Eugenio Barba

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humanity, identity, interculturalism, multi-culturalism, transformation
Performing Arts (theatre)
Written and spoken word (drama, lectures, script)
Europe, Nordic, Europe, Southern
Denmark, Italy
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created on:
October 17, 2003
last changed on:
Please note: This page has not been updated since April 3, 2006. We decided to keep it online because we think the information is still valuable.
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Eugenio Barba


Theatre Creator and Visionary

Eugenio Barba was born in 1936 in Italy and grew up in the village Gallipoli. His family’s socio-economic situation changed significantly when his father (a military officer) was lost to The War. Upon completing high school at the military academy of Naples (1954) he abandoned the idea of embarking on a military career following in his father’s footsteps. Instead, in 1954, he emigrated to Norway to work as a welder and a sailor. He also took a degree in French, Norwegian literature and History of Religion at Oslo University.
In 1961 he went to Warsaw (Poland) to study theatre directing at the State Theatre School, but left one year later to join Jerzy Grotowski, who at that time was the leader of Teatr 13 Rzedow in Opole. Barba stayed with Grotowski for three years. In 1963 he traveled to India where he had his first encounter with Kathakali, a theatre form which at that time had been overlooked by a significant majority Western theatre practitioners and scholars. Barba wrote an essay on Kathakali which was published in Italy, France, the USA and Denmark. His first book, about Grotowski In search of a Lost Theatre, came out 1965 in Italy and Hungary.
When Barba returned to Oslo in 1964, he wanted to become a professional theatre director, but as he was a foreigner, he was not welcome in the profession. So he started his own theatre. He gathered a group of young people who had not passed their admission test to Oslo’s State Theatre School, and created the Odin Teatret in October 1st, 1964. The group trained and rehearsed in an air raid shelter. Their first production Ornitofilene, by the Norwegian author Jens Bjørneboe, was shown in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. They were subsequently invited by the Danish municipality of Holstebro, a small town in the Northwest, to create a theatre laboratory there. They were offered an old farm and a small sum of money to begin. Since then Barba and his colleagues have made Holstebro the base for the Odin Teatret.

During the past thirty six years Eugenio Barba has directed 23 productions, some of which have required up to two years of preparation. Among the best known are Ferai (1969), Min Fars Hus (My Father’s House) (1972), Brecht’s Ashes (1980), The Gospel According to Oxyrhincus (1985), Talabot (1988), Kaosmos (1993) and most recently Mythos (1998).

Since 1974, Eugenio Barba and Odin Teatret have devised their own way of being present in a social context through the practice of theatre "barter", an exchange through performance with a community.

In 1979 Eugenio Barba founded ISTA, International School of Theatre Anthropology. He is on the advisory boards of scholarly journals such as "The Drama Review", "Performance Research", "New Theatre Quarterly" and "Teatro e Storia". Among his most recent publications, translated into several different languages, are The Paper Canoe (Routledge), Theatre: Solitude, Craft, Revolt (Black Mountain Press), Land of Ashes and Diamonds. My Apprenticeship in Poland, followed by 26 letters from Jerzy Grotowski to Eugenio Barba (Black Mountain Press) and in collaboration with Nicola Savarese, The Secret Art of the Performer (Centre for Performance Research/ Routledge).

Eugenio Barba has been awarded honorary doctorates from the University of århus, Ayacucho, Bologna, Havana, Warsaw and the "Reconnaissance de mérite scientifique" from the University of Montreal.
He is also recipient of Danish Academy Award, Mexican Theatre Critics´ prize, Diego Fabbri prize, Pirandello International prize, and the Sonning Prize by the University of Copenhagen.

ISTA, International School of Theatre Anthropology, was founded in 1979. Conceived and directed by Eugenio Barba, it is based in Holstebro, Denmark. ISTA is a multicultural network of performers and scholars giving life to an itinerant university whose main field of study is Theatre Anthropology. ISTA holds open sessions periodically on the request of national and international cultural institutions which provide the necessary funding. Each session has a different theme defining a particular subject which is investigated through practical classes, work demonstrations and comparative analysis. Each time, a limited number of actors, dancers, directors, choreographers, scholars and critics can apply to participate. ISTA´s network is centered around a permanent core of Euro - Afro - American - Asian performers and scholars from many universities. The network gathers, works and communicates not only during the public sessions, but also through mutual contacts, exchanges and initiatives, smaller closed work sessions and within the framework of the University of Eurasian Theatre whose open activity presents the results of ISTA´s research. During its 16 years of existence ISTA has been a laboratory for research into the technical basis of the performer in a transcultural dimension. The objective of this methodological choice, deriving from an empirical approach, is the understanding of the fundamental principles which engender the performer´s "presence" or "scenic life".
Author: Annika Salomonsson


Eugenio Barba was born in Italy, in 1936. He studied theatre at the State Theatre School in Warsaw. Barba joined Grotowski theatre Lab in Poland before travellling extensively and creating the Odin Theatre in Oslo in 1964. Now the Odin Theatre centre is in Holstebro, Denmark where Barba lives. He travels all over the world, presenting talks and lectures and inspiring theatre workers and goers alike.


Andersen´s Dream

Production / Performance,
A circle of artists gathers in a garden in Denmark. It is a bright morning. They wait for a summer night when the setting sun will dance. A friend from another continent is about to join them. With him, dreaming with open eyes, they will depart on a pilgrimage into the regions of Andersen´s fairy tales. Europe is at peace, or at least their country is. Or perhaps only their garden. In that cofined space, time stands still and liquefies. It is summer, yet snow falls, and the snow becomes tainted with black. Their fantasies sail on a tenebrous dream: a vessel that transports men and women in chains. The artist feel the weight of invisible chains. Are they, too, enslaved? When the pilgrimage is about to end, the open-eyed dreamers become aware that their summers day lasted a lifetime. The bed of dreamless sleep awaits them. Figures are coming to take them. Are they ghosts, puppets or toys? What kind of life do we live, when we stop dreaming? And which tragedy or farce does the sun dance? Based on texts by Hans Christian Andersen and the acors´ improvisations. Dramaturgy and direction by Eugenio Barba.

The Flying Carpet

Production / Performance,
"Text is a carpet that has to fly far away." With this sentense as a starting point the demonstration works its way through the past thirty years of Odin Teatret performances in which Julia Varley has taken part. Few essential explanations accompany the vocal work that exemplifies the passage of the word from the written form to space, from coldness of paper to the freedom of interpretation. Text and acting: Julia Varley. Direction: Eugenio Barba.

The Castle of Holstebro

Production / Performance,
In a red room we see a woman dressed in white and a cynical old jester with a skull for a head called Mister Peanut. Two characters in one person: "If they see beard and moustache, they call it man. If they see long hair and breasts, they call it woman. But look! The soul inside is neither man nor woman." Text by Julia Varley and Eugenio Barba. Direction by Eugenio Barba.


Eugenio Barba has been awarded honorary doctorates from the University of Aarhus, Ayacucho, Bologna, Havana, Warsaw.
He received the " Reconnaissance de Mérite Scientifique" from the Univeristy of Montreal
Eugenio Barba is the reciepient of the Danish Academy Award, The Mexican Theatre Cristics´Prize, the Diego Fabbri Prize, the Pirandello International Prize and the Sonning Prize from the Univeristy of Copenhagen in 2000 for significant contribution to European culture.


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the partner institutions.

Black/North SEAS

The SEAS Platform 2008-2010

(02 December 05 - 31 December 10)


Odin Teatret

Andersen´s Dream I
Andersen´s Dream II
The Flying Carpet
Holsebro Castle I
Holstebro Castle II

Bibliography - main writings on the Odin Theatre

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