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Jorma Elo: Just for the record. April 18th, 2018

Jorma Elo: Just for the record. April 18th, 2018

It is always thrilling to interview someone whose work I admire so much. I could still remember having seen him on stage in Holland  as well as attending “Midsummer Night’s Dream” Première in Vienna in 2010 – just two days after having watched for the first time Max Reinhardt’s film version of the play (Do coincidences really exist?) and being extremely touched by its magic, wit and poetry…


Thanks to Mr. Gerald Stocker (Head of communication of the Vienna State Ballet), this interview was arranged, organized and scheduled for April 18th. We met just outside the stage door of the Vienna State Opera and left for a cup of coffee at “Café Mozart” – what could be more “Viennese” than that?

Mr. Elo and I had never met before, and I always feel kind of awkward in such situations, but within some minutes, as we started talking, a kind of intimacy developed in the air: Talking about different things before the interview started, "warming-up", we realized that we were “speaking the same language” – and that happens very seldom (with me at least) in such short time.

Max Reinhardt, the Film Museum, Shakespeare, NDT, Jiri Kylian, ABT, classes but also Brazil, Penedo (a village between Rio and São Paulo) that was the first Finnish Naturist (and Vegetarian) Colony in South America and – of all things – Polkas, Mazurkas and Letka Jenkka (Letkiss) which used to be danced at the “Clube Finlandes” every Saturday evening… We were really “warming-up” in getting to know each other before moving into more important subjects.


Mr. Elo, member of the Finnish National Ballet, the Cullberg Ballet (where he worked with the great Mats Ek) and later the NDT with works by incredible choreographers such as Jiri Kylian, Hans van Manen, Ohad Naharin, and William Forsythe, debuted as a choreographer very early in his career, in fact in 2000, and had not stopped ever since. In his “suitcase” he carries works and experiences in whole Scandinavia, but also in Canada and the States (New York City Ballet, ABT, Boston Ballet etc.) and in Germany, Belgium, Austria… but you can surely find more information to his “biography” in the Internet.

“Jorma, May I call you Jorma? You have an extensive repertoire of more than 70 choreographies… Is “Midsummer Night’s Dream” – this piece of “dream” that is so much beloved by Viennese Audiences – your only full-evening work?”

“Of course you can call me Jorma, Ricardo” he smiles “There are other full-evening works: “Elo Experience”, "Alice in Wonderland" (FNB) and “Mozart Requiem”, which I choreographed for the Gothenburg Ballet in 2008!”

“Tell me please about your work for the “Kings of Dance Project” with Brazilian Dancer Marcelo Gomes…” I ask. “Oh it was in Moscow, a very interesting work. An evening with many solos by different choreographers for “Danseurs”. There was also a similar version for the Ballerinas… caled "Reflections project" to which I choreographed a solo for San Francisco Ballet ballerina Maria Kochetkova”. To which I added “Queens of Dance Project would sound quite awkward, isn’t it?” and to which we both had to laugh…

“I have to read something for you which impressed me a lot. Some dancers have described you as an “Empathetic Personality without any need to promote his own ego” – what do you say to that? Can I mention that?” He smiles quite shyly but answers quite quickly in return “Yes. You can use it and it is true but I have to add that, and I am not going to be coy about this, I do believe that every Artist should know his real value”


“What are your present projects, Jorma?” “I have just finished a project in Boston, there is a Première in Aspen and a completely new project with the Pennsylvania Ballet, a company I do not know yet. Up to now thare has been no decision for the music. I will let you know!”

“And to your creative process as a choreographer… how do you start working on a new piece? Is there also a difference between “own works” and “commissioned” ones?”

“For me there is no real difference between “own ideas” and “commissioned ballets”. It all starts for me with the music. Yes, the music. And absorbing it, getting familiar with it, turning it into a part of me…” and while he says this, his eyes reveal memories, experiences of the past to which he can relate. This is a man that knows what he is talking about. One can sense a profound relation to his work as a creative process and the importance of it.

“One has to work with instinct, reactions. I pay lots of attention to that while working with the dancers in the Studio. Mostly I show the choreography, a certain “skeleton” of the steps. But without the music I had thought of… Then the music is played and I watch carefully their instinctive reactions to the music, to the musical phrasing, to the tempo. This can sometimes be quite confusing but their reaction is what I am looking for.  "Seeing" their reactions inspires me”

“This sounds like a fascinating “give and take” for me” I say… perhaps not so sure if I had understood it correctly but he adds gently and firmly “Yes!” and continues with “I never choreograph a piece completely from A to Z but await these childlike reactions while they are listening to the music in connection to the choreography for the first time, phrasing it in their own way, instinctively...”

“And what about the dramaturgy aspect, if I may ask. Thinking of “Midsummer Night’s Dream” for example”, I ask.

“Follow the work exactly as it is written. Such wonderful writers and geniuses… Let’s be honest: if it “worked” as a book, it will surely work as a Ballet” he adds laughing as if to say “Who am I to change what Shakespeare wrote”. And I personally think: “I like people with a low profile. Bravo!”


We talk further about his experiences here in Vienna and, all of a sudden, he says quite spontaneously: “Manuel Legris is a very clever man. If I think about the company 8 years ago and now… there are the nearly the same “main characters” like before. Misha, Eno, Vladimir, Ketty for example. Manuel did not change the company by bringing “his” dancers to it but continuously built the company further – like adding more stones on well-based and planed fundaments. It is not easy for younger, less-experienced dancers to be in such a “party”, that dominates not only the dramatic skills but also possess striking presence and projection on stage”

To be very honest: I could still be sitting at the Café Mozart until now listening to this charming and intelligent man! Thank you, Jorma Elo for such “enrichment” and insight! It was such a pleasure getting to know you!

Ricardo Leitner

April 26th, 2018.

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