What’s in your toy box? Celebrating ten years of unabashed queer expression, Planet Slop takes in the House of Suarez’s annual Vogue Ball at Invisible Wind Factory.

The House of Suarez’s annual Vogue Ball has been a mainstay in the Liverpool cultural calendar for a number of years, and one of the most fabulous nights out in the city, not to mention a queer visual feast. Their tenth anniversary was celebrated over the weekend with a three day Vogue Festival.

At its epicentre was the Vogue Ball itself, now comfortably housed at the Invisible Wind Factory. This year with the theme Toy Box, which was introduced with a fantastic opening piece by the House of Suarez. As artistic director Darren Suarez explained; “The only thing in my toy box is a Playstation”.

So what followed was a piece inspired by video games, utilising classic Nintendo and Sega theme tunes. It was mock virtual reality, with one dancer entering the stage as the player, as his avatar on the other end of the stage shadowed his movements against the villains. It was nostalgic, and difficult not to get caught up in.

Host Rikki Beadle-Blair – who was a joy to behold all night – then made his way to the stage with an air of pure abandonment, encouraging us to get down to the gayest records she could muster.

Importantly, he was sure to give us a history lesson; that Ball culture came out of predominately black queer youths, most of them had been made homeless due to their sexuality or social issues at the time, and an opportunity for the mostly poor, unemployed youth to dress up and be as fabulous as they want to be. This culture has deep roots that shouldn’t be forgotten.

Unfortunately, some audience members who came with the House of LIPA, and made up a large percentage of the crowd, ignored this – as well as artistic director Darren Suarez’s earlier plea to cheer for everybody, “not just your own house”.  It is one thing to support your friends, but it is another to do it in a way that is that feels to the detriment of others; standing uninterested during every other performance, refusing to applaud other houses and, worst of all, the continuous obnoxious chanting of “LIPA! LIPA!” that overtook the venue and began to feel a little like they were marking their territory. Though this is obviously not the fault of anyone behind the scenes, it turned the Invisible Wind Factory not into the queer space it should have been, but into a de facto LIPA rally.

This is categorically not in the spirit of the occasion, and had they paid attention to the history lesson at the beginning of the show, they would have understood this. If you’re coming to an event like this, make sure you know and respect what it is you’re attending. Of course, we’re not immune from this. As white queer people, we have to remember that this came out of black (and Latino) queer culture specifically. You can love and support it all, but you have to respect it.

👉Darren Suarez Interview: “There’s a story of people’s journey and creativity👈

It’s especially poignant to think about this when considering some of the performers; the House of Liberty, a single transgender performer who had the courage to come out alone. Similarly, House of Krip, a fusion of deaf and disabled performers, some of whom dance by feeling the vibrations of the music. Both were powerful performers throughout, and deserved our support. Nights like this are about people like them, cutting loose, showing who they really are and being rewarded for it. It is about love and support.

House of LIPA themselves did put in some great performances on stage – especially in the lip sync round. In addition to the Houses of Liberty, Krip and, naturally, the House of Suarez themselves, special mention must go the Houses of Corrupt (special shout out for one especially skilful tuck!) and Viva Brazil who were among the most inventive Houses in the Ball. Between them, they came out as teddy bears, piñatas and a Kinder Surprise, and that was just in the first category. Eat Me + Preach made their debut at the Ball, and if we weren’t informed of this beforehand, we never would have known. And the Mersey Bears are always fun to watch.

They didn’t forget the satire either – the great reveal of the night was the naked Donald Trump body suit, complete with willy shaking, and forced to twerk in the queerest of fashions.

We could describe the sights for you as much as we want, but you will never get a full picture from mere words. So scroll down for our extensive gallery.

It must be underlined how incredible everybody was, and each House proved the art in Vogue culture in their own unique way. Although there were prizes given out, the feeling (from the stage, at least) was that these were tokens. The real prize is the freedom and expression of the performances themselves, and even those who didn’t take home a trophy should be incredibly proud of themselves. Every single one of their performances captivated us.

The Balls have had a mighty impact on mainstream queer culture, right down to ubiquitous drag phrases such as “reading” and “shade” originating from the scene. Keeping this tradition alive is a vital tribute to our past and uncensored creativity; where we have come from, and how far we have travelled. It provides a safe space for the LGBTQ+ people – and allies – to come together and celebrate themselves.

Thank you to the House of Suarez for making it possible for such a broad collection of people – especially when it comes to the likes of the Houses like Krip, Liberty, and even Mersey Bears – to express themselves without censor.

Pictures by Vicky Pea