Ernest Berk: The Complete Expressionist (Coreography)

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This project explores the life and legacy of choreographer, electronic music composer, improviser, dance therapist and pegagogue Ernest Berk. Berk's innovative, multifarious career spanned six decades and reflected deep involvement in leftist politics and devoted interest in non-Western aesthetics.

As with so many artists of the time, Berk’s life and work were inextricably linked to and fundamentally shaped by the turbulent political climate: the Nazi suppression of leftist and Jewish intellectuals led to the exile of Berk and his wife Lotte Heymansohn (also a dancer, and Jewish) to Great Britain in the 1930s after Lotte was banned from performing in Germany and after both were blacklisted by the Nazis. Berk opened a studio in Camden, London and began dedicating himself more seriously to the composition of electronic music and musique concrète, at first mainly for his own performances but then also for theatre, television, and film. His synthesis of musique concrète and movement made him one of the most visionary in a wave of pioneering electronic music composers. He also continued to develop an individualised style of dance rooted in ideas of social reform and freedom of expression. It wasn’t until the 1980s that Berk would return to Germany – this time to Berlin, where he began teaching music therapy and improvisation at both the performing arts and music departments at the Arts university, Hochschule der Künste (now Universität der Künste).

Despite far-reaching influence within music and dance scenes during his lifetime, Berk never truly achieved lasting recognition; his legacy as a composer, performer, and pedagogue has all but slipped out of the public consciousness. Like many persecuted artists who fled Germany for the UK, his career was greatly disrupted by the transition to a drastically different creative scene. Although widely embraced in his new country, he was never truly appreciated for what he accomplished. When he died in Berlin in 1993, he was destitute – his position at the UdK had ended because of internal restructuring.

2021-01-11 11:28:35
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