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Dance festival takes a step forward

The Royal Ballet of Flanders will be performing Impressing the Czar Johan Persson

Contemporary dance will be in the spotlight at venues across Switzerland from Thursday, with the opening of the international Steps festival.

The event, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, takes “encounters” as its theme, showcasing productions which bring different cultures and art forms together.

Steps, which takes place every two years, is supported by Migros Culture Per Cent, the cultural organisation of Switzerland’s largest retailer.

In all, 79 performances will take place at 36 venues across Switzerland between now and the end of the month.

“It’s a concept of an intercity festival and the idea is literally to bring dance to people’s doorstep, to really make dance more accessible and popular,” Samuel Wuersten, the artistic co-director, told swissinfo.

This is also what makes the event unique and important nationally, he added, as no other dance festival in Switzerland takes place countrywide.

Opening Steps#11 on Thursday evening at the Theater Basel will be Impressing the Czar, a monumental work by ballet revolutionary William Forysthe, which will be performed by the 50-strong Royal Ballet of Flanders from Belgium.

The piece, which is also 20 years old, made dance history, said Wuersten. “It’s your most contemporary version of a classical ballet, if you like,” he explained.


Elsewhere the theme of encounters is very much in evidence. “An interest which is very visible in dance and maybe in other fields of life is the idea of the world as a global place, a larger place,” said Wuersten.

“For instance we are very curious about what happens in Asia, the east-west connection is an important source of inspiration for business if we look at the development of the Chinese market.”

Dancers and choreographers are also drawing on this. The London-based Akram Khan company is working with the National Ballet of China to bring two Asian cultures together in its production, Bahok.

And the Inbal Pinto Dance Company from Israel is inspired by Japan in its work, Hydra.
(see video)

The company’s Avshalom Pollak told swissinfo that the festival was a wonderful occasion with first class contributions.

“Coming to the Steps festival and having a tour inside Switzerland is not something very common around the world,” he said.

Another encounter is found in the use of art forms, such as with Regina van Berkel who works with image, sound and live music.

Swiss with a twist

Among the Swiss productions will be one by the Basel-based Cathy Sharp Dance Ensemble. Here dancers will join forces with the Stimmhorn musical duo, which provide Swiss traditional music with a twist – a contemporary take on yodelling and alphorns.

And of course the festival is also an encounter for expat Swiss Wuersten, a former dancer who is currently artistic director of the Holland Dance Festival.

He is acting as the “foreign minister” artistic director of the festival, with Migros’ Isabella Spirig as the “interior minister”.

Wuersten says dance is flourishing as an art form, but it needs support, which is where festivals such as Steps come in.

“The festival has a reputation so people who are maybe not used to seeing dance a lot are able to trust our choices and feel that it’s a Steps production, it is something they should see,” commented Wuersten.

“So it’s really an audience market that can be developed.”

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson

Steps #11 is being held from April 10-30 across Switzerland.
A total of 79 performances will be held in 36 theatres, including in Basel, Zurich, Geneva, Chur and Chiasso.
Countries represented include Belgium, China, Israel, Japan and Britain.
Five productions are premieres.

Switzerland’s largest retailer, Migros, supports Steps as part of its culture per cent programme, which is aimed at introducing culture to all.

The scheme, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, gets its name from the fact that Migros puts about one per cent of its annual retail turnover into cultural activities.

In 2006 the percentage totalled SFr115.7 million ($114.8 million). Distribution: 55% for education, 23% for culture, 10% for leisure, 4% for social issues and 2% for economic issues.
As a cooperative, the Migros company is jointly owned by nearly two million Swiss.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR