Martin Schläpfer was born in Altstätten in Switzerland and studied ballet with Marianne Fuchs in St. Gallen and at the Royal Ballet School in London. Among his most important teachers were Maryon Lane, Terry Westmoreland, David Howard, Gelsey Kirkland and Peter Appel. In 1977 he was taken on by Heinz Spoerli as a member of the Basler Ballett, where he quickly progressed to become one of the company’s most charismatic soloists. An engagement with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet also took him to Canada for a season. With the Dance Place, which was set up in 1990 in Basel, he created an initial basis for his intensive work as a dance teacher, which was complemented by his studies with Anne Woolliams in Zurich. In 1994 he set up the »Visions of Dance« foundation.
His appointment as Director of the Bern Ballet in 1994 marked the start of Martin Schläpfer’s intensive work as a choreographer and ballet director. In a very short time he transformed the ensembles he directed – the Bern Ballet (1994 to 1999), ballettmainz (1999 to 2009) and the Ballett am Rhein Düsseldorf Duisburg (2009 to 2020) – into companies each having a distinctive style of their own, as confirmed by accolades in the international press, multiple awards and huge popularity with audiences. For example, the Ballett am Rhein has been chosen as »company of the year« four times in succession between 2013 and 2017 by the critics’ survey carried out by the magazine tanz, as well as thrilling audiences not only on its two home platforms in Düsseldorf and Duisburg, but also during international guest appearances in Europe, Israel, Taiwan, Japan and Oman. Since the 2020/21 season Martin Schläpfer has been ballet director and chief choreographer of the Vienna State Ballet.
Martin Schläpfer’s choreographic works comprise more than 80 ballets which have been created for his ensembles. In addition, he has created world premieres for the Bayerisches Staatsballett München, Het Nationale Ballet Amsterdam and (in 2020) for the Stuttgart Ballet. His »Forellenquintett« has been performed by the Ballett Zürich, and a number of his works have been staged by the BallettCompagnie Oldenburg. With Jean-Philippe Rameau’s »Castor et Pollux« at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein he also directed opera for the first time in 2011/12. In 2012, Martin Schläpfer returned to the stage as a dancer for Hans van Manen’s pas de deux »The Old Man and Me«. In 2014 the Dutch choreographer created the world premiere »Alltag« for Martin Schläpfer as soloist. In 2017 he was guest choreographer and teacher at Canada’s National Ballet School in Toronto. In 2023 he was a member of the jury for the Prix de Lausanne.
Having won the Prix de Lausanne as »Best Swiss Dancer« in 1977, Martin Schläpfer went on to win numerous awards as a choreographer and director, including the Kunstpreis Rheinland-Pfalz (2002), the dance prize of the Spoerli Foundation (2003), the Prix Benois de la Danse (2006), the Gutenberg Medal of the City of Mainz (2009), the Theatre Prize of the Düsseldorfer Volksbühne (2012) and the German theatre award Der Faust in 2009 and 2012. In 2013 Martin Schläpfer received the Swiss Grand Award for Dance and in 2014 the Taglioni European Ballet Award of the Malakhov Foundation in the »Best Director« category. In 2014 he was chosen as »Düsseldorfer of the Year« by center-tv. His full-length ballet »DEEP FIELD«, with a commissioned score by Adriana Hölszky, was nominated for the Prix Benois de la Danse 2015, and in the same year he received the Music Prize of the City of Duisburg. The magazine tanz named him »Choreographer of the Year« in 2010, and he received the same award in 2018 and 2019 from the critics’ survey of the magazine Die Deutsche Bühne. Martin Schläpfer has been a member of the North-Rhine-Westphalian Academy for Sciences and the Arts since 2017. In 2018 he was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Großer St. Galler Kulturpreis in 2019.
A number of Martin Schläpfer’s works have been recorded for television (ZDF, Theaterkanal, 3sat, arte, SWR, WDR, SRF). Directed by Annette von Wangenheim, the film portrait »Keep the flame – don’t pray to the ashes« (good!movies) was made in 2016. Available as a DVD is also his ballet »Swan Lake« with the Ballett am Rhein (EuroArts) and, from October 2021, Martin Schläpfer's first choreography for the Vienna State Ballet »4« (Unitel). His conversations with the journalist Bettina Trouwborst were published by Henschel-Verlag in 2020 under the title »Mein Tanz, mein Leben«.