Displaying a diversity of languages and genres, various platforms and venues in South American countries received works from the contemporary Swiss scene during 2023. On two occasions, festivals included a Swiss focus on their programme, one in FIBA – Buenos Aires International Theatre Festival and another in Cali International Dance Biennial.
These were also opportunities for artists to perform not only at these events, but also to carry on their tours in neighbouring locations, presenting works, connecting with the local scene, and conducting related activities such as workshops and talks.
An Overview of a few programmes
Experience/Switzerland at FIBA
In its 2023 edition, the International Festival of Buenos Aires – FIBA presented an overview of the Swiss performing arts scene. This collection of pieces not only aimed to illustrate the aesthetic diversity of the country’s contemporary production but also the multiplicity of formats and themes that constitute it.
Titled “Experience/Switzerland”, this section gathered five works. Moving through the borders of performance, fiction, and documentary, director Boris Nikitin presented a remake of “Hamlet” and the solo “Attempt on Dying”. Other pieces illustrated different artistic languages and brought together collaborations with artists of different nationalities. The group Klara joined Bolivian performers and revisits a prison-city in Santa Cruz de la Sierra [BO] to discuss questions of law and justice in the site-specific show “Palmasola”. Cie L’Alakran mixed comedy and philosophy in “Makers”, performed by two Spanish actors, Juan Loriente and Oscar Gómez Mata. As for “Performance Telling”, by Colectivo
Utópico, it is an Argentine-Swiss-Brazilian project, co-produced by the festival, focusing on the diversity of perspectives and the understanding of the world.
Rather than retelling Shakespeare’s play, director Boris Nikitin uses the original material as a mask to reflect on identity, individuality, delusion, and reality. Mixing experimental documentary performance and queer music-theatre, the performer and electro-musician Julian Meding takes on the role of a contemporary Hamlet rebelling against reality. Supported by the Basel string quartet Der Musikalische Garten (The Musical Garden), the performer embarks on a tour de force, in which he reveals himself, his body and his biography to the eyes of the audience. Every now and then, he seizes the microphone and starts to sing raw electropunk, sketchy cover songs, a Hollywood ballad. Like Hamlet against his royal court, he attacks the public, agitates, flirts, mocks, and tries to seduce them. Is it even Meding, or is it Shakespeare’s character? Maybe both at the same time? Is everything just a game, to be or not to be? In the end, it’s all about poetic revolt: coarse-grained, confrontational, anti-social, ravishing.
Attempt on Dying
In this raw, intimate solo, Boris Nikitin takes the stage, exploring his vulnerability towards the public and combining two personal stories. One deals with his father’s passing after struggling with ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). The disease had been quick: it took less than a year from diagnosis to death. Very early on, the father brought up the idea of considering an assisted suicide – a legal way of dying in Switzerland. It’s a statement that changes everything. In «Attempt on Dying», Nikitin combines the story of this outing with the story of his own coming-out as a gay man 20 years prior, developing both a radical and confidential theatrical piece about what it means to take the step into the public eye, to be exposed. The play thereby reinterprets the concept of vulnerability: instead of something we normally prefer to hide, it becomes an ability, a strength that arises in the act of its unveiling.
In Old English, the word “makers” refers not only to those who make, but also to poets. Based on this double meaning, the performers Juan Loriente and Oscar Gómez Mata (the latter also a director and creator) embody a duo of metaphysical clowns, poets of the scene, who are two, but also the same. Mixing the poetic, the comic and the philosophical, they present a kind of manual for survivors that tries to provide solutions to our transit through reality. Thus, Cie L’Alakran’s show investigates the layers of the real, the discovery of what is hidden beneath first appearance, our truths with a hint of anomaly.
Palmasola is a prison-city in Santa Cruz de la Sierra [BO], a settlement of huts surrounded by walls that was built in the late 1980s. It is currently home to 6,000 inmates, including convicted criminals, pre-trial detainees, men and women, families and children. There, one can see the extremes of social and economic differences. This population within the walls was virtually left to its own devices, until a raid on 14 March 2018, which turned the prisoners’ daily lives upside down with unprecedented brutality. In this site-specific piece, the group Klara confronts questions of law and justice, the organisation of communities and the perception of the world by children growing up in prison.
In this parasitic protocol, the Colectivo
Utópico alongside invited local artists recycle a play from the festival’s official programming and transmit a show to audiences who could not attend or would like to discover alternative versions. Each one shares a free performance in a free format to build by juxtaposition a new language made of their different singularities. The result reveals and recycles an original content while drawing the question of the possibility of a shared language, of being together, and of a common understanding of the world.
EXIT’23 – International Festival of Experimental Arts
International Festival of Experimental Arts in Montevideo [Uruguay], EXIT aims to create spaces of exchange and experimentation in the Southern Cone music scene.
In its second edition, running in March 2023, the event featured a few Swiss-based artists and collectives. y-band, a team of polyhedral performers, presented the concert “Concepts of Flow”, an immersive experience oscillating between the worlds of new music and pop culture through the incorporation of lighting and video design. A member of y-band, saxophonist, composer and electronic musician Joan Jordi Oliver also participated with a solo performance. Percussionist, performer, and improviser Miguel Ángel García Martín and Stanislas Pili – who dedicates himself to projects in the context of contemporary music, experimental music theatre, sound installations and improvisation – staged individual installations and, together, conducted a workshop for percussionists.
Jeremy Nedd & Impilo Mapantsula at Sesc Dance Biennial
Performer and choreographer Jeremy Nedd likes to play with different contexts and confront predefined concepts. In “The Ecstatic”, he works with South African collective Impilo Mapantsula, clashing two distinct worlds and aesthetics.
The show, which is part of the 2023 edition of Sesc Dance Biennial, in Brazil, is based on Pantsula, a historically significant South African subculture that, during Apartheid, gave a voice to a whole generation. It’s expressed as a powerful dance form, with high-speed footwork, but also through a dress code, language, music, and a particular philosophy of life.
Onstage, this virtuous dance meets Praise Break, a typical pause in the Christian Pentecostal Church service, where the dancing body, voice and music energetically merge, blurring the line between ecstatic and cathartic.
Thus, the Pantsula dancers turn to the motions that lead up to the praise break, a transcendental moment, in order to find out, and “break open” a new space of their own.
Pauline Boudry & Renate Lorenz at the Bienal de São Paulo
Inspired by queer culture, Swiss-German duo Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz play with the flow of time and space. The pair works with performances that combine different time periods and often create illegitimate collaborations – partly fictitious, partly cross-temporal. Through film installations, they revisit recent and past materials (a score, a piece of music, a film, a photograph, or a performance), focusing mainly on a critical history of the photographic and moving image itself.
The duo participated in the 35th Bienal de São Paulo – choreographies of the impossible, from September to December 2023, presenting three video installations:
The feeling of being pushed backwards by recent reactionary backlashes is the starting point for the work, which explores resistance practices, combining post-modern choreography and urban dance with guerrilla techniques and elements of queer underground culture. The film is inspired by women of the Kurdish guerrillas, who wore their shoes backwards to walk in the snowy mountains. This tactic saved their lives, since it looked as if they were walking in the opposite direction. With five performers from diverse dance backgrounds, the film installation complicates the notion of backwards movements and their temporal and spatial meaning. Parts of the walks, solos and group dances are carried out backwards, others are digitally reversed, creating doubt and ambiguities throughout the video.
Choreography and performance: Julie Cunningham, Werner Hirsch, Latifa Laâbissi, Marbles Jumbo Radio, Nach
The linear model of time, following a concept of progress, marching away from the past and pointing towards the horizon of the future, has always been bound to violence and normalisation. Like the colonial idea that some groups are behind time, and others are ahead of it. Or projecting the future as a fantasy of heterosexual reproduction. It, therefore, seems urgent to create a stage for something beyond, and that’s what the work aims: to think of a minoritarian mode of temporality, where movements simultaneously connect to political despair and utopian aspiration. In the installation, four performers seem to be rehearsing for a queer time. Extreme slowness, moving in circles, being out of synch, changes of rhythms, stillness and breaks are working on escape routes. The artists employ and often deliberately mix a range of dance elements inspired by hip-hop, dancehall, (post-)modern dance, and drag performance. Even though they noticeably differ in their styles, they connect through sudden similarities, haunting movements, and body memories, producing and shifting their contact points.
Choreography and performance: Julie Cunningham, Werner Hirsch, Joy Alpuerto Ritter, Aaliyah Thanisha
Being in the light, visible, is a political precondition for claiming rights. But queer, deviant, and racialised bodies have often been rendered hyper-visible in order to be scrutinised and policed. Les Gayrillères (the “gayrrilleras”) might appear at night, in a deserted club, in a cruising area, on the fringe of a demonstration, in a museum’s basement, underground. They move in the dark, and in spaces of total luminosity, where the blinding lights offer a shelter. The choreography shows a series of steps for a gay guerrilla, building on the unpredictable power of bodies moving in concert, experimenting with forms of togetherness. Inspired by Monique Wittig’s writings, the Gayrillères’ pleasures are indivisible from the sadness of political backlash: the endless violence in public spaces, and the withdrawal of rights by authoritative governments. The right to opacity, the right to disappear, or to control one’s own degrees of visibility, is highlighted by the performers’ costumes, which are the only sources of light on their march, while their brightness is either too low or too high.
Choreography and performance: Harry Alexander, Julie Cunningham, Werner Hirsch, Nach, Joy Alpuerto Ritter, Aaliyah Thanisha
- Images courtesies of Ellen de Bruijne Projects Amsterdam and Marcelle Alix Paris
Swiss Focus at the Cali International Dance Biennial
For its 6th edition, in November 2023, the Cali International Dance Biennial in Colombia brought together four shows and one exhibition of artists from the contemporary Swiss dance scene. Following the participation, in 2021, of the Biennial’s curatorial committee in the Swiss Dance Days programme, in partnership with Pro Helvetia, some of the companies presented in this context were chosen.
They are representatives of a new generation living and creating in Switzerland, with diverse interests, from multidisciplinary latitudes and connected by contemporary aesthetic visions, movement and the exploration of other corporealities, musics and architectures.
Before and after the festival, the works toured other Colombian cities as well as different South American countries.
The dancer and choreographer Ruth Childs investigates the body and its musicality. She explores her physical and emotional memories with music ranging from Beethoven and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker to Dvorak’s Slavonic dances, which she listened to as a child. Stepping into an empty space, a white room, she invokes, plays, dialogues, embodies and fights with these musical recollections, using colour to punctuate and organise them, in an abstract auto portrait. Her body, shifting from projection screen to human figure, to animal-like creature, to musical instrument, or to simple vibration, takes on, conducts, and questions the notion of what is intimate and what is collective.
Drawing inspiration from Japanese tales and animated films, Beaver Dam Company creates a physical and virtuoso dance in “Yumé“. Edouard Hue’s choreography is a wordless narration, where the characters live a fabulous adventure. The piece shows a heroine who never stops traveling, searching for her lost shadow. During her journey, she encounters strange and fantastic characters. The adventure takes her through amazing lands. Deep in the sea or lost in the clouds, she will discover supernatural places where the laws of nature are upset.
A Journey of Moving Grounds
A journey on moving grounds developed by choreographer Nicole Morel, from Antipode Danse Tanz, and architect and set designer Lea Hobson, is the result of a dialogue between dance and architecture, between sculpture with three-dimensional elements and bodies. It builds a changing and dynamic show according to time and space. The set is formed by an island sculpted in white blocks, which adapts to the place and the context in which it is placed. At first, the dancers are grouped in the centre. Then, they move and blend with the space; they create new landscapes, shapes and patterns, transforming the structure. These new space configurations, combined with those of the dancers, carry images that subtly echo the consequences of climate change, drifting icebergs or the slow disappearance and destruction of our environment by the hand of man.
The show by Linga Company is inspired by the amazing performance of animal group movements, such as schools of fish, flocks of birds or swarms of insects. These flexible and fluid formations (capable of immediately modifying their speed and direction without losing spatial coherence,), question the laws of interaction and the ways of relating between the different members of a group and the coordination of their movements. “Flow” also marks Linga’s first collaboration with Keda, a French-Korean duo formed by E’ Joung-Ju and Mathias Delplanque, who like to confront ancient nuances of the world with textures, rhythms and electronic resources. With a musical score performed live, the work proposes a liberating and joyful performing experience.
Figuras de la Memoria
Swiss visual artist Céline Burnand and Afro-Colombian dancer Andrea Bonilla from Cali attempted to revive the invisible bodies of history, replacing them with emblematic architectures of the colonial project, often in ruins and evoking the failure of such enterprises, or the damage they caused, not only to local populations but also to nature and intangible heritage. Following a research trip by Céline to Colombia, the work developed from textual and photographic archives. The circulation and exchange of ideas and images then emerged in the act of dance, a kind of catharsis for the dancer filmed by Céline. On the right side of the diptych, Andrea dances in various spaces on the Pacific coast where slaves found refuge during the Spanish occupation, and where certain fugitives from the Gorgona prison hid during the 20th century. On the left, Egyptian dancers Amina Abouelghar, Eman Hussein and Samar Ezzat dance in various parts of the Helwan sanatorium, south of Cairo, where tuberculosis patients were treated from 1926 to 1950, and for which Céline has personal archives.