Who Is Jorma Elo - Boston Ballet

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Who Is Jorma Elo

Jorma Elo

Photo credit: Rosalie O'Connor

Get to know Boston Ballet’s resident choreographer, Jorma Elo.

Jorma Elo in rehearsal

Photo credit: Ernesto Galan

Jorma Elo

Photo credit: Sadie Dayton

Internationally-acclaimed choreographer JORMA ELO has created 15 world premieres for Boston Ballet since becoming the Company’s resident choreographer in 2005. His works draw inspiration from both contemporary and classical realms. His Bach Cello Suites physically unites dance and music, while his CARMEN is a fiery and dynamic ballet refreshed with roles that reflect today’s world. We sat down with Elo to talk about everything from his long friendship with Artistic Director MIKKO NISSINEN to his childhood dreams of becoming a professional hockey player.

Tell us 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 my 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 with 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 went on to have an 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 back together when he invited me to do a piece for Alberta Ballet, his then-company in Calgary. It was one of my first commissions for a bigger company.

Lia Cirio and Paulo Arrais in Jorma Elo's Carmen

Photo credit: Rachel Neville Photography

As the resident choreographer, what is your experience working with Boston Ballet dancers?
They’re magnificent dancers, of course, and with the diverse 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 had the pleasure of working 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 and far deeper than with other companies where I go to work for the first time.

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!

MINDscape May 5–15, 2022