Due to the current travel and meeting restrictions, a great part of our planned international productions had to be postponed or cancelled. We asked some of the artists who could not travel to Zurich this year to send us an artistic contribution portraying their current situation and circumstances. The result are small artworks, moving snapshots, reflexions and intimate insights into the (new) lifeworlds of artists in different places on this earth in August 2020.

The submitted works are published as part of the series «HOLD ON» over the course of the festival on this site.

Back to Back Theatre: Threshold

The Australian theatre company has performed at the Zürcher Theater Spektakel several times and won the 2007 ZKB Acknowledgement Prize. Back to Back, a professional company by and with members with a mental handicap, was supposed to show its latest creation «The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes» at this year’s festival. Due to COVID-19, the company decided to suspend all programmes and activities for the time being. In the video contribution «Threshold», the company members make their voices heard in Zurich:

Back to Back Ensemble: Mark Deans, Scott Price, Sarah Mainwaring, Simon Laherty
With Ahmarnya Price, Ingrid Voorendt, Alana Hogart, Bruce Gladwin, Mark Cuthbertson, Bao Ngouansavanh and Thomas Campbell
Editing: Elysa MCInnes
Made on the land of the Wathaurong People of the Kulin Nation, Geelong Australia

Ali Chahrour

Last festival, the Lebanese choreographer Ali Chahrour presented «Layl (Night)», the first part of his choreographic trilogy on the topic of love. At the beginning of August, shortly before the devastating explosion in Beirut, he sent us a picture by Myriam Boulos and his text «Solace», in which he also talks about the rehearsals for his latest creation «Told by my Mother» brought to a halt by the pandemic.


Entering a cemetery in broad daylight, passing through the noisy heart of city life

as footsteps meet the cemetery ground, silence prevails, life stands still, cars come to a stop, shops shut down, as if for Friday’s prayer. 

Heads humbly bow in adoration of the almighty, eyes respectful of death and the warmth of an encounter

an eerie moment when the living meets the dead. 

My city, as a cruel and selfish mother devours her own children, as they cling to her in desperation, but she refuses the breast of life

and throws them at orphanages’ doorsteps or discards them as garbage. 


In March 2020, during rehearsals of «Told by my Mother», a show that might have been, we were casting faces, searching for voices, struggles, and the love of iconic mothers on their heroic journeys to safeguard their families in cities cursed and forever doomed. 

Every morning on my way to the rehearsal studio, I come across glim and haggard faces of mothers roaming Hamra street, with their children, homeless. I watch from a distance the thickness of their postures, their limbs flexing under the yoke of life, in a slow dance.

Once at the rehearsal studio, I meet a mother and her son, and their whirlwind of loving energy. Leyla, the mother, the hero of the story. 

The heroin mother holds on to her son Abbas, like a proud lioness, proud of 2017, the year she kept him from joining the fight.

There he is now, dancing before her eyes, his limbs shining with energy. Here he is dancing before those same eyes that spent sleepless nights imagining him a lifeless, blood stained body from the battlefield.


In March 2020, the world stood still with a pandemic, rehearsals stood still.

But the streets of Beirut were on fire and did not know how to stand still. 

My mother’s age did not stand still either. She grew 10 years older in one year. 

Her features changed, her hands shook with the dread of what may become of her, as with her own mother before her. 

Her mother Amina, who built her home one rock at a time, with bare hands and her pillar chest.

One day, Amina forgot her own name, and forgot her own children’s names. 

All she wanted was to return home, where she had left her heart. 

Her birthplace, mixed with memories, sweat and tears. Mixed with voices, songs and wails summoning her children to return long after they were gone. 

Admonishing them to have mercy and return from their exile.

Her last words were: «He who leaves home, loses his worth» 

And here we are, my dear Amina, looking to leave a home we are worthless to



My mother grew old and her face gathered signs of time that I could no longer decipher. 

In my homemade solace, and after the world stood still, I was given the gift of time to look at my mother, to ponder the expressions of her beautiful face. 

As if compelled to untangle each wrinkle bearing stories from another time, and tracing maps leading to lands of blackness. 

As if, all lines converged into a choreography I had not dared to imagine yet. 

In my homemade solace, I came to notice my mother’s hands shaking, her slow strides, her hollow voice, and selective memory fading by the day. 

The author «Yamen Hussein» puts it so well in his book 3,439 km of scars but the navel: «As mothers grow old and forget how often they salted the dish, they do remember the amount of bitterness in absence»

«Your mother has aged; her hands are shaking. But you are mistaken. She is barely rocking this world to sleep»

There goes the world to sleep, mother. 

As if this same world visited the cemetery alongside me on that day, in the heart of the city, in broad daylight, and every day since.

In my homemade solace, when the world stood still, and Beirut fell apart, my eyes were forced to witness what I had always dreaded. I pondered on the meaning of time engraved in my mother’s face. 

I realised in the haze of such a standstill, that I was trapped in time. 

I realised, Fatima had aged beyond time. 


Text: Ali Chahrour, Beirut, Lebanon

Image: Myriam Boulos

Royce Ng

The Hong Kong multimedia artist Royce Ng showed the Short Piece «Kishi the Vampire» at the 2016 Theater Spektakel and in 2019, he presented his performance «Queen Zomia». Ng's homeland, the megametropolis Hong Kong, is currently not only ravaged by the pandemic but also by serious political turmoil. After months of political protests, interrupted by the lockdown, the Chinese government has implemented a controversial safety act in July 2020. Is this the end of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region? No one knows what the future holds. In this video work, based on footage of Lantau Island, Royce Ng shares his point of view.

Paula Chaves: BOOM BOOM CHAO

The young artist and activist Paula Chaves considers art a survival strategy and a means to hack hegemonic power structures. She was supposed to show her latest creation «Omni Toxica» on the occasion of this year's «Short Pieces». The piece portrays the forceful diffusion and exploitation of the coca plant and its constituent cocaine from a queer-femnistic perspective. Instead, Paula Chaves has sent us her work «BOOM BOOM CHAO» consisting of a text and a video: 

Glitches of a marica in self-exile
Self-exile & queer lesbian life is a way of lockdown,
living while removed because of the lack of reflection.
Months, years, a whole life through the taste of assimilation.
The glitching error one
Timeless mismatches,   
Abstracted, removed, alienated life.
Unmet desires, travels to the inside
Forbidden vidas sudakas y maricas,
queer survivors of the narco-macho-war.
Transfeminist prophecy materialise
Hacking patriarchy & the trauma of war with our every day lives
Extasis and torture hand in hand,
raving from the underground. 

1st of August, 2020
3,627 days in self-exile
Delirium of a marica revenge 

Concept and Creation: Paula Chaves Bonilla
Video Creation and Editing: Alejandro Orjuela Alvarez
Camera: Zwoisy Mears-Clarke & Paula Chaves Bonilla
Music: Gabber Modus Operandi & Bauhaus 

Silke Huysmans & Hannes Dereere

Silke Huysmans and Hannes Dereere won the ZKB Patronage Prize for their piece «Mining Stories» in 2018. The Belgian duo visited the Pacific island nation of Nauru to research for their latest production «Pleasant Island», which they were supposed to present at the Theater Spektakel this year. «Pleasant Island» revolves around the immigration detention centres for unwanted refugees run by the Australian government on Nauru. It also talks about colonial continuities and ecocide caused by the excessive exploitation of resources. Instead of «Pleasant Island», they participate at this year’s festival with the following video message:

Text, Video: Silke Huysmans, Hannes Dereere
Based on «Global quieting of seismic noise due to COVID-19 pandemic lockdown measures» published in Science Magazine

Youness Atbane: I am now socially waterproofed

The Moroccan artist and performer Youness Atbane performed at the 2018 festival together with Youness Aboulakoul. Their piece «The Architects» was awarded the ZKB Acknowledgement Prize. Atbane's work investigates how the westernised international art world deals with cultural affiliation and constructs an image of Arabic artists. This summer, Youness Atbane would have premiered his latest production in Zurich. Instead, he participates at this year's festival with the choreographic video work «I am now socially waterproofed»:

Video, Editing: Youness Atbane

Edna Jaime

The dancer and choreographer Edna Jaime from Maputo, Mozambique, participated in last year’s «watch&talk» series at the festival. This year, she was supposed to show her dance piece «The Good Fight» on the occasion of «Short Pieces». The piece deals with the working class in Mozambique, the craftsmen, the cleaners and nurses and with all the care work often provided by women without pay. «I'm the dancer, my body is my fighting instrument!», Edna Jaime says about herself. Even though she could not travel to Zurich, the artist is represented twice at this year’s festival: as a collaborator of the international radio ballet «Dispersion Everywhere!» and with this video contribution, in which she plays the Mbira, an instrument from the border region between Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The video was created at the beginning of August 2020 in Maputo.

Video: Thien Vulani the Youtuber

Music: Cheny Wa Fine

Performance and Mbira player: Edna Jaime

Mapa Teatro: Fly like a hummingbird as the forest burns

The Columbian Mapa Teatro around the siblings Heidi and Rolf Abderhalden is one of Latin America’s most renowned theatre companies. For over 30 years, Mapa has worked on the threshold of fiction and documentation and dealt with the history of Columbia. The company has been closely connected to the Theater Spektakel for many years and, most recently, was present at the 2011 festival. Since last March, the company has been under a strict quarantine in Bogota. Although the company members live in the same city, they are not allowed to meet physically. Nevertheless, they have developed a video work for the Theater Spektakel, which is based on the same fable as the Collective Listening evening by Ogutu Muraya

Mapa Teatro – Laboratory of Artists
Direction: Rolf and Heidi Abderhalden
Editing: Ximena Vargas
Special thanks to: Adriana Urrea, Agnes Brekke

Digital Events

Some events in this year's festival programme take place, partially or completely, in digital space. Here you find an overview of the various offers.


The series «HOLD ON» is presented in the player of the streaming platform SPECTYOU.