Dancers from the Bolshoi Ballet on stage at the Beaulieu Theatre in Lausanne this week are the advance party of a veritable Russian cultural invasion in 2011.
Since the idea of a Festival of Russian Culture in Switzerland was officially welcomed by the two countries’ presidents in Sochi last year, preparations have been underway to create a diverse and stimulating programme.
“We hope the public in Switzerland really appreciate it,” a Russian embassy spokesman told swissinfo.ch. “Everybody interested in Russian culture will find something they like here.”
For music lovers, there will be concerts by well-known Russian soloists and ensembles, as well as concerts of Russian composers in Lausanne, Lucerne and Zurich.
There will also be the participation of Russian musicians in the Thun GAIA Chamber Music Festival and the Montreux Jazz Festival to look forward to.
The Bolshoi’s opening night performance of Giselle in Lausanne on Thursday will be attended by Russian Culture Minister Alexander Avdeyev, officially the man behind the festival as well as Swiss Interior Minister Didier Burkhalter.
“We have put a very rich programme together under the auspices of the Russian culture ministry,” the embassy spokesman said.
The festival marks the resumption of diplomatic relations between Russia and Switzerland 65 years ago, following the end of the Second World War. It was officially launched on Thursday by the two ministers during a meeting in Bern to discuss cultural matters.
Of course there is already a very lively Russian cultural scene in Switzerland, as Nadia Sikorsky, editor of the online Russian-language newspaper Nasha Gazeta.ch, points out.
“The idea was to assemble under one roof the very numerous Russian cultural activities and naturally this incites the organisers to do more,” Sikorsky told swissinfo.ch.
Unlike the Year of Russian Culture in France last year which was state-funded and on a much larger scale, the Swiss festival has been completely financed by private sponsors.
The estimated 6,000 to 9,000 Russians based in Switzerland, including some of the sponsors, will have the opportunity to enjoy some cultural gems from back home.
The Nadja Brykina Gallery in Zurich, which specialises in non-conformist art from the Soviet Union, is running a series of exhibitions as part of the festival this year, beginning with an unusual collection of carved wooden icons by contemporary Russian artists Inessa and Rashid Azbukhanov.
“We have collectors in Switzerland of the work of this husband and wife team but this is the first time their work has been exhibited here,” Anna Brouver of the gallery told swissinfo.ch.
The other participating galleries include the Barbarian Art gallery in Zurich, the Museum of Payerne, with an exhibition of Inuit art, and Ascona’s Museum of Modern Art.
Russia’s literary heritage is represented with a Dostoyevsky reading as part of the Montreux Jazz Festival, an exhibition on Solzhenitsyn’s work in Geneva and a performance of Chekhov’s The Seagull in Lausanne.
In 2009 Russia and Switzerland signed a declaration of intent giving cultural exchange a formal framework and leading to several initiatives, including the festival.
For its part, Switzerland has made cultural exchange with Russia a priority theme and its arts council Pro Helvetia has made Russia a priority country for 2012-2015 and opened a liaison office in Moscow.
The Thursday meeting between Russian Culture Minister Alexander Avdeyev and Swiss Interior Minister Didier Burkhalter also discussed a possible bilateral accord on the import and return of cultural goods, similar to agreements Switzerland has with countries such as Italy and Egypt.end of infobox
Some festival highlights
Giselle ballet presented by the Bolshoi Theatre, Théâtre de Beaulieu in Lausanne, February 10-12.
Exhibition of carved icons by Inessa and Rashid Azbukhanov, Nadja Brykina Gallery,
Zurich, February 9–28.
Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, Beyond the Hoirizon Russia 2, KKL Lucerne, March 16-17.
Yuri Zlotnikov exhibition, Nadja Brykina Gallery, March 31–May 28.
Gregori Maiofis, photography exhibition, Barbarian Art gallery, Zurich, May 10-June 20.
Concerts with Russian soloists as part of the GAIA Chamber Music Festival in Thun, May 12-15.
Solzhenytsin – The Courage to Write, Cologny Geneva (Martin Bodmer Foundation), May 14 -September 11.
The Russian Programme as part of the Montreux Jazz Festival, July.
Performance of Chekhov’s The Seagull in Lausanne, directed by Mario Bucharelli, autumn, date to be confirmed.end of infobox