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Expo.02 back on track, say organisers

Nelly Wenger, head of the Expo.02 board


Exactly two years before the opening ceremony of Switzerland's national exhibition, Expo.02 organisers say preparations are in full swing. Nelly Wenger, the head of the Expo.02 board, said plans for the event had reached "cruising speed".

The exhibition was originally planned to take place in 2001. However, a series of rows which split the board, and increasing doubts about the event's financial viability, led to the decision last year to postpone it by 12 months.

It was only in January of this year that the government gave it a renewed green light. Wenger said that in the intervening five months, the whole project had been relaunched.

Much of the criticism levelled at Expo.02 concerned its finances. Wenger said that although the team had a further year in which to prepare for the exhibition, some of the original plans had been shelved because the working budget was now leaner.

She said full funding had been secured for around 24 of the 40 separate projects which will make up the exhibition. Wenger added that partial funding had been found for 10 of them, and that just over SFr386 million of the SFr454 million pledged by the private sector had been collected. The total Expo.02 budget is around SFr1.4 billion.

To raise the profile of Expo.02, the team has taken on board two key figures from the Swiss cultural world. François Rochaix will direct the opening and closing ceremonies in May and October 2002, and Christoph Marthaler will oversee an event celebrating Switzerland's national day, August 1.

Martin Heller, the Expo.02 artistic director, said the choice was a deliberate one, underlining that the team recognised in both men "a love of Switzerland, and an interest as much in its strong points as in its weaknesses". Heller also said that the event was meant not only to be a celebration of the Swiss people, but also of other cultures in Switzerland and beyond.

Rochaix is an internationally acclaimed opera director, who is known for iconoclastic productions such as that of Wagner's Ring Cycle in Seattle, and who spends six months a year training actors at Harvard University. However, he is well known in Switzerland,too, and has been involved in events such as the 1999 'Fête des Vignerons'. The wine festival is one of the country's largest open-air spectacles, and only takes place five times a century.

Rochaix said he relished the challenge posed by the opening and closing ceremonies. Events will be organised simultaneously in Yverdon, Murten, Biel, Neuchatel, and in canton Jura. Rochaix likened the job to directing an opera in which the acts run simultaneously, rather than consecutively.

Marthaler, whose main work is described as being at the interface between theatre and music, is charged with organising an unusual August 1 ceremony. He said he had no intention of rejecting the traditional aspects of the national day, with its folk culture and reflections on the Swiss identity.

However, Marthaler said he in no way planned to follow well-worn paths, and that he intended to create a festival that would bring together politics and spectacle in an innovative fashion. He added that the emphasis of the August 1 event would be music, both traditional and non-, reflecting the diversity of modern Switzerland.

by Jonathan Fowler

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