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'Theater magician' Marthaler wins Ibsen Award

Dagmar Breitenbach
September 14, 2018

Swiss director Christoph Marthaler, who currently heads Germany's Ruhrtriennale music and arts festival, has been awarded the 2018 International Ibsen Award. The award is seen as the Nobel Prize of the theater world.

Christoph Marthaler
Image: picture-alliance/DPR/NTB scanpix/C. Poppe

Per Boye Hansen, head of the jury for the International Ibsen Award, said as a director in Europe's great theaters Christoph Marthaler has "created his own unique stage language that paves the way for new insight into interpersonal relationships and has inspired a large international audience."

Boye Hansen added that Marthaler has influenced and significantly renewed contemporary spoken and musical theater.

'Unmistakable look and sound'

"Many of his productions make a collage of text passages and pieces of music that are combined into a new work," the jury said, explaining its choice. "Marthaler's productions have developed an unmistakable look and sound through their rhythmical way of speaking and singing. The characters seem to have fallen out of time, whereby one senses all the more how time has left its mark on them."

Like Henrik Ibsen, the Norwegian playwright after whom the award is named, Marthaler uses his own theater experience to create his art, the jury said — "a form of art that had never previously existed in the theater."

The Oslo jury praised the director's art of  creating "ritualized worlds, which appear to be outside of time, as an assemblage of choric musical works, slapstick and monologues."

"Of all the theatrical performances I have seen, Christoph Marthaler's productions are in a category of their own," said past award recipient Jon Fosse. "They have a musical precision that is beyond all sense and for which I can think of no better term than brilliant. And there is no getting around their oddly human, slow-paced scenic character."

The International Ibsen Award, financed by the Norwegian state, is regarded as one of the world's most prestigious theater prizes. Previous laureates include France's Ariane Mnouchkine, Peter Handke and German composer Heiner Goebbels.

'Swiss theater magician'

By handing the Ibsen prize to the "Swiss theater magician," the jury stresses on the award's website that it is honoring "this inimitable theatrical language, its capacity for formal abstraction and experimental arrangement, its humanistic receptivity but at the same time also the challenge that it continues to be for the audience."

"It is marvelous! I almost don't believe it," said Marthaler, 66, upon receiving the award and the €260,00 ($303,000) prize in Oslo on Friday. "It is in the way the Nobel Prize of theater, so it is really a great honor for me."

Marthaler studied classical music in Zurich and worked as a stage musician before he started directing plays and staging operas in cities like Paris, Madrid and Hamburg. He has been awarded numerous prizes over the years: the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale, the Premio Ubo, the Nestroy Theater Prize and the German Theater Prize, Faust.