Born 1886 in Pirmasens, Hugo Ball studied German literature, philosophy, and history at the universities of Munich and Heidelberg (1906-1907). In 1910, he moved to Berlin in order to become an actor and collaborated with Max Reinhardt and worked as a director and stage manager for various theater companies in Berlin, Plauen, and Munich. He also started writing, contributing to the expressionist journals Die Neue Kunst and Die Aktion, both of which, in style and in content, anticipated the format of later Dada journals.
Soon after the outbreak of World War I he and Emmy Hennings, a cabaret singer whom he had met in Munich and whom he would marry in 1920, emigrated to Zurich, Switzerland. In February 1916 he founded the 'Cabaret Voltaire' in the Spiegelgasse. There he met with Hans Arp, Marcel Janco, Tristan Tzara, and later Richard Huelsenbeck and Walter Serner.
In July 1916 Ball left the Dada circle in Zurich in order to recuperate in the Swiss countryside. He returned in January 1917 to help organize Galerie Dada, an exhibition space that opened in March 1917. Events at the Galerie included lectures, performances, dances, weekend soirées, and tours of the exhibitions. Although Ball supported the educative goals of the Galerie, he was at odds with Tzara over Tzara's ambition to make Dada into an international movement with a systematic doctrine. He left Zurich in May 1917 and did not again actively participate in Dada activities.
Hugo Ball died in Sant' Abbondio, Switzerland, 14 September 1927.
More extensive is Amanda L. Hockensmith, 'Hugo Ball', published in Leah Dickerman (ed.), Dada. Zurich, Berlin, Hannover, Cologne, New York, Paris (National Gallery of Art : Washington DC 2005) 462-463 and online available at Dada biographies: Hugo Ball, an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art.
Hugo Ball in 'cubist costume' reciting his poem 'Elefantenkarawane' at the Cabaret Voltaire, 23 June 1916. Hugo Ball/Emmy Hennings Estate, Robert-Walser Archiv, Zürich.