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Arts

Icon of theater Ariane Mnouchkine receives Goethe Prize

The founder and director of the Théâtre du Soleil is a legendary figure of European theater. The City of Frankfurt recognizes her achievements with the prestigious Goethe Prize.

Ariane Mnouchkine has always wanted to be in close contact with her audience. For over 50 years, the now 78-year-old theater director has been welcoming the visitors as a ticket attendant at the entrance of the Cartoucherie. The former ammunition factory in the south of Paris houses her stage ensemble, the Théâtre du Soleil.

In 1964, at the age of 25, she founded the non-conventional ensemble with theater colleagues and she has remained its artistic and stage director to this day.

In the tradition of popular theater, the Théâtre du Soleil combines elements of pantomime, cabaret, improvisation and acrobatics. The audience is also drawn into the action. The stagings of the Théâtre du Soleil are opulent events which merge Comedia dell'Arte, ancient theater and Asian theater styles.

Blurring the boundaries between theater and life

The French stage director Mnouchkine became world famous with her play "1789," which premiered in 1970. It set the student riots of 1968 and the French Revolution in parallel. Yet Mnouchkine doesn't only want to comment on political events with her productions. Her theater aims to directly influence people's social reality.

Théâtre du Soleil performs Les Atrides in 1991 (picture-alliance/dpa/K. Franke)

The Théâtre du Soleil performs "Les Atrides" in 1991

She also believes the boundaries between theater and political activism are fluid: In 1995, she protested with a month-long hunger strike to protest against France's inaction during the Bosnian genocide. In 2008, she released short internet films calling for the boycott of the Olympic Games in Beijing, raising awareness of human rights violations in China.

Read more: Russia detains theater director Kirill Serebrennikov over alleged fraud

The daughter of the French-Russian film producer Alexandre Mnouchkine, she also spent two years directing a movie at the end of the 1970s. The four-hour film on the life of French playwright Molière involved 500 actors and extras.

Recognition for a great European director

On Monday, "la Reine" - the Queen, as she's called in France - will receive the Goethe Prize of the City of Frankfurt. Peter Feldmann, chair of the board of trustees and mayor of Frankfurt, referred to Mnouchkine as a "really great European director."

With her theater collective Théatre du Soleil, she has demonstrated "how productive a political approach to theater can be."

The Goethe Prize, endowed with 50,000 euros ($59,000), is awarded every three years on August 28, the birthday of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Previous recipients of the award include Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, Marcel Reich-Ranicki and Pina Bausch.

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