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Japanese and technology are the stars at Bâtie Festival

Technology is stealing the show at Switzerland's most avant-garde arts festival. Batie-Festival Geneva

One of Switzerland's most important festivals for avant-garde theatre, dance and music - the Bâtie Festival - is currently taking place in Geneva. This year there is a distinctly Japanese flavour.

The Bâtie Festival clearly demonstrates the extent to which artists are now using cutting-edge technology in their work.

“Artists are just reflecting what is going in society,” says festival director André Waldis.

“It’s a very strong trend this year. In music, of course, but also in theatre and dance, they are using multimedia, computers and video, as tools which reinforce their work, not as a gimmick or a decoration,” he told swissinfo.

At its most extreme, this is demonstrated by the Japanese composer, Ryoji Ikeda, with his “Visions of Darkness, Mainly Produced by Electrons”, a hypnotic and disturbing blend of electronic beeps and static noise.

Elsewhere, the British theatre group, Station House Opera, has won rave reviews for their “Roadmetal Sweetbread”, in which two actors interact with their alter egos on a screen.

Ikeda is one of a number of Japanese artists who have come to Geneva this year. Others include the renowned dance artists Kim Itoh, Op’eklekt, and Dumb Type, who also make use of multimedia in their “MemoRandom” work.

“The Japanese are at the forefront of technology, but at the same time they have very strong traditions and rituals,” Waldis explains. “These artists are asking themselves who they are. They are reacting against their traditions, but they have to deal with it, as they have to deal with new technology.”

Another highlight will be “Electronic Soundtrack for the Shadow Puppet Theatre” by Bali Bioskop, a unique collaboration between musicians from Geneva and Indonesia.

“This kind of project may be the future of the festival. I don’t like to make the distinction between local and international artists. We want to create a meeting place for all of them,” Waldis says.

It’s that kind of spirit which has helped to make the Bâtie Festival one of the biggest cultural events in western Switzerland and one of the few of its kind in Europe. Waldis is proud of the fact that the festival does not just book the theatre groups and dance acts that happen to be touring in September.

“Quality is our first concern. This is an avant-garde festival, but the work has to be enjoyable. This is not a conceptual festival. Human beings have to be at the centre,” Waldis says.

The Bâtie festival began in 1977 as a kind of reaction against an establishment that did not recognise the alternative art scene. The first festival was held in Geneva’s Bois de la Bâtie park.

“It was a bit like Woodstock,” says the festival chief. “In those days there was almost nothing for jazz, rock music, experimental theatre and dance.”

Since then many theatres and concert venues have opened in Geneva, all of which receive funding from a sympathetic local council.

“Our philosophy has changed over the years. Now we can explore more deeply the essence of what art is,” Waldis says.

by Roy Probert

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR