9 August 2017

Curious Festival - Baltic Live Is Curious

After previewing the inaugural Curious Festival what seems like ages ago, I was determined to go along to some of the events organised in this week-long festival celebrating LGBTQI culture. I didn't manage to get to many events during the working week, but I made sure that I attended the Vogue Ball on the Saturday night, and the finale showcase at Baltic the night after. The programme was eclectic and exciting, and I can't wait to get to more events next year, when it's sure to be back -  bigger, better and even more fabulous.

It was difficult to ignore the Baltic Live Is Curious Event with this marketing! 
I found out about the Baltic Event at the Vogue Ball and felt a strong pull towards it. When I read more about it I realised that it was a combination of the performances that was so enticing - a whistle-stop tour through the life of Corrie's first ground-breaking trans character Hayley Cropper with the award-winning trans performer Kate O'Donnell, A Blighted Life - a raw and eclectic dance performance choreographed by Gavin Coward and my new favourite anti-drag queen, the jaw-droppingly hilarious and legendary performance artist David Hoyle.

Drag Queen Sculptures Venus Dimilo and Ill Health
We were treated to a performance by Pi The Mime, an award-winning cabaret artist before the main event, which was truly captivating. The skit was based on an office worker who is inundated with work calls, has enough of the constant ringing before resorting to self-expression via dance, mime and clothing removal (before ceremoniously shooting the phone), to the sounds of Jessie J's Domino (check out the routine on Youtube).

Pi The Mime
Gavin Coward - A Blighted Life

Gavin Coward's A Blighted Life was a riot of colour, movement and clothes, interspersed with an eclectic global soundtrack and recordings of extremist attitudes towards homosexuality over the years (Thatcher saying some ridiculously bigoted crap amongst other shocking things). I loved the energy of Alicia Colette Meehan (the only female performer) who made great use of props such as scarves, rubber tyres and an onstage wardrobe, alongside Gavin Coward himself and Patrick Ziza. The sheer physicality of the performance was impressive, and I especially enjoyed the jumping rope element (which probably has a deeper meaning that I can't quite fathom) and their creativity with tyres.

The colourful and thought-provoking A Blighted Life
Hayley and Me - Kate O'Donnell

Next up was the highly enjoyable Hayley and Me, a unique interactive cabaret act by award-winning trans performer and writer Kate O'Donnell. Subject - Hayley Cropper from Corrie. It transpired that Kate was going to take us all back through the rollercoaster life of the first trans soap character (it's amazing to think she first hit our screens in 1998). I loved the idea of basing a show around her, creating a powerpoint of her most memorable storylines and enlisting an audience member to dress up as Hayley and pretend to be interviewed. I couldn't remember some of the more out-there storylines (Hayley volunteering in Mozambique), but I liked the way that Kate explored the similarities between her own journey and Hayley's, with a lot of Spice Girls tracks thrown in for good measure. The story she told about telling the Water Board that she was changing her name because she was trans showed how attitudes have improved, despite current challenges for the trans community worldwide. I'm going to catch her You've Changed show at Edinburgh fringe.

Hayley and Me had soap storylines, an afternoon tea interview and singing!
David Hoyle

I'd got a taste of David Hoyle's unique character at the Vogue Ball, when he was judging the various heats. He used words like 'beguiling' and I instantly became a super fan. Later on that night I watched an interview with him on Youtube, and was amazed at his rollercoaster story (he rose to fame on Channel 4 as anti-drag queen Divine David, but subsequently suffered a breakdown) and decided instantly that he was my spirit animal.

His very presence sucks the energy out of the room, and I couldn't take my eyes of his blue stockings. As a host he is mesmerising and thought-provoking, flip-flopping between being hilariously funny to making you think with some socio-political statement the next second. I absolutely identified with his socialist rants and his 'probably considered controversial but correct' ideas about the BBC and the Tories (I practically jumped out of my seat cheering when he suggested that we all stop paying our direct debits and bills to bring down the elite). You can see why he is still drawing crowds up and down the country and has achieved legendary status within the LGBTQI community and beyond (he is being immortalised in a photobook which was funded by a Kickstarter project).

The inimitable David Hoyle
His particular brand of gender terrorism is infectious, and I literally spiralled through the complete range of human emotions whilst watching him, especially during his multi-disciplinary performance where he alternated between belting out 'You Made Me Love You' (I Didn't Want To Do It) recorded by Judy Garland, to painting an audience member to the dance version of aha's much-loved Take On Me (after an obligatory costume change). I also loved what he was saying about a renaissance in Northern cities and that London is no longer the only place for creatives.

I was so inspired and impressed by the sheer amount of talent and creativity on show over the weekend.  Thank God that such festivals are now becoming more mainstream, and we don't necessarily need to traipse to London to enjoy them. Congratulations to the Phil Douglas and the Curious team for bringing these innovative events to the North East!

*All images by Michael McGuire

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