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Centennial celebrations of Henrik Ibsen

100 years after his death, the father of modern drama will be honoured in 91 countries.

books Updated: Jan 16, 2006 19:47 IST

A worldwide celebration of Norway's best known playwright, Henrik Ibsen, opens Saturday with a gala celebration in Oslo marking the centennial of his death. Ibsen, who died in Oslo on May 23, 1906 at age 78, remains one of the biggest names of world literature, and is sometimes described as the father of modern drama because of the realism and psychological tension of his plays.

His homeland declared 2006 as "The Year of Ibsen," with more that 4,000 events worldwide starting with Saturday's official opening before 900 invited guests at the Oslo City Hall. The opening has drawn such stars as Norwegian Liv Ullmann, German Angela Winkler, France's Isabelle Huppert and Glenda Jackson and Claire Bloom of Britain, all being honoured with the Ibsen Centennial Award for their performances in his works.

The interest in his work is unabated, said Bentein Baardson, the head of Ibsen 2006.

"Not only are Henrik Ibsen plays performed on 130 stages worldwide each week, but his characters and drama also inspire artists and generate new works," Baardson said.

The Norwegian scribe might not have immediately recognized his own work in opening gala performances, with versions that include rap, ballet, cultural dances and even in the African language of Swahili and as a Chinese opera.

"Only a couple of the artistic performances are straight out of Ibsen works," Baardson said in a news release.

The state Bank of Norway got a jump on celebrations this week by releasing a special Ibsen 20 Kroner coin. The back side of the coin shows the bearded Ibsen striding along in his characteristic tophat and long coat.

Events through the year also include seminars, festivals, the release of new books, including biographies and exhibitions. There are also commemorations planned in Britain, Germany, Egypt, Bangladesh and in the heavily Scandinavian U.S. state of Minnesota. Norway has also set up an Internet site in 18 languages, with lists of events in 91 countries.

The playwright and poet was born Henrik Johan Ibsen on March 20, 1928 in the southern Norway town of Skien. His father, a local merchant, went bankrupt in 1835, forcing the family to move to a farm near the town of Gjerpen.

At age 16, Ibsen went to another southern Norway town, Grimstad, as an apprentice to a pharmacist. Working late at night in early 1849, he wrote his first play, Catiline, of which 250 copies were published the next year under the pseudonym Brynjolf Bjarme. The response was very negative.

The same year, in 1850, he moved to Oslo, then called Kristiania, where the first play under his own name, The Burial Mound, premiered in September.

For the next 50 years, Ibsen devoted himself to writing plays and poems, often critical of society, exposing hypocrisy and manipulation, as well as addressing the role of men and women and as psychological dramas.

His 26 plays include A Doll's House, Brant, Peer Gynt, Ghosts, An Enemy of the People, The Wild Duck, Hedda Gabler and The Master Builder.

He spent 27 years abroad, including in Germany and Italy, before returning to Oslo in 1891. He wrote his last play, When We Dead Awaken, in 1899, before suffering a stroke in 1900 and being forced to lay down his pen due to ill health.

First Published: Jan 16, 2006 19:47 IST