Martin Schläpfer received ballet training from Marianne Fuchs in St. Gallen (Switzerland) and at the Royal Ballet School in London. Among his most important teachers were Maryon Lane, Terry Westmoreland, David Howard, Gelsey Kirkland and above all Peter Appel. In 1977 at the Prix de Lausanne he won the prize for the best Swiss competitor and was engaged by Heinz Spoerli for the Basel Ballet, where he soon advanced to become one of the most charismatic soloists.
For ten years he left the Basel ballet only once for a season's engagement at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in Canada. In 1990 he founded the Basel ballet school Dance Place, where he began to teach. At the same time he studied dance teaching with Anne Woolliams in Zürich und took music lessons from Harriet Cavalli. In 1994 he was appointed Director of the Bern ballet and created the Visions of Dance foundation. From 1999 to 2009 Schläpfer was at the head of his newly formed ballettmainz, which advanced to the upper ranks of German companies under his direction. Several of his choreographies were filmed for television (ZDF/Theaterkanal, 3sat, arte, SWR).
As from the 2009/2010 season Martin Schläpfer accepted the position of Director and Chief Choreographer of Ballett am Rhein Düsseldorf Duisburg. After only one season under his direction a panel of celebrated international critics of tanz-magazine nominated the ensemble Company of the Year, proclaimed Martin Schläpfer to be Choreographer of the Year 2010. Furthermore Ballett am Rhein was awarded as Best Company of the Year in both 2013 and 2014. In addition to the performances at the opera house in Düsseldorf and the theatre in Duisburg the company made numerous guest appearances at home and abroad and also at international festivals. With the ballet-opera Castor et Pollux by Jean-Philippe Rameau at Deutsche Oper am Rhein Martin Schläpfer directed his first opera production in 2011/2012. True to his belief that a company needs its director and chief choreographer of local presence, Martin Schläpfer took only a few from the numerous invitations to choreograph at other houses: In 2008 he created Violakonzert/II to music by Sofia Gubaidulina for the Bavarian State Ballet in Munich.
In 2009 he was invited to Amsterdam by the Dutch National Ballet to choreograph Lontano to György Ligeti’s composition. In 2014 Ballett Zürich presented his Forellenquintett in the Zurich Opera House. After Martin Schläpfer in 2012 already has returned for the Pas de deux The Old Man and Me as a dancer on stage, the renowned Dutch choreographer Hans van Manen created first time a new piece for Martin Schläpfer as a soloist and a small ensemble of Ballett am Rhein members for the 2014/2015 season.
Martin Schläpfer was awarded the Arts Prize of the region of Rhineland-Palatinate (2002), the Dance Prize of the Spoerli Foundation (2003), in Moscow the Prix Benois de la Danse (2006), the theatre prize of the Düsseldorfer Volksbühne (2012) and the German Der Faust theatre prize in 2009 and 2012 for his ballets Sinfonien and Ein Deutsches Requiem. In 2013 he won the Swiss Dance Award and in 2014 the Taglioni-European Ballet Award of the Malakhov Foundation in the category Best director.