Review: Serving Face, Shout Festival
3.0Overall Score

With Harry Styles’ Vogue cover shoot and the queering of gendered fashion buzzing through mainstream media, there seems to be no better time for the performing world to be championing the trans-femme bodies of colour that have been doing this work for decades.

With a short and shimmering film, celebrated Vogue performer and Mother of Manchester’s House of Ghetto, Darren Pritchard, leads four dancers from Birmingham’s House of Bab in Serving Face. As Birmingham’s first queer ballroom house, they are committed to being fully inclusive and accessible, allowing every rebellious body to drive voguing right back to it’s radical 60’s roots.

Indulging exclusively in face and hand choreography, Serving Face zooms in on the personalities of each performer as they pose with intoxicating elegance and nerve to an infectiously bubbling house soundtrack. Each dancer moves in front of a different backdrop that compliments their individual aesthetic, colourfully tying the images together with bright and considered commitment. 

Bold, empowering words flash across their faces, spotlighting parts of the seductive speech that breathes over the music. This digital layering, along with the frames multiplying into numerous smaller images, is economic, but shifts the work into 80’s and 90’s pop video domain, in homage to where voguing entered the more mainstream media. 

Vibrant as this is, moments of silence or stripping back to the raw movements and stares of the dancers might have offered more substance of contemplation, connection and extra majesty to the skilled bodies on screen. This might also increase the length of the performance, as it comes in tauntingly short, at less than two minutes long.

As lockdown life means a lot of us have become accustomed to seeing our friends, family and colleagues in a head and shoulders video chat frame, the place where bodies are digitally cut off has become part of our visual vocabulary. Serving Face picks up on this current and culturally familiar image and queers it into glamorised territories, spurring ballroom traditions onto our screens at a critical time for club culture to adapt. Like a zoom call, whose display switches to whoever is ‘speaking’, it feels vital and invigorating to pass these faces the mic.

Whilst the viewer might wish they could spend more time with Pritchard’s short show, being with the flamboyant pulse of Serving Face will only compel them into finding out what’s next for Birmingham’s first queer ballroom house.

Serving Face is now streaming on the SHOUT Festival YouTube Channel. For more information, see the SHOUT Festival website.