A Chat With: Darren Suarez from House of Suarez Vogue Ball

The House of Suarez Vogue Ball returns to the city on Saturday 24th October, with The Carnevil Ball at the Black-E, this year in a smaller, more intimate format to ensure the safety of performers and those attending the event, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

However, reduced capacity certainly doesn’t mean a reduction in excitement, outrageous performances or sheer escapism that the event is renowned for. We caught up with the event’s founder, Darren Suarez, to find out more about what he has in store.

For the uninitiated, can you explain what a Vogue Ball is?

“A Vogue Ball is – traditionally – a large-scale runway event where performers compete in teams or ‘houses’ in categories based around a chosen theme. Trophies are awarded by judges based on style, choreography, costume and attitude.”

So how did the House of Suarez Vogue Ball come to be established?

“Creating our Vogue Ball was a bit of a bucket list item for me. Growing up in the 80s i’d been exposed to Vogue dance though the documentary Paris is Burning. That was where I first got a sense of the Vogue Balls, but the UK didn’t have them, or at least I couldn’t find them as we didn’t have the internet connecting us at the time.

“I trained in Vogue, then in classical and commercial dance and eventually fused the disciplines. I established House of Suarez in 2006 as a platform for Vogue dance and culture and to develop the choreography of the vogue style. Two years later I organised the first Liverpool Vogue Ball event Liverpool is Burning, in part for myself – to deliver what I hadn’t been able to find growing up – but also because I wanted people from all walks of life to feel the freedom and empowerment that I had discovered through vogue.”

What is it about the Vogue Ball that provides this sense of freedom and empowerment?

“The ball has always been a safe space for people of all shapes and sizes, colours and creeds, identities and sexualities. It gives people from diverse backgrounds something they can congregate around and enjoy together. The event pacifies any sense of judgement. Humans function through associations and with the Vogue Ball everyone shares in the same energy, they’re all there loving it for the same reason. It brings people together regardless of background.”

Are performers professional dancers or from a professional background?

“Absolutely not. Some of our categories, such as choreography and solo, attract more skill-based professional dancers and performers, but other categories are made for people who just want to get up there, have a laugh and feel the energy of walking the runway.

Back in 2014, we had one lady who – at 70 years of age and with no previous experience – performed as Barbarella in our Space Odyssey ball. She’d come up to me in The Masquerade and asked me about the event. I spent time with her picking theme music, coaching and building her confidence and she was incredible. She still talks about it to this day. I take the same approach with all newbies, there are no barriers to getting involved, it’s open to everyone.”

Your events usually have audiences of more than 1,000, which obviously won’t be possible this year, what changes have you had to make to ensure the Vogue Ball still takes place?

“It’s been an emotional and challenging year with the global pandemic hitting the arts and large-scale events extremely hard, but we’ve been determined all along to ensure that the ball happens in some format.

We have had to move to a much smaller venue – the Black-E, which is where we held the Death by Glitterball in 2011 – and dramatically reduce capacity, from over 1,000 to just 100. The audience will be seated at tables with appropriate social distancing and there will be no standing-only tickets.

We’ve also had to limit the number of houses involved to five, where we would usually have up to 20. Within those five houses they can only have up to six performers, as opposed to 12 in ‘normal’ years. 

The five houses we’ve been working with are the House of LIPA, House of Laporta, House of Suarez, House of Black and House of Korrupt. We will also have some solo artists travelling from across the UK and globally to maintain the international element of the event. 

It’s been incredibly hard because we wanted to have all of our regular houses there, alongside new ones and global performers, but for safety we have had to rethink our usual approach. As difficult as it has been, we do try to look at the positives and the changes have actually presented interesting opportunities to do something a bit different as well.”

Can you share more? What can people expect from this year’s ball?

“Working in a smaller space actually gives us the opportunity to make it more immersive and intimate than ever, using the space to get people looking not just out, but also up and around. The Carnevil theme lends itself well to a twisted circus aesthetic so we’re exploring the potential for aerial works and trapeze artists, people will just have to wait and see what we come up with.”

Carnevil is quite a dark theme, arguably quite suited to these quite dark times, can you tell us more about where the inspiration came from?

“At the end of February this year we had the most incredible House of Suarez Manchester Ball at Contact Theatre, Atlantis. We were still riding high after that when lockdown kicked in two weeks later. Like for everyone, it was a hard time, we were in this strange situation and it took time to let things digest.

When we were able, I formed a support bubble with some colleagues, a dancer and costume designer, and we sat down together to work on themes, coming up with a few concepts. Our themes are always designed to be broad and creative enough for people from every walk of life to run away with and develop.

It was The Carnevil Ball that seemed to give the greatest opportunity to allow people to manifest their feelings about the situation we’re in and produce twisted and creative ideas that could pull colour and energy out of the darkness we’re in.”

This year LCR Pride Foundation’s theme is ‘Young At Heart’, which promotes the right for LGBT+ people to live happy, healthy and carefree lives, regardless of how they identify. How does the ball positively impact the mental health of those involved?

“It undoubtedly has a positive impact on mental health, I know that from personal experience. The escapism my art has given to me and been a massive help in breaking things down mentally, emotionally, spiritually, which I am sure is the same for other performers. But even as the audience, you escape through immersing yourself in the experience. Both give such a huge sense of freedom.”

So many large events have been cancelled this year, rather than reducing capacity. What drives you to make sure the Vogue Ball happens this year?

“The Vogue Ball is now a legacy, it’s put its stamp on the cultural calendar and we’re seeing performers who started in House of Suarez’s under-16 groups reach an age where they can now perform at the ball. We need to still provide this platform.

We are obviously monitoring the situation carefully and preparing for a variety of potential scenarios, as keeping people safe is paramount. But creatives create in times of difficulty and darkness and they need this platform as their outlet. I feel it’s House of Suarez’s responsibility to help and support our veteran houses as much as possible at this time. The arts have always picked us up in the past. The Vogue Ball has a special place in people’s hearts and will hopefully lift people’s spirits.

This year’s event will take place at The Black-E, with the show starting at 7pm and a strict 10pm curfew, in line with recent Government announcements.

To find out more about The Carnevil Ball and buy tickets, visit: www.houseofsuarez.co.uk/events

You can follow House of Suarez on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.


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