Culture : Swiss
Massimo Rocchi, Italian-European Swiss national by choice and possessing dual passports, is one of the greats of the Swiss cabaret scene. He stands for word acrobatics and pantomimes, wit and drollery. In his Circo Massimo programme, he juggles with the idioms of Europe in Italian, French, German, Schwyzerdütsch and Spanish, satirizes language clichés and caricatures every nation. Rocchi has received major awards in several countries.
Switzerland: A stage which holds up a mirror to the world
Swiss theatrical life can look back on a long and lively tradition. As early as the Middle Ages, religious plays such as Nativity and Passion Plays were performed in the Confederation. Towards the end of the 19th century, the popular theatre enjoyed a lasting revival: many works which were performed for the first time then are still staged today – such as the William Tell plays, based on Friedrich Schiller’s drama, which are regularly performed in Altdorf and Interlaken. In Einsiedeln, Caldéron’s “The Great Theatre of the World”, staged every five years, continues the tradition of the mediaeval and baroque religious play. The performances given during the “Fête des Vignerons” wine-growers’ festival in Vevey on Lake Geneva are devoted to the theme of wine and wine-making. They were inaugurated at the end of the 18th century and are staged every 25 years – most recently in 1999. Since 1908, the “Théâtre du Jorat” in Mézières, in a rural setting near Lausanne, has been a well-known popular theatre.
Many of the productions staged by the major Swiss theatres in Basle, Berne, Geneva and Zurich are well-known far beyond the frontiers of Switzerland. The renown of the theatres in German-speaking Switzerland, especially Zurich, dates back to the period from 1933 to 1945, when prominent German dramatists, producers among them Bertolt Brecht – and actors had fled to Switzerland from the National Socialist regime. A very fertile intellectual climate came into being in the theatre, bringing forth new talent, particularly Max Frisch and Friedrich Dürrenmatt, who were a major influence on the contemporary German-language theatre for many years. “Living Theatre” tours in the 1960s gave the theatre a new impetus from outside.
The Lucerne Festival is one of Europe’s major classical music festivals. It takes place in late summer each year in Lucerne’s Cultural and Conference Center, designed by leading French architect Jean Nouvel. The programme includes a broad spectrum of classical music, from symphony concerts, chamber music and serenades to contemporary works.
Alongside the major theatres, a small theatre scene, which is still growing, flourished in the 1960s. It has taken on an important function of theatrical life in Switzerland, not just in the major cities:
In southern Switzerland and the Romansch-speaking area theatrical life is, apart from a few exceptions, largely dependent culturally on the neighboring regions. In Verscio, at the entrance to the Centovalli [region with its “hundred valleys”], the internationally known clown Dimitri founded his own theatre which was later followed by a mime school. A large number of itinerant circus and street theatre troupes perform throughout Switzerland. Numerous theatre festivals, e.g. the Zurich Theatre Festival, the Festival du Belluard in Fribourg and the Festival de la Bâtie in Geneva, are also an established feature of Swiss cultural life during the summer months.
A varied dance scene
For many years, Switzerland was largely a host country for foreign dancers. During the two world wars in particular, countless dancers and choreographers sought asylum in the Confederation. A few of them stayed and instilled a love of classical ballet in the public. Today there are seven institutional ballets. In addition to these, an increasing number of free companies and solo artists have established themselves since the 1980s, contributing to a varied, lively and innovative dance scene. They currently number around 70. The Zurich Ballet under Heinz Spoerli is known worldwide. His choreography goes beyond the classical vocabulary and frequently incorporates contemporary elements. Maurice Béjart has also established himself on the international stage. He might be called the epitome of dance: he has been a ballet director for more than 50 years and is the extremely successful director of the Lausanne Ballet. The works of the former “enfant terrible” of the Swiss dance scene are popular both nationally and internationally: the choreography of Gilles Jobin from Laussane is among the most innovative that Swiss dance has to offer. There are also many more established dancers and many promising newcomers. They captivate the public with their guest shows or at festivals such as the Berner Tanztage, the Oltener Tanztage, La Bâtie, Steps or the Zürcher Theater-spektakel. Swiss dance companies also enjoy considerable success abroad. Around 40 free and institutional companies perform more than 250 tours in more than 30 different countries on all five continents.