(b Malmö, 18 Apr. 1945)
Swedish dancer and choreographer, son of Birgit Cullberg and actor Anders Ek; brother of dancer Niklas Ek. He started his career as an actor then studied dance at Stockholm Ballet Academy from 1972. He danced with Cullberg Ballet (1973–4) and Düsseldorf Ballet (1974–5), then returned to Cullberg Ballet which subsequently became the Mats Ek/Cullberg Ballet. He began choreographing in 1976 with The Officer's Servant and his later works for the Cullberg include Soweto (mus. collage of contemporary scores, 1977), The Four Seasons (mus. Vivaldi, 1978) and Carmen (1992). He achieved international acclaim with his re-workings of Giselle, Swan Lake (1987), and Sleeping Beauty in which his elemental dance style, fusing classical ballet, folk, and modern dance, was put in the service of radical re-interpretations of the original libretti. (He is quoted as saying ‘a fairy-tale is like a pretty little cottage but there's a sign on the door saying Mined Area’.) In Giselle (1982) the heroine is presented as a simple peasant, living in a rural world which revolves often brutally around the twin poles of sexuality and death. When Giselle's naïvety turns to madness she is dispatched to a lunatic asylum. In his Sleeping Beauty (Hamburg Ballet, 1996) the heroine rebels against her parents, turns drug addict, and heads a stubborn course towards disillusionment. His other works also bear narrative traces, in their attention to psychological detail, their strong, even surreal imagery, and mixture of humour and pain. Ek left Cullberg in 1993 to work freelance, but continued to maintain a close association with the company. His subsequent works include the dance theatre piece Dance with your Neighbour (1994), with both dance and text by Ek, She was Black (mus. Górecki, Cullberg Ballet, 1995), A Sort Of (mus. Górecki, Nederlands Dans Theater, 1997), Appartement (Paris Opera Ballet, mus. Flesh Quartet, 2000), Aluminium (Compañia Nacional de Danza, mus. Adams, 2005) and Place (for Baryshnikov, mus. Flesh Quartet, 2007). He has created many ballets for television, including Smoke (1995) and directed opera, including Orphée (Stockholm, 2007).