Mats Ek


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Photo: Lesley Leslie-Spinks

Profile: Mats Ek is the son of Anders Ek, one of Sweden’s most celebrated actors, and Birgit Cullberg, the choreographer and artistic director for the Cullberg Ballet Company. He was born in Malmö in 1945, and began a short period of dance studies in 1962 with Donya Feuer in Stockholm; in addition, he later took theatre studies in Norrköping.

The Early Years: From 1966 to 1973 Ek worked as stage director and assistant at the Royal Dramatic Theatre of Sweden and the Marionette Theatre in Stockholm. In 1972 he re-established his contact with dance, and in 1973 began dancing with the Cullberg Ballet.

Choreography: In 1974–5, Ek was a member of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein, Düsseldorf, then made his choreographic debut in 1976 with The Officer’s Servant, for the Cullberg Ballet, the first of many of his works formed on them.Through such early pieces as Soweto (1977) and The House of Bernarda (1978) he began to gain an international profile, one that was strengthened in the many subsequent works for the Cullberg Ballet, most immediately those of The Four Seasons (1978) and Antigone (1979).

In 1980–81 he became a member of Nederlands Dans Theater, and his associations with the company have continued in works later created for them: Over There (1990), Journey (1991) and A Sort Of (1997).

From 1980 to 1984, Ek shared the artistic directorship of the Cullberg Ballet with Birgit Cullberg. Then, in 1985, he was appointed sole artistic director, a post he held until 1993. Giselle (1982) and The Rite of Spring (1984), both for the Cullberg Ballet, had already shown his interest in reinterpreting the classical repertory, one fostered during his time in the company of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein, with whom he performed such works as The Sleeping Beauty, Giselle and Romeo and Juliet. This important strand of his choreographic exploration has continued with his own particular slants on the familiar presented in Swan Lake (1987), Carmen (1992) and The Sleeping Beauty (for the Hamburg Ballet, 1996).

After leaving the Cullberg Ballet in 1993 he continued to be prolific in his choreography, producing such works as She was Black (1995), and the TV ballet Smoke (1995), which he reworked as Solo for Two in the following year. He has also become a guest choreographer for the leading companies of the world, working with, among many others, the Royal Swedish Opera, the Norwegian Opera, Stuttgart Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, La Scala,Milan, Metropolitan Opera, New York, and Paris Opera Ballet. In 2008 he created Place, a pas de deux for Ana Laguna and Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Black Radish for the Royal Swedish Ballet.

Ek’s style has become distinctive for its imaginative interpretations of storylines, in combination with a lyrical approach which conveys through movement the underlying emotions and feelings rather than just the narrative detail.

Theatre: Ek has retained his interest in other forms of theatre, staging productions of plays including Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta (Orion Theatre, Stockholm, 1998), and Molière’s Don Juan (1999), Racine’s Andromaque (2002) and Strindberg’s A Dream Play (2006) for the Royal Dramatic Theatre, Stockholm. In 2007 he staged Gluck’s Orphée for the Royal Swedish Opera.