Jo Strømgren may not be a household name for stateside balletomanes (yet), but his work has been performed by dozens of dance, theater and opera companies throughout Europe. He's currently the associate choreographer at Norwegian National Ballet and directs his own dance-theater troupe, Jo Strømgren Kompani. Pointe spoke with this major force in European dance about his premiere, The Letter, at Philadelphia's BalletX, which runs through February 19.
How would you characterize your work?
I like the term “cinematic" and the idea of taking people on a journey. You have to get the pitch and the main characters within the first few minutes. The audience has to understand, and once they get comfortable in their seats you can take them somewhere really strange.
How do you bring your ideas to life?
Early on in my career, I thought the art business meant saying something about life and death. But as I got older, I realized that I needed to simplify. I'll take a small detail or an insignificant symbol that's part of something larger. Then you can layer a story around it.
Jo Strømgren in rehearsal with Norwegian National Ballet. Photo by Eirik Berg, Courtesy Strømgren.
What are you like in the studio?
I never write anything down, and I don't really take notes or use video. It's not necessarily trendy right now to work without collaborators, but it allows you to twist and adjust as much as you'd like.
How do you work with new dancers?
I don't use my own technique or any kind of codified body language. I'm not a perfectionist in that way. It means I end up lacking a little bit of a signature, but it's nice to use as many tools as possible.
What's interesting about classically trained dancers?
Classical technique looks fantastic from afar. When I rehearse classical dancers, I imagine how the choreography will look from the last row of the theater because they know how to project.