David Bowie coming back to life, snow falling inside and slightly erotic, avant-garde choreography. These were just a few of the memorable moments which audiences were treated to across the Transform Trailblazer weekend.

From the radical and cutting edge, to the vivid and colourful, Transform aims to change our perceptions of what theatre is, with a little help from both local and international artists. Although the Trailblazer which took place across two days at the end of April was a huge success, it’s only one of the steps (granted a big and extremely exciting one) in Transform’s bigger plan to bring an international festival of performance to the city in 2017.

Originally an initiative by West Yorkshire Playhouse to bring in different kinds of artists, using the space in a different way, Transform evolved to become an independent organisation, with Amy Letman at the helm, steering it through its journey to bring an international theatre and performance festival to Leeds.

“We thought it would be a really interesting idea for Transform to develop as an independent city-wide international festival,” Amy explains. “I went to some international festivals which really inspired me and I came back thinking, Leeds needs an international theatre festival, let’s do it!”
Taking a lot of inspiration from mainland Europe, Transform aims to showcase theatre with a less drama focused trajectory, instead colliding with the visual arts, cinema, music, cabaret and club culture which Amy believes sits comfortably within the city.

“It’s more how artists who are part of contemporary society view the world around them and make stuff that is inspired by the different art forms and perspectives of what it means to be a human being in the world today.”

This nod to international influence was seen in the debut of SCHÖNHEITSABEND by Florentina Holzinger and Vincent Riebeek across the Trailblazer weekend which saw the duo look back on the stars of the queer, avant-garde dance tradition. Merging madness and ecstasy with explicit eroticism.
However, Transform’s focus on local and community engaged projects was also seen in WANTED, which allowed a cross sections of the Leeds community to bring their visions to the stage, no matter how weird or wonderful. This mixture of local, community-based projects, alongside more established international offerings is something which will feature heavily within the future festival and is important in inspiring audiences as well as artists.

“To see what people are doing in other countries in terms of their aesthetic and their style of theatre is interesting. I think for audiences there is something exciting about seeing things from another place which gives you a different perspective on the world because it’s from people living in a different part of the world,” Says Amy.

“I think that the dialogue between stuff created here and from all over the world, putting that in a melting pot all together, potentially does something really exciting and I think ‘why shouldn’t we see international theatre in Leeds?”

It’s partly down to dedication to Transform’s leading mantra of reimagining theatre and what it can do which has allowed all this to happen. Amy has travelled across the globe, discovering producers, shows and inspiring artist, persuading them to bring their performances to audiences across the water.

The effect of all this globetrotting and arm twisting means Transform Festival not only gives the Leeds audience an opportunity to experience and engage with performance in a whole new way but it also supports the independent producers and artists who perform and create work specifically for the event.

With the official program not being announced until January 2017, it may be a little premature to be planning in our schedule for next spring already, but after enjoying the weird, wonderful and inspiring events of Transform 16, our imagination and excitement has been well and truly peaked, and April 2017 has been marked in the diary.

Although even Amy will admit, there is still a long way to go in terms of event planning, Transform Festival 2017 promises to be exciting addition to the city’s already strong festival offerings, opening up stages and spaces across the city, to show that theatre in Leeds isn’t just limited to the traditional.