A World Premiere by Jorma Elo

By Elise Chen

Jorma Elo in rehearsal

Jorma Elo

Photo credit: Rosalie O'Connor

Resident choreographer Jorma Elo talks to us about his world premiere, childhood friend, youthful dreams of playing pro hockey, and working with Boston Ballet dancers. 

Paulo Arrais and Jorma Elo in rehearsal for Creatures of Egmont

Photo credit: Ernesto Galan

Jorma Elo

Photo Credit: Sadie Dayton

Paulo Arrais and Jorma Elo in rehearsal for Creatures of Egmont

Photo credit: Ernesto Galan

Jorma Elo

Photo Credit: Sadie Dayton

Jorma Elo premieres his latest work, Creatures of Egmont, as part of Boston Ballet’s season finale Robbins/The Concert. The internationally-acclaimed Elo has been the resident choreographer of Boston Ballet since 2005, and has created 14 other world premieres with the Company. His recent work with Boston Ballet, the classically-inspired Bach Cello Suites, was praised as “a magnificent accomplishment” (Dance Tabs).  

Elo sat down with us to talk about how classical movement continued to influence him in Creatures of Egmont, how he met Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen when they were teenagers, and the unique experience of working with Boston Ballet dancers.

Tell us about how you became a dancer

Well, I was into sports. I played hockey as a very young man and I loved it. I wanted to become a professional. Then I saw my sisters going to the dance class, and I thought, “Hey that would be good training to maximize your physicality for hockey.” When I started dance class, I found out that there was music involved with the physicality, so that drew me in.

Did you always choreograph throughout your life as a dancer?

No, it was actually much later on that I started to choreograph small works. I was well over 30 when I started my first choreographies. And even those were just playing around, having fun. So the interest grew quite late compared to many choreographers, and slowly I fell in love.

When did you meet Mikko?

I met Mikko when I went to my first class at the Finnish National Ballet School. I was probably 13 and he was 12. He was very ambitious.  From a young age, he had this power and ambition to do great, cool things. He had a great international career as a dancer, with more of a classical repertoire. I was doing more modern dance, even though I started as a classical dancer, and in different parts of the world we had our own careers. Then we came together. He invited me to do a piece for Alberta Ballet, his company in Calgary. It was one of my first commissions for a bigger company.

Jorma Elo's Bach Cello Suites

Boston Ballet in Jorma Elo's Bach Cello Suites

Photo credit: Rosalie O'Connor

Tell us about your inspiration behind Creatures of Egmont

Most of my work has been more contemporary. In recent years, I have started to investigate the classical lines and structures and follow the architecture of the music and the movement. My last work here, Bach Cello Suites, was towards the classical and streamlined direction, and for me it was new. I wanted to investigate this area more.

I also had a couple of pieces of music that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. And I thought for this project, they would fit perfectly. I wanted the dancers to be connected with the music. Those overtures for Beethoven, they’re made for stories, so they initiate questions of:  Why are these people in this room? And why are they with each other? It’s in very subtle ways, but I try to stay away from going deeper and telling a full story.

Why the name Creatures of Egmont?

The first Beethoven score is called Creatures of Prometheus, and the last one is called Egmont. So I took the parts of the two and combined them.

As the resident choreographer, what is your experience working with Boston Ballet dancers?

They’re magnificent dancers, of course, and with the repertoire they’ve become very versatile. It’s just great. Many companies tend to do the same style most of the time.  Boston Ballet dancers are very quick with responding to different styles, so whatever I want to do, they’re ready. And then, of course, I have worked with them for years. I have worked with some of them in maybe eight or ten works. So I think there’s beauty in that. It’s a privilege to build on people’s lives, bodies, and thoughts, and that’s different than other companies where I go to work for the first time.

What do you want audiences to take away from this work?

It’s a simple but very beautiful thing. It’s the music—I’m trying to make the music alive with the dancers. The Schumann section is the most contrasting piece of music. It has a darkness to it that’s like a funeral for me. The other music is more celebrative. To me, it represents life and death.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to a young choreographer?

Don’t do it! Stop right there.

No, I’m kidding. I love it. It’s a fantastic thing to do. I’ve done really two things in my life—one was to be a dancer, and the other a choreographer. And I cannot see myself doing any other job. My advice to a young choreographer: it comes down to having the courage and curiosity to ask yourself a lot of questions.  Why do you want to choreograph? What kind of dance do you like? What kind of dance do you want to make? Also, the more you see, the more you appreciate different dance styles, the more vocabulary you have with you to come up with solutions, the better. I think with any creative thing, you have to try many different things to find the right one. You can’t just come with one idea/solution. It’s very hard. It’s better to try ten different things and then choose one. And even then you’re bound to make mistakes because there are so many factors. Just keep trying!

The illusion we create is intended to deepen your understanding of reality.

Mikko Nissinen, Artistic Director