Boston Ballet artist My’Kal Stromile has been dancing since he was a toddler in Dallas, memorizing the routines on television’s “Barney & Friends.” By third grade, he was choreographing his own original dances, winning prizes at a Dallas-area star search-type competition. And he’s never looked back.
When Boston Ballet opens its 60th season at the Citizens Bank Opera House Oct. 5-15 with “Fall Experience,” Stromile’s work will unfold on its biggest stage yet, as the company gives the world premiere of his new “Form and Gesture” for 13 dancers. The piece is a big step for Stromile, sitting on the program alongside a slate of contemporary ballet’s undisputed heavy hitters. The program also features the Boston Ballet premiere of Hans van Manen’s “Trois Gnossiennes” and the return of Jorma Elo’s fan favorite “Bach Cello Suites,” back in the repertoire for the first time since 2018 and featuring cellist Sergey Antonov performing live onstage. And perhaps most highly anticipated is the American premiere of “Vertical Road” by the celebrated English choreographer Akram Khan. Boston Ballet is the first American company to perform the work, which draws inspiration from Sufi traditions as well as the Persian poet-philosopher Rumi.
Stromile, who joined Boston Ballet II in 2018 after graduating from Juilliard, and joined the full company the following season, said he feels “humbled” by the opportunity. “I understand the magnitude of what Boston Ballet as a company has to offer, contributing something to the art form, to the ballet world. … I’m not sure it’s really hit me yet.”
Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen said the 28-year-old Stromile is more than ready. “From the beginning, he’s always been doing stuff for himself and for other dancers and the school. It’s like a spring bubbling from within him. He’s the most natural, passionate, smart guy [with] a knack for choreography. It’s my job just to support and develop that. The art of choreography is the product of creativity and heart filtered by craftsmanship and brain, and that’s exactly what My’Kal represents.”
Soft-spoken, engendering an air of respectful collegiality, Stromile is calm and confident in the studio. Smiles and laughter suggest playful ease, yet without diluting focus and concentration. Leading a late August rehearsal at Boston Ballet’s studios in the South End, Stromile counted aloud a complicated chain of mixed meters, and the dancers launched into intricate contrapuntal phrases of shifting patterns and mercurial dynamics.
The new work develops as a series of variations on how the body can move, Stromile explained, from the precision and rigor of traditional ballet vocabulary to more fluid, gestural movement with emotive power. “It signifies what Boston Ballet is,” he said, “pairing technique with heart and soul.”
“We’re creating one layer at a time, and building on that,” said Boston Ballet principal dancer Derek Dunn, who has worked with Stromile on a number of works in addition to “Form and Gesture.” “I can feel all of the layers coming together, and there is a nice evolution throughout the piece. You see these simpler positions that grow into something more dynamic, and I think it will be very exciting to watch as an audience member. You will get to go on this journey watching the evolution of dance.”
“I feel like I’ve been choreographing for as long as I can remember,” Stromile said, “making things up, doing my version of things, trying to showcase the music in an intelligent way.” The score for “Form and Gesture” features original music by Moira Lo Bianco, Patrick PK Smith, and Kameron Brewer.
Stromile says so much of what he knows as a choreographer stems from his life as a dancer, and he’s picked up a number of awards along the way, including being named a US Presidential Scholar in the Arts in 2014, and winning Choreographic Honors three years in a row during his studies at Juilliard, and a nomination for the Princess Grace Award in 2019. “He has fantastic drive,” Nissinen said, “and he’s quite a ridiculously amazing dancer. He can move.” Tall and lean, with long limbs and flexible torso, he is especially impressive in the company’s contemporary repertoire. (He’ll be dancing in Elo’s “Bach Cello Suites,” which happens to be the first work he ever saw Boston Ballet perform before he was a member of the company.)
But within the next few years, Stromile sees himself naturally transitioning from full-time performer to full-time choreographer. “Subconsciously, my brain is always in the choreographic process. I get inspiration from a lot of things outside ballet. I’m a big reader of philosophy, psychology, how the mind works. Math and science are so fascinating, and things in nature. I’m just an ordinary person who does ordinary things and want to channel all that into something to share with people on a larger scale.”
Oct. 5-15, Citizens Bank Opera House. Tickets $25-$185, www.bostonballet.org
Karen Campbell can be reached at email@example.com.