, and too often go to queer events and I am disappointed at the lack of diversity, but not on this wonderful evening.

This was top quality entertainment that was inclusive and fabulous and all performed to such a high standard. I left feeling proud and joyful and full of hope.

In the introduction I mentioned some of the aims of the festival were to increase visibility, dialogue and understanding of the LGBT+ community. I think I can safely say that on this occasion all three aims were well and outstandingly met.

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