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Global performances shaping the future of Leeds’ cultural legacy

Frontera Border by Amanda Pina (c) Dajana Lothert

Transform’s Creative Director Amy Letman tells us about the history of the festival, looks ahead to 2023 and gives us a flavour of what to expect this year.

LEEDS 2023 has been fundamental in the journey of Transform as a festival. Between 2011-2014 Transform festival was a developing event based at what was then the West Yorkshire Playhouse, and when Leeds started planning towards being European Capital of Culture it really opened our eyes to what might be possible. Inspired by the ambition and dynamism of the LEEDS 2023 process, Transform became a festival and company in its own right. I’d long wanted to create a performing arts festival for the city that would be a significant, international and inclusive event, similar to those already successful across Europe, and this was the time. LEEDS 2023 made me feel being ambitious and thinking differently was more than possible in the city I call home.

A Festival For Our Times

Fast forward to today and LEEDS 2023 is an instrumental part of our current extended festival Transform 21-22. Clearly the last couple of years have been a challenge for all arts organisations and events. Even without a global health crisis the logistics of organising so many artists to come to Leeds for the festival is always complex, and we knew that we had to re-structure what we could do to maintain the festival amidst the complexity of covid restrictions and uncertainty. This led to us coming up with a different kind of model for our current edition, an ‘extended festival’ which kicked off in October and will culminate this April. During this process of rethinking and reimagining, support from LEEDS 2023 has allowed us think in a different and exciting new way about how we collaborate and generate exciting, international projects. For example, inviting artists to undertake hyper-local residencies engaging with local people and local artists, and offering opportunities for a new generation of creatives to have a say in what the future of our festivals look like. 

Images L/R: Jumbie by Jamal Gerald for Transform 21-22 (c) The Other Richard, Amy Letman – Transfor Creative Director, Lowri Evans & Martha Kiss Perone (c) Mayra Azzi

This spring, Transform 21-22 will feature a mix of experiences, voices and perspective. ‘The History Of Korean Western Theatre’ by South Korean artist Jaha Koo is an intimate, emotive documentary performance which will be presented at Leeds Playhouse; Leeds based artist Jamal Gerald will revive the traditional Jumbie dance from the island of Montserrat from a queer perspective as part of an immersive club ritual in ‘JUMBIE’ at CLAY: Centre for Live Art Yorkshire; and ‘Frontera | Border – a Living Monument’ by the Mexican-Chilean choreographer Amanda Piña will be a one-of-a-kind performance on the roof of the Victoria Gate Multi Storey car park where hip-hop culture, native practices and mysticism intertwine.

Looking Ahead to 2023

LEEDS 2023 is currently supporting various elements of Transform 21-22 including three residencies with international artists. Icelandic artist Ásrún Magnúsdóttir is working in collaboration with young people across Leeds; Brazil / UK based performers Martha Kiss Perone and Lowri Evans are creating an inter-generational performance with women from all walks of life, and USA based artist jumatatu m.poe is developing a new project inspired by the natural ecologies of the region. There is also a collaboration with Brazilian collective MEXA who are working towards an exciting new production especially for the 2023 festival as well as presenting their online performance ‘The more you rehearse, the worse it gets.’

For me, LEEDS 2023 is an opportunity not only to realise the vision behind Transform festival and to create extraordinary projects, but is a chance to rethink how culture and creativity exists in the city longer term. I can’t wait to experience everything the city has to offer next year, but it’s after that, 10 years from now and beyond, that I’m really interested in. Using 2023 as a shared experiment, together we can rethink the role that culture plays in Leeds and be a beacon to the rest of the world, long into the future.

Transform’s extended festival runs until April 2022. Check out the programme over on their website.

First published in the Yorkshire Evening Post, Saturday 12th February