Free valuable Lausanne performance festival

Lausanne has been the official Olympic capital for 30 years but for even longer this Swiss hill city has been hosting a summer spectacle with a dizzying array of artistic disciplines as well as athletics. This year’s program for the Festival de la Cité – its 52nd edition – features over 80 shows over six days, from wildly contrasting styles of circus, dance and theater to an engaging street parade and music program including a choir, screamo, reggaeton, jazz. , postpunk and gabber. Not to mention the Swiss-American yodeller Erika Stucky, performing in the city’s 13th century cathedral, with Johannes Keller on the organ.

Audiences get out of their comfort zones as all shows are free on the mainly outdoor stages clustered together in the historic old town. Each production is a gateway to another, hopes Martine Chalverat, who took over as artistic director in 2022 and headed the Visions du Réel documentary film festival in nearby Nyon.

Theatre-goers can come to the Festival de la Cité for one particular show or to see an artist he knows, she explains, but stay there for something “a little more edgy”. Maybe you could come for the anarchic street theater show Splatsch! and wait for Swiss trap musician Fuji, Irish electro noise band Yard or end the night watching the amazing Afrorave star Toya Delazy. Up and coming and established acts are on the bill. “A lot of artists come back with a new project,” says Chalverat. Brazilian choreographer Alice Ripoll, whose favela dance party Zona Franca takes place on Saturday, has been visiting since she was an emerging talent. “It’s nice for us and our audience to have this relationship with the artists,” says Calverat. It’s a good equalizer to put on all shows for free, as well as a lot for the audience: when Zona Franca was at London’s Southbank Center last year, tickets started at £20.

The key to registering the performing arts events, says Calverat, is understanding the places where they will be presented. The stages this year have emerged under the shadow of the lonely, tired Château Saint-Maire; on the Bessières bridge, with the city as a background; and in the open spaces of the Hermitage landscaped park. Some of the shows at these higgledy-muckgledy locations fill up quickly on a first-come, first-served basis but it’s possible to get a variety of views up close – and if you arrive late to see the horror. complete sign, many performances have more than one performance.

“The connection between the artwork, the audience and the architecture of the place is very important,” says Chalverat. “We always think: where can we imagine this work in Lausanne?” It requires some thinking outside the box when programming. On Friday and Saturday, the Troisième Nature festival will present Florencia Demestri and Samuel Lefeuvre, which took place at the Charleroi Dance Biennial last year and is mainly performed with the couple wrapped inside a large shiny sheet of shape-shifting material mercury. It’s one of the catchiest duets I’ve ever seen. At Charleroi, where Calverat and I saw it, the show was performed indoors under artificial light. In Lausanne, it will be presented in two different air locations.

About 80% of the festival’s shows were originally performed in a black box theater with lighting. “Here, we have no black box and for it [some shows] it’s during the day.” The quick turnaround required for the main stages also dictates the programming. The arrivals for each show must be quick so there are no overly complicated sets. Calverat learned a lot in its first year from the technicians about the things that work well.

Then there is the weather to consider. On the night I attend, my favorite show, Vilain Chien by the French company La Generale Posthume, is delayed by a continuous downpour. It means that there is a similar preparation performance as the team mocks and dries the stage. This is a new company but their friends are quickly established in a show whose magical choreography involves poles and clasped hands, with the dancers also taking turns to music. There is a stunningly surreal sequence in which a performer – holding pom-poms and dressed in a jacket with the portrait of a smiling pomeranian – mirrors the intricate movements of the inflatable sky dancer.

Through an accompanying commentary spoken by a referee, the show focuses on a few topics of interest: the way we are raising dogs and our expectations from the circus. In other words, not just how people treat their animals but also how we prefer our fellow humans to look, behave – and turn on stage. He defies those expectations and finds hilarious parallels including a dog’s “playing dead” trick and an actor’s dramatic death scene. When I enter the company later I see that they have their own dog, a cute little thing whose breed they haven’t decided. The show itself defies categorization. Eventually, that stage – now covered in confetti, crumbs and burst balloons – has to be cleared again.

Baoum has an irreverent and joyful vibe! created by Coline Garcia for the French company SCoM. Acrobat Viviane Miehe and beatboxer Thibaut Derathé AKA Oxyjinn will do it, both barefoot and wearing pink and purple. Miehe arrives walking through the audience to take a stand among the front row; Derathé looks forward with a sound console on his chest. Balloons are given to the young audience and used during the act, with Miehe’s movements and Derathé’s sounds changing between inflated and deflated states. Whether it’s Derathé punch boxing, Miehe spinning her legs in the air like the hands of a bell or the two of them moving around the stage with a balloon squeezed between their heads, there’s plenty here that young audiences will want to try. at home.

Many local people have a long association with the festival – some of those who visited in their youth now bring their own children. For the 50th edition, the festival asked the audience for their memories and found out how many couples met here. Programs start at 5pm every day, and the first shows are often packed with children who have just broken up for school holidays, staying out late with parents who don’t care much about the morning routine.

How does Calverat figure out what his audience wants? Through surveys, social media and – she emphasizes – making sure team members are present at every performance to gauge reactions, including whether it’s appropriate for that particular stage and time. She’s used to getting responses from seasoned festival-goers who ask, for example, when he’ll do jazz again in New Orleans or if he’ll bring back stand-up acts.

As an outdoor event, the weather is extremely important as rain can damage the bar’s profits, which accounted for almost a third of its income. The festival is a private foundation with public funding from the city of Lausanne and the canton of Vaud, set for three-year periods. The energy crisis, inflation and rising costs of the tour have had an impact recently. “All the costs are going up but we don’t have more income because we don’t have any ticket prices [to increase].”

The contracts also required costly, critical improvements to sustainability and access for the festival. Calverat highlights the challenges of presenting work in public spaces. She has just learned that one street in the area will be closed next year while the cathedral is being renovated: “that’s why we can’t plan more than a year in advance”.

In the cathedral, the Belgian show Change of Plans, choreographed by Femke Gyselinck, is performed to a sunset jazz saxophone score composed and played by Adia Vanheerentals and keys played and composed by Hendrik Lasure. Gyselinck dances alongside Zanne Boon and Oskar Stalpaert in a piece co-produced by the Ghent disability arts organization Platform-K. The stained glass windows complement the flashes of color in some of the trio’s clothes that hang on a rail and are tried on and put back on from time to time, as the dancers tackle a handful of different specific routines. It could be a metaphor for the festival, where spectators come and go, putting each piece up anew. Fomo is very big with overlapping shows on the schedule and, because everything is free, there may be less of a commitment to wait for an entire show.

Lausanne’s large theaters are located on the other side of the city and are not used by the festival. But even the bridge that separates them has a performance, with spectators watching from a sloping triangular platform. Précieuses discover that the eccentric French quartet La Bête à Quatre achieve their own engineering feats, building human towers to an opera recording and trying to outdo each other on a teeter board. They have spread grass around their temporary stage but the sky is the main backdrop as it does for many shows here. In this amazing setting, the acrobats put their heads in the clouds as they achieve the incredible.

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