Ellen Bergman was an expansive and innovative choreographer and director.
Ellen Bergman was the daughter of director Gunnar Hollender and his wife Inger (née Lindman). Following her mother’s second marriage Ellen Bergman took the surname of Lundström. In 1944 Ellen Bergman married Christer Strömholm, a photographer, but their marriage was short-lived. Ellen Bergman got married for a second time, in 1947, to the director Ingmar Bergman, with whom she had already had a daughter called Eva. They went on to have another three children: Jan and the twins Anna and Mats. In 1952 Ellen Bergman formally divorced Ingmar Bergman.
Ellen Bergman had grown up in a strictly bourgeois home in Värmland. She dreamt of becoming a director but following her mother’s advice she studied dance and choreography at the Mary Wigman-Schule in Dresden from 1937–1939, intending to become a dance teacher. She then worked at Studioscenen in Stockholm. In 1944 she became employed as choreographer for Helsingborgs stadsteater (city theatre), of which Ingmar Bergman was the head and director. They began a creative collaboration and put on several notable productions such as Elsa Collin’s and Brita von Horn’s Aschebergskan på Widtskövle, Carl Erik Soya’s Fan ger ett anbud, and Hjalmar Bergman’s Sagan. In addition to her choreographic work Ellen Bergman also directed and acted in several plays at that theatre.
In 1946, when Ingmar Bergman became the head of Göteborgs stadsteater, the whole family moved to Gothenburg. The premiere of Albert Camus’ Caligula was also a global premiere and the production earned a lot of praise. This was not just a victory for Ingmar Bergman as a theatre director. Anders Ek, who performed the title role, also made a major public breakthrough with his performance. Ellen Bergman’s name rarely appears in this context although the husband and wife team collaborated closely on the production. They also put on a highly praised production of Jean Anouilh’s Tjuvarnas bal.
In 1955 Ellen Bergman was appointed head of the Karlstad theatre. From 1957–1959 she then served as the director and choreographer for Uppsala stadsteater. Her subsequent engagements included running the Slottsskogen outdoor theatre from 1961–1962 and Atelierteatern from 1965–1969. Atelierteatern, which had been established in 1951, provided a stage for experimental theatre at which several of the contemporary new European plays had their Swedish premieres during Ellen Bergman’s time in charge. This theatre also served as a springboard for many young actors. Ellen Bergman staged children’s plays which she had written herself at both of these theatres as well as at the Folkets Hus theatre.
In 1974 she set up the Gothenburg chamber theatre at the Stora Holm manor on Hisingen where she lived. In what was then a unique enterprise she combined food- and advanced theatrical-experiences. This enterprise ended in 1986.
Ellen Bergman was heavily involved in children’s culture throughout her life. From 1950–1951 the now-famous cartoonist Rune Andréasson’s serial “Tant Ellens dansskola” appeared in the Göteborgs-Posten Saturday supplement. This collaboration between the two of them was based on Ellen Bergman’s work as a dance teacher and choreographer. Ellen Bergman also contributed to reinvigorating children’s theatre and worked with the theatre for functionally-challenged children, including with child patients in the psychiatric department of the Sahlgrenska hospital. In 1996 she set up Teater med stol, which was a theatre group in which all the actors were wheelchair-bound.
During the 2000s Ellen Bergman became actively engaged in promoting euthanasia. She and her grandchild, the photographer Lina Iksa Bergman, co-produced a book called Tre frågor in 2006. In this book Ellen Bergman questioned 48 people on issues concerning aging and death. In 1982 she was awarded Gothenburg city’s merit badge in recognition of her efforts.
Ellen Bergman died in Stockholm in 2007. She is buried at the old Örgryte cemetery.