Zurich Dance Festival’s Stefanie Gubser talks about the festival that went global and adopting a hybrid format, presenting an online and offline programme


– Did Zurich Tanz always engage online with their audience or was it the first serious effort?

The last few years we have been more focused on bringing the experience to the streets, the squares, the parks and the venues, then interacting with the audience online. We have been focusing on Live events for years. This year was a real opportunity to experiment more online and look for ways to still involve people in the programme in a participatory way and get them on board through online ways and strengthen the dance community with that.

– How difficult and challenging it was to put together such a hybrid (online and offline) programme?

It was a long intensive journey, also because in September 2020 we were still assuming something completely different, although we already had half a year of a pandemic behind us, we thought we could go back to our known concept. In January 2021, we realised that with the 2nd Lock Down that everything still had to be different in May, so we designed something that went beyond a normal “streaming festival”.

We expanded the team and looked for people who could conceptualise and design interactive digital experiences with us. We wanted to present a festival with hybrid and new forms and look for ways to make the experience emotional, interactive and intense despite physical distance. The word “gamification” came up often during our brainstorm phase. It might be worth mentioning that when we made the decision to make the edition21 concept adjustments to the festival in January, a curated festival was already in place. So we and our artists were challenged to develop new formats from the existing programme. And that was certainly not always easy, but also enormously exciting.

– How was the programme perceived by your local and international followers?

We got great feedback, our audience appreciated our courage to try something absolutely new and to put together an extensive and diverse festival despite the circumstances. Our artists were just as challenged as we were to digitally implement a new experience of art and culture with already existing formats/plays and it was incredibly successful.

– We found out about the amazing and innovative TikTok challenge – how did that go in terms of response? Do you think social media play a vital role in promoting your programme?

The TikTok Challenge was a completely new way for us to actively engage people via social media. The newly released song by Pina Jung & Riky Wayne with the message “I love you for Sure” was the perfect combination.

Our idea was for a country to vibe to the same rhythm and for dance to become a universal language in a time when we cannot physically experience dance in a common place. Community cohesion and our own interpretation of Muhammed Kaltuk’s choreography was important to us. The challenge reached 4 million people and dancers from Canada, Spain, Germany and other countries participated.

– Do you think it’s important for festivals like Zurich Tanzt to have an international mindset and challenge their existing model?

Absolutely, in general, cultural institutions, festivals etc. should always challenge themselves and it is important to constantly question themselves and try out new ideas. As a festival, it is important to reflect on issues that move the world and to give artists platforms that do this task for a whole society. This is not only meant in a political context, of course but generally thinking about and interpreting emotions, circumstances and finding a way to express anger, love, frustration, joy, desire, happiness and sharing it with people is the core of artistic creation.

I think organisers should think beyond their own borders. We are a global world and themes are merging more and more and are important to consider in a global context. It is exciting to follow an international approach and also to promote it and share the messaging!

– Any sneak picks for the upcoming edition in 2022?

We do not wish to follow similar paths, we strive to create new realities. We have learned a lot and want to continue on this path, it remains exciting. These two editions have given us a wonderful experiment from which we now look to the future and the upcoming edition of the festival in May 2022.

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