Zurich lifts curtain on theatre spectacular

A scene from "Panic, how to be happy" at Zurich's Rote Fabrik Keystone

Audiences have been flocking in their thousands to Zurich’s annual Theatre Spectacle - the biggest event of its kind in Switzerland.

This content was published on August 20, 2003 - 12:10

This year more than 40 theatre and dance troupes from 25 countries are taking part, putting on an extravagant display of contemporary performing arts.

The 24th edition of the festival with its wide range of theatre, dance and music is once again being held in the Landiwiese park, overlooking Lake Zurich.

The spectacular lakeside setting helps to generate a unique atmosphere that attracts many people who are not your average theatregoer.

Organisers say they are expecting 100,000 guests over the 18 days of this year’s festival.

Artistic director Maria Magdalena Schwägermann says that the big attraction for audiences is the sheer diversity of acts, many of which would not make it into mainstream theatres.

“The people who come are willing to be surprised - most of the time they are buying tickets for something they know nothing about,” she said.

Diverse influences

There is no central theme to this year’s Theatre Spectacle, and performances pull in all directions, incorporating diverse flavours and influences.

One of the regional focuses of the festival is the Mediterranean, with acts from Turkey, Israel, Algeria, the Palestinian territories and Italy. And like last year, there is also an Australian presence.

Schwägermann says this is down to her personal interest in the country as well as the vibrant art scene in Australia.

After making a big impression last year, the Australian duo Neil Thomas and Katy Bowman are back again, this time with their performance installation “Odd Hours”, centred on a bar.

“It provides an environment where people can come and feel relaxed and actually talk about things,” says Thomas.

“So the décor helps that, the bar helps that and also the performance works in such a way as to create a dialogue with the public.”

Asian flavours

The last five years have seen a general decrease in Asian participation in European arts festivals, but that has not stopped one of the region’s best-known performers, Ong Keng Sen, from making the trip to Zurich.

“There is a very special environment and an atmosphere here [in Zurich],” he said. “It provides for a very serious consideration of life and art.”

Sen’s unique dance/music meditation, “The Global Soul”, introduces the audience to Asian culture as well as to different interpretations of performing styles, integrating contemporary music, dance and theatre.

He describes his work as “a kind of creative exploration of what it means to travel, the search for the meaning of life”.

Performance art

Old masters of performance art such as Guillermo Gómez-Pena from Mexico and Richard Foreman from New York are also present at the festival.

They are joined in the festival programme by two ensembles who work with disabled people, “Polar und die Regierung” from Switzerland and "Back to Back Theatre" from Australia.

“People will discover that these people have so-called handicaps but they are talented artists and the productions are really something incredible,” says Schwägermann.

And last but not least, the festival also provides a showcase for many Swiss productions.

“We have a lot of very interesting young companies and, especially for my international colleagues from festivals abroad, it is very interesting to see what is developing here,” she adds.

swissinfo, Daniela Silberstein in Zurich

Key facts

The Zurich Theatre Spectacle runs until August 31.
Organisers expect 100,000 people to attend the 24th edition of the event.
The festival has attracted theatre and dance troupes from 25 countries.

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