gracefools and spokeswomen – a cause for celebration


Artwork – James Eedle


Chapeltown’s resident contemporary dance contingent might be a little known entity to some in Leeds, but it’s growing in force by the day. Last weekend, following in the footsteps of Can Ruines held just round the corner, the newly formed Gracefool Collective, in collaboration with Spokeswoman Collective, threw a one-day-festival to help raise funds to make the work they love. Since today’s starving artists are last in line for a slice of the pie, DIY fundraising is a necessity. Solidarity and the power of the collective are now more essential than ever, if young artists are to continue creating under the ‘current economic climate’. Let’s not be a misery guts about it though. Why not bring a bit of glitter to these dark days of recession, and help out some talented folk along the way? Not a bad idea by any means.

Indeed, the Gracefools really are a talented group. Five recent graduates from the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, their work incorporates dance, theatre, and sometimes a splattering of live music with poetic ramblings. They look at how we humans interact, and the societies we are a part of – often with an absurdist slant. The Gracefools were recently awarded a little of that elusive Arts Council funding to develop a piece of work, We (spelt you & i), as part of a residency at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, where they also performed it on the 16th of November. Their other performance piece, ‘Thats Yer Lot’, was an interactive auction in which the audience became the bidders, and was shortlisted for the Vantage Art Prize earlier this year. The Gracefools’ right-hand women come in the form of Spokeswoman Collective, a group of local women committed to promoting creativity through music, arts, events, and workshops.

Together, the two collectives formed a massive gaggle of proactive women, who hosted the event at the mansion on Chapeltown Road, where myself and one of the members of the Gracefool Collective both live. The place was systematically transformed from drab mansion to disco hall (formerly a mother and baby unit, it hasn’t quite lost that institutional atmosphere), complete with den, fancy dress photo booth, free shop and performance space. By the time I waltzed into the kitchen, the place was humming with action and the smell of homemade cakes, pastries, pizza, and veggie chilli. With talks ranging from bike maintenance to the bee issue, the day began in a civilised manner.

Soon after came a stream of performances. One of the highlights was Raphael Attar’s spoken word set. Is he a poet? Is he an MC? I dunno, but he’s bloody funny… and he has an amazing cape! I also loved the ingenious Can 2 Become 1? Let’s Make This A Deal, performed by Robyn Byrne and Andy Phillips and choreographed by Susanne Andersen, in which a mash-up of lyrics from the Spice Girls and Kate Bush were delivered, deadpan, to hilarious effect. A little magic was brought by The Devil Makes Three, a newly formed acapella vocal duo, whose influences range from folk, to jazz, gospel and beyond. This engaging pair was full of song-tales of resistance and solace. I even saw something which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, Shambles by James Whittle and Rowena Jacobs was a fine example of music-theatre. What the hell is that you may ask? I didn’t know either, but I’ve always loved watching the body language of musicians – and in this case, the body language became the performance.

The night ended, of course, with a good old knees-up. The 15-piece afro-beat band, Herutics kicked it off and DJ’s followed, as the atmosphere erupted into just a little bit of chaos. The fancy dress photo booth was raided. The booze ran out. Everyone got super sweaty. It was a lovely kind of chaos though, and the event was true to its name. This cause for celebration was full of grace and tomfoolery, as the spokeswomen (and men) came out in full force, to support and celebrate the new arrivals to the next generation of local artists, dancers, and musicians.



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