Ernest Berk Collection

Scope and Content

Articles, personal log books, dance theatre programmes and radioscripts of Ernest Berk.

Administrative / Biographical History

Ernest Berk was a solo dancer and innovative choreographer in the field of modern dance. He was educated at the Rheinische Musikhocheschule (Rhine College of Music) and also learned under the tutelage of Mary Wigman at the Wigman Institute in Germany from where he ran his own dance company. The music of India and China provided special inspiration for Berk's works. Whilst in Germany he produced a ballet for Max Rhinehardt at the Salzburg Festival. He came to the UK in 1935 and produced ballets for the Glyndebourne Festivals, for Covent Garden and various West End productions as well as acting as choreographer for the first year of the Edinburgh Festival. One of the ballets choreographed by Berk, 'Tilustrum', won an honourable diploma at the Choreographic Competition in Copenhagen in 1947. Berk's company, 'Dance Theatre', produced and performed works in various theatres throughout the UK. In the years preceding World War II he founded the 'Modern Dance Group' in London and produced 'Buddha the Enlightened', a ballet commissioned by John Masefield. He collaborated with the composer Peter Ury who also wrote music for several of Berks' works, most notably 'The Family Suite'. The German born singer and actress Agnes Bernelle also featured in several of his works. Berk married Liselotte Heymansohn, a fellow dancer who was also born in Cologne. They had one daughter, Esther, who now carries on the family tradition as she teaches the Lotte Berk method of dance in Berkshire. Ernest and Lotte Berk collaborated on many dance works during their marriage and amicably divorced after thirty years together. Although mainly interested in modern ballet, Berk was also known for his skill as a mime artist and percussionist. He went on to develop a keen interest in electronic music in later life.


The collection has been re-ordered for cohesiveness. Business and personal papers have been separated into the following series:

  • A Business papers, 1933-1946
  • B Papers regarding the professional and artistic life of Ernest Berk, 1950
  • C Flyers, dance theatre programmes and posters of works featuring Ernest Berk, 1936-1962
  • D Articles by Ernest Berk in various publications, 1949
  • E Published material about Ernest Berk, 1946
  • F Press cuttings concering the works of Ernest Berk, nd
  • G Personal papers of Ernest Berk, 1948-1984
  • H Ephemera of Ernest Berk, 1963
  • J Miscellaneous papers of Ernest Berk, nd

Access Information

Temporarily closed to the public.

Other Finding Aids

The collection has been fully catalogued onto the Laban Archive catalogue.

Archivist's Note

Description written by Elizabeth Jones, postgraduate student at the University of Glasgow.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies can be made according to copyright law and depending on the condition of the documents. Please consult the Archivist.

Custodial History

Some items in the Ernest Berk Collection were transferred from the Peter Williams Collection before the Collection was accessioned. Some items may have been purchased from the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association in 1992, though no official paperwork exists to confirm this.


No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

See also a photograph of Ernest Berk in the Peter Williams Collection in the Laban Archive. A major Ernest Berk Collection is held at the Historische Archiv Koln which has particular emphasis on electronic music. West Sussex Record Office holds records of the Chichester Ballet Club of which Ernest Berk was a member. Recordings of works by Ernest Berk or featuring him can be found at the British Film Institute and in the British Library Sound Archive.