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Mikko Nissinen’s first program as artistic director of Boston Ballet, in September 2002, included a world premiere, “Sharp Side of Dark,” by a relatively unknown choreographer, Nissinen’s fellow Finn Jorma Elo. More than 18 years later, Elo has outlasted Tom Brady as a Boston institution. Appointed the company’s resident choreographer in 2005, he’s created more than a dozen works for Boston Ballet, as well as choreographing for American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, and the Bolshoi, among others.

So it’s fitting that he’s the subject of the current program in the company’s 2020–21 virtual subscription series, “Celebrating Jorma Elo.” Boston Ballet presents his new “Story of a Memory” in studio, as well as the complete “Plan to B” (2004) and the sarabande pas de deux from “Bach Cello Suites” (2015). And there’s archival footage from “Plan to B,” “C. to C. (Close to Chuck) Reborn” (2014), “Sharp(er) Side of Dark” (2012), “Bach Cello Suites,” “Elo Experience” (2011), “Brake the Eyes” (2011), “Creatures of Egmont” (2017), and “Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius” (2017). It’s a generous program that runs close to 100 minutes.

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Nissinen and Elo actually go back to 1973, when they met in ballet class in Helsinki. They got hired into the Finnish National Ballet on the same day; they roomed together in St. Petersburg while attending the Kirov Ballet School. Elo went on to perform with Nederlands Dans Theater for a decade and a half before retiring in 2004.

His choreography, for all that it shows the influence of NDT artistic director Jirí Kylián, is very much his own. He favors quirky titles like “Brake the Eyes” (a play on “Break the Ice”?) and “Lost on Slow.” His lighting can be quirky as well: the mother-ship light bank in “Sharp Side of Dark,” the tilting overhead lattice in “Bach Cello Suites,” the row of tiny propane fires in “Le Sacre du Printemps.” He gives his dancers enigmatic bits of conversation: “Does she like sunshine or does she like moonlight?”; “Red yes, green no, blue maybe.” In “Bach Cello Suites,” he’s a walk-on, instructing the dancers, performing a tormented solo, representing Time or perhaps Death.

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The music for his Boston Ballet creations has been largely classical: Biber, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Bizet, Sibelius, Stravinsky. The choreography has been anything but. His signature tropes include windmilling arms, lassoing arms, backward crawling, 45-degree revoltades, catch-foot spins, hands that swim like fish and fly like birds, hands that bounce a ball and travel horizontally like a typewriter carriage, hands that flutter in front of the eyes, as if asking you to ponder what you can and cannot see. His Cubist displacement of dancers’ body parts illuminates everything from Bach’s polyphony to Stravinsky’s stacked tetrachords, layered rhythms, and continuously changing meters.

The new work, “Story of a Memory,” is a 10-minute film that reflects on the courtship scenario of “Elo Experience.” Set to Tchaikovsky and Bach and danced incandescently by Viktorina Kapitonova and Tigran Mkrtchyan, it’s an enigmatic dream sequence you’ll want to watch more than once. And the cast of the new studio “Plan to B” more than holds its own against the company’s past performances. As for the hour of archival footage, extracts don’t always do justice to Elo’s intellectual scope, and I wish there had been something from his astonishing “Sacre.” But there’s a lot to remember and enjoy, not least Larissa Ponomarenko and Jeffrey Cirio in “Elo Experience” and Kathleen Breen Combes and James Whiteside in “Sharp(er) Side of Dark.”

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CELEBRATING JORMA ELO

Presented by Boston Ballet at bostonballet.org through March 7. Remaining spring subscription $90 (three programs). 617-695-6955, www.bostonballet.org

Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at jeffreymgantz@gmail.com.


Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at jeffreymgantz@gmail.com.