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Bumper programme as Theatre Spectacle turns 25

A scene from Gogol's "Government Inspector"

(Keystone)

Zurich’s internationally acclaimed summer festival of theatre, dance and performing arts is underway, with many special events to mark its 25th anniversary.

Fifty productions are on the programme – twice as many as usual – and the organisers are promising some surprises.

At least 30,000 people are expected to attend the two-week festival, which attracts predominantly Swiss people of all ages with an interest in contemporary and innovative theatre, music and dance.

“They come here because of the atmosphere and the innovative programme,” Theatre Spectacle spokeswoman Esther Schmid told swissinfo.

The festival was created 25 years ago as an alternative to the well-established theatre scene, providing a platform for independent theatre groups.

But, according to Schmid, it has evolved into “one of the most important and probably one of the most fascinating European festivals for contemporary forms of performing arts”.

Its huge success, she maintains, is partly due to the innovative and original shows. For spatial and technical reasons, such performances can hardly ever be staged in a theatre.

Attractions

The festival opened with the world premiere of a new “Reality Hacking” show by Swiss artist Peter Regli, which set out to challenge the audience’s perceptions.

Other key elements of the show are “Radio 25”, a nightly live radio performance to talk about the history of the festival and introduce the evening programme, and an exhibition of photographs from past festivals.

As in previous years, there is no official theme to the productions.

Schmid explained that the artistic director, Maria Magdalena Schwaegermann, never selected artists and theatre groups according to a topic.

“When putting the programme together, she selects productions that meet her artistic criteria. She looks for high quality and original works that deal with the present in a ‘new’ artistic way.”

She added that often only when deciding on the programme and closely examining the artists’ works did they realise that there was a theme running like a thread through them.

“Vulnerable people”

“This year we discovered that the installation ‘Vulnerable People’ by the Italian artist and performer, Mondo, deals with a topic that is of great concern to many artists: the vulnerability of human beings.”

The September 11 terrorist attacks, she added, may have made many artists and people aware of their vulnerability and what an insecure place the world is. So works like “Vulnerable People” could be a reaction, a way of dealing with this feeling of insecurity.

Mondo’s installation, which consists of paintings, cut-outs and a video, presents people in the streets, and clearly shows how susceptible they are to any kind of violence.

The artist explained that he chose to portray real life and that he chose to work with slum-dwellers so as to be close to the vulnerable.

“They know that in any moment they can be wiped out, and that makes them awake in a certain way, and valuing life in a special way,” Mondo said.

International performers

The renowned festival aims to attract mainly international performers and theatre groups, but it also encourages important Swiss artists to present their work.

“The Swiss clown Ueli Bichsel, for instance, is an interesting actor. He has been invited to perform at the festival many times because he has tried out new and maybe more innovative forms over the years,” Schmid said.

Among the many participants, there are two first-timers who deserve a special mention.

The Latvian director Alivs Hermanis, Schmid commented, offered a stunning adaptation of Gogol’s play “The Government Inspector”, dealing with problems and absurd situations in Latvia during the Soviet era.

The Living Dance Studio is “one of the very few independent Chinese performance groups from Beijing”, Schmid explained. “They use film, performing arts and dance to express their views on the modern lives of Chinese individuals.

The festival is a showcase not only for the modern performing arts but also for traditional theatre. This year two relatively young but very successful directors, Roger Vontobel and Nora Somaini, are among those presenting theatre productions.

swissinfo, Katalin Fekete

Key facts

The annual festival is held at venues in Zurich from August 12-29.
It was founded in 1980 under the name “International meeting of independent theatre groups”.
It is organised by the city of Zurich and sponsored by SwissRe, Zurich Cantonal Bank and the “Tages-Anzeiger” newspaper.

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