Festival that brings together the best of European theatre

Waiting by Mokhallad Rasem will be presented as part of the BE Festival this weekend. Picture:  Alex Brenner
Waiting by Mokhallad Rasem will be presented as part of the BE Festival this weekend. Picture: Alex Brenner
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Hidden away to the south of Leeds city centre is one of Yorkshire theatre’s most interesting venues.

Years ago, when I first started writing about the Holbeck Underground Ballroom (HUB) it felt like a genuine secret. Slung Low, the genius young company behind the idea, had taken a series of abandoned railway arches and had visions of turning it into a kind of theatrical utopia. Other theatre companies would be able to rehearse there without charge. Avant garde, off-the-beaten track work would find a welcome and audiences would pay what they decided a show was worth.

The incredible thing was, it worked. It continues to flourish and now others are getting in on the act – in recent months I’ve seen a number of websites lauding the virtues of this hidden away venue. The best thing about it is that, despite this increase in interest, the good people behind the HUB have far too much integrity to abandon their original vision. The vegetable patch outside will continue to be used by visiting theatre companies and audiences will continue to pay what they decide. Even this weekend when the work on show is genuinely of an international standard.

The Best of BE Festival is bringing the three top picks of this year’s Birmingham European Festival around the country, coming to Slung Low’s HUB on Sunday, October 19. For their Best Of tour, going to eleven UK venues and three Spanish venues, BE are showcasing Hungary’s Radioballet’s From the Waltz to the Mambo, which won the award for Best Individual Performer (Milán Újvári) at BE Festival, in which a 1960s Hungarian ballroom dance manual becomes a tool to explore dogmas surrounding beauty and education. From Austria, Julia Schwarzbach’s Loops and Breaks puts the audience in the spotlight as she instructs them with phrases and language specific to each venue, inspired by overheard conversations around Leeds. Finally, winner of the ACT Arriaga International Touring Prize Waiting by Mokhallad Rasem from Belgium/Iraq is a meditation through film, movement, art and sound on the human experience of waiting. All the performances will conclude with post-show discussions.

BE Festival Co-Director Miguel Oyarzun said: “These three shows were all huge hits with this year’s BE Festival crowd in Birmingham, and were recognized by the jury.

“We are delighted that audiences across the UK and in Spain will have the chance to sample some of the best new theatre being made on the continent.

“The tour offers a chance to experience the unique flavour of BE in an entertaining evening which showcases daring and unforgettable international theatre in a passionate atmosphere of debate and exchange.”

At a time when conflict 
and discrimination in Europe is so often in the news, BE Festival aims to build meaningful connections between artists and audiences from a diverse range of backgrounds, bringing people together in unique and imaginative ways.

Acknowledging racial and cultural tensions, the festival hopes to recognize the shared values and experiences that unite people from across Europe, while providing space to debate the existing problems and the potential future of the continent.

• BE Festival, Slung Low’s HUB, 67-71 Bath Road, Leeds LS119UA. October 19, 5pm.