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Boston Ballet dancers move to Rolling Stones tunes in Stephen Galloway’s ‘DEVIL’S/eye’

‘It’s just me celebrating these incredible dancers with some of the world’s greatest songs’

Choreographer Stephen Galloway rehearsing "DEVIL's/Eye" with Boston Ballet.Brooke Trisolini, courtesy of Boston Ballet

If choreographer Stephen Galloway has anything to say about it, his world premiere for Boston Ballet’s upcoming “DREAMstate” program March 17-27 will be a “gas, gas, gas!”

The Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” is one of five of the legendary band’s iconic rock songs fueling Galloway’s new ballet “DEVIL’S/eye.” Choreographed especially for Boston Ballet, the work is the centerpiece of a program that also features a reprise of Jiří Kylián’s dazzling “Bella Figura” and George Balanchine’s stunning abstract ballet “Chaconne.” And if it makes audiences in the decorous Citizens Bank Opera House feel like dancing, so much the better.

“DEVIL’S/eye” fuses the two linchpins of the 55-year-old Galloway’s multifaceted creative life — dance and fashion. Raised in Erie, Pa., he began his ballet career in Germany at age 17, joining Ballett Frankfurt in 1985 and initiating a long, fruitful artistic relationship with director William Forsythe. At Ballett Frankfurt, Galloway became not just a principal dancer but also the company’s head costume designer/style coordinator and a valued go-between with outside designers. By the time he retired from performing, he had built a reputation in the fashion world, growing a successful international career in design. He has created costumes for major dance companies and served as creative consultant and movement director for powerhouse fashion campaigns and image-makers. And for many years, he worked with the Rolling Stones as movement director for Mick Jagger. Now based in Los Angeles, Galloway says “DEVIL’S/eye” is not only his first full ballet for a major company, but also marks the first time these Rolling Stones songs have been set on a classical dance company using a classical dance vocabulary.

Q. You have such a wide-ranging creative career, working with people from designers and models to actors and politicians. Is movement the common ground?


A. Yes, and an understanding of people as individuals. It’s really about being sensitive and quiet enough to really understand the person you’re working with. One of my true talents is understanding people and their physicality, and whether they’re comfortable or uncomfortable. You learn quite a bit like that when you’re a costume designer. You have to be very aware — they might be saying one thing and their body might be saying something totally different.


Q. How did your long career at Ballett Frankfurt inform what you’re doing today?

A. One of the great things working with Bill [Forsythe] and my colleagues at Ballett Frankfurt was the curiosity instilled in us toward everything we did — costumes, choreography, lights, staging. It was the best university anyone could possibly have gone to for dance. I worked with some of greatest artists of that generation. I still use those lessons I learned, that curiosity, in everything I do. To be an expert and at the same time know nothing at all — if you can balance that, that’s when the magic happens.

Q. For years, starting in 1997, Ballet Frankfurt let you take time away periodically to work with the Rolling Stones. What was that like?

A. In the simplest of terms, I was responsible for helping Mick look more like Mick. He loved to dance so much and didn’t want to be strutting all the time and he’d say give me something new, but it was always in the vein of him being himself. [He is] one of those movers that’s incredibly original, with movement innate in his bones. I had the incredible position to stand in the pit directly center stage and watch and he was always very curious on how to improve his own stage performance, and that was very inspiring for someone of his talent and age constantly remaining curious of how to put on the best show he could. I was lucky that Bill let me be away [from Ballett Frankfurt], but he knew I would bring all that experience and information back to the company.


Q. I understand the Stones built a lot of their tours here, even used Boston Ballet studio space at one time, and you and Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen have been talking about a collaboration for years.

A. I love this company. It’s very exciting for me. I’m very proud of it. I’ve been involved in putting ballet on stage for almost 37 years, but this is the first time it’s very much my whole vision of some of my favorite songs, [which] mean so much to so many people. It’s not an interpretation of any of the songs, it’s almost a rhythmical reaction. It’s how the music makes you feel. It’s just me celebrating these incredible dancers with some of the world’s greatest songs.

Q. And the costumes you’ve designed?

A. Sparkly, bright, and purple, my favorite color on the planet. The costume shop here can do anything, one of the best departments I’ve worked with in the US.


Q. You’ve said your goal for “DEVIL’S/eye” was to make a ballet that’s both fun to dance and look at, inviting audiences to experience these songs in a new way. How so?

A. I wanted to work within the classical dance vocabulary, because I thought it would provide a super fun juxtaposition of rock ’n’ roll music in an opera house with these fabulous steps that have survived for hundreds of years, but [using them] in new ways. You can’t ignore that it’s kind of weird and funky and exciting. I hope it makes some magic and gives people a good time. And if the audience wants to stand and dance, I highly encourage it. I just want you to lose yourself for 25 minutes — or find yourself.


March 17-27, Citizens Bank Opera House. Tickets $39-$164,

Karen Campbell can be reached at