Amy Letman reflects on Transform’s four year journey developing as an international festival for Leeds. From being inspired by Leeds 2023 event ‘Imagining the Future’ held at Live Art Bistro in 2015, to the programme announcement of their second biennial edition.
Exactly four years to the day I write this, together with a bunch of brilliant local producers, artists and thinkers I produced an event at Live Art Bistro called Imagining the Future. On a chilly February day, hundreds of people filled LAB’s temporary home on regent street to converse, provoke, dream, dance and ask – what do we want to be in 2023? Fuelled by possibility and potential, we asked what Leeds’s cultural landscape might look like in the future. How could we support the next generation of artists and creators? What could a future Leeds look like?
At the time, I was at the very start of a journey to develop Transform (a small-scale festival of theatre and performance initiated by Leeds Playhouse and which I had previously overseen as a producer there) as a citywide and international festival for Leeds. Whilst some warned it would be difficult, I was fuelled by possibility and curiosity of what this might look and feel like. I set about scoping it out, talked to others and researched. I sought out impossible projects made possible by others to inspire the journey, everywhere from East Leeds to East London to Berlin and Sao Paulo. Along the way, others got behind the idea and believed in it too – and the possibility of an international, citywide Transform became stronger and brighter.
Four years on, Transform 19 has been announced, the second international festival Transform has produced. Across two weeks in Spring, some of the most inspiring and daring artists we could find from across five continents will descend on the city we call home. Their work and ideas will light up iconic venues, hidden spaces, empty warehouses and city streets. Bold and eclectic voices from across Leeds and the UK will join them to give their perspective on the world today.
Transform is just one part of a rich network of festivals, venues, collectives and start-up’s that Leeds beautifully boasts – many of whom were also in the room at LAB four years ago looking to and questioning the future. Our reality is now changed, perhaps beyond what we could have envisaged. And whilst Transform’s 2017 festival asked – what does the future of Europe look like? The thematic for Transform 19 is more nuanced, more complex, more fragmented – but more hungry for change than ever.
Questioning the future is at the centre of Transform 19. In When It Breaks It Burns, the extraordinary coletivA reflect on their role in the high school occupations of Sao Paulo in 2015 and 2016, and powerfully confront Brazil’s future and their role in it. In machina eX’s, Rewire Leeds, the future is in the players hands as we are asked what power we have as citizens in the way our city is so rapidly changing and developing. In #PUNK, choreographer Nora Chipaumire considers that there is no future, that the future is the present. Whilst in What We’re Made Of by Future Radicals, a trailblazing collective of young creatives from across Leeds are determined to examine both the world and their place in it. Action Hero’s Oh Europa (inspired by a 32,000km journey across 33 European countries) offers an opportunity to hear ourselves emerge from the white noise…
Four years from Imagining the Future, and four more to go until Leeds 2023, Transform 19 is a powerful assembly of new futures. It is built from the city, by people and organisations who give time and care and love to bring it to life. It is still a work in progress, and perhaps so is the vision for culture we want and have for the city. If I’ve learnt anything working with others to build Transform – it’s that nothing is certain –from the status of the festival VISA applications to that of the changing city and country. Except, perhaps, that there’s always possibility. Possibility to dream, to converse, to think deeper, to come up with solutions, to open up and out to others, to be bold, question, to be brave, to ask for something different. We are building something together. That’s why I’m still curious about Transform and about Leeds, and why I think we are still just at the start of something.
Transform 19 is a festival of powerful, international performance – from 26 April-4 May 2019 – transformfestival.org