David Hallberg on His New Memoir, and How His Injury Recovery Changed Him

An emotional Hallberg during bows after a performance of "Giselle" last May at the Metropolitan Opera House. Photo by Kent. G. Becker, Courtesy Simon & Schuster.

On November 7, David Hallberg's highly anticipated memoir, A Body of Work: Dancing to the Edge and Back, will be available in bookstores. (It's currently available for pre-order from Simon & Schuster and various other retailers.) Published by Touchstone Books, the autobiography details Hallberg's arduous recovery from a series of career-threatening injuries, and his triumphant return to the stage. Marina Harss spoke with the American Ballet Theatre principal about how his experience has changed him, his future with the Bolshoi and his desire to someday direct a company.


Courtesy Simon & Schuster

Why did you decide to write a memoir?

The initial seed was planted by New York Times dance critic Roslyn Sulcas. This was way before the Bolshoi. She just said you're traveling a lot now. You know, maybe just start to jot some things down about your experiences. So I took her advice, and then Simon & Schuster called and expressed interest in a book, and I dove in headfirst.

The focus of the book must have changed a lot after the injury.

Absolutely, and to be honest, the book had no backbone before the injury. It was "dance memoir 101." Not to say I didn't have a story to tell. But the meat of the book and for me, the heart, and soul, and the gut, is the nightmare that I went through with the injury.

As I was reading the book it felt almost as if you were a survivor of some kind of trauma.

It was emotionally traumatic. It was physically traumatic. It was mentally traumatic. Everything unraveled, and everything went wrong.


How has the experience of being away from the stage for two years, and coming back from a series of potentially-career-ending injuries changed you?

I see things more holistically. It's really not just about the self and the ego anymore. I'm more compassionate, and I know that when something comes my way, I can live through it. I'm a lot more aware of everything around me, of who I'm partnering, of portraying a character, of boiling it down to who I am within a given framework.


Hallberg backstage with ABT's physical therapist, Peter Marshall. Photo Courtesy Simon & Schuster.

You talk a lot about the ego in the book, and in your profession you need a healthy ego. So how are you going to reconcile this new outward focus with the ego that goes with being an artist?

One thing I haven't lost is my ambition. It's never good enough. There's always something to discover. When I step onstage as Albrecht or in a new ballet, I do so wanting to discover the experience, using what I've been given and my years of experience. But the sour part of ego, that's when things spoil and when the goal is compromised, and it becomes about something more fickle than artistic fulfillment.

It seems that one thing that led to your injury is overwork. Have you learned to say no?

Absolutely. I revel in preparatory time, in being afforded six weeks to prepare for the fall season as opposed to coming in two weeks before and doing repertoire that I already know so I could just throw it onstage and say I've done a full season. I don't have to run around like crazy. It doesn't make me feel good anymore.

Another important theme in the book is loneliness. Is it something inherent in the profession? Or is it more about who you are?

It's the loneliness of the path I chose. I chose to travel a lot. I chose to accept these invitations. I chose to put myself in an environment where I knew no one and didn't speak the language. It's more who I am than about the profession. I go to Australia, and there, it's this inclusive environment. The dancers are so beautifully taken care of. They all go through their entire school and professional lives together. It's this environment that's very protective, and you feel this connectivity with everyone around you. I had the opposite, and so I guess it's what I crave as a person.

You crave it? It sounds like a double-edged sword.

Yeah, it's difficult, but I've learned that I get bored if I don't have those challenges. I love the difficulty of saying I'm going to Moscow alone. How exciting. How scary. Or, I'm moving to Paris. I don't speak the language. I know no one. I'm buying a one-way ticket, and I'm moving to Australia for I don't know how long to see if strangers, essentially, can save my career. Those experiences are who I am.


Hallberg with Evgenia Obraztsova in "Onegin" at the Bolshoi Ballet. Photo by Batyr Annadurdyev, Courtesy Simon & Schuster.

Are you going to go back to the Bolshoi?

Not sure.

You haven't made plans yet?

No. To be determined.

You write very movingly about what it felt like to dance Giselle and Romeo and Juliet with Natalia Osipova. And how bewildering it was when she left the Bolshoi, where you had hoped to dance with her. It has recently been announced that you will be dancing Giselle with her next year, at ABT and the Royal Ballet. Have you been in touch?

I have. It makes me emotional.

Was that the ultimate experience for you?

It was. That's why I dance. To experience what we had, not just what she gave me, but what I gave her, what we give each other.

How have you changed as a dancer?

It's a constant evolution. I feel like physically, I'm more earthbound. I've restructured my entire instrument, and it has more weight. I carry myself differently because I have a lot more to support myself with.

You had help on the physical side, but was the rest of it, the mental healing, up to you?

Well, one of the branches of the rehab team is a sport psych. So I would see a sport psych every week, just mentally get me through the process. But I have to say, as much as it helped seeing a sport psych and as vital as it is going through an injury, it was the moments of just sitting in the park drinking beer, and smoking, and just, being alone that really…. Those were the most productive moments.


Hallberg and Australian Ballet principal Amber Scott. Photo by Kate Longley, Courtesy Simon & Schuster.

Now that you've gotten so close to losing your dance career, can you imagine a life after ballet?

Absolutely. I still think about it daily. I was this close.... I was about to step over the edge and go into another life. I know my passion as a dancer is so crystalized because of what I went through, but my passion for what I want to give as a non-dancer is even more crystalized. That was part of the process, as well. I know what it tastes like. I'm not scared of it at all.

And what is that?

You know, I feel so empowered to give to this art form as a leader. I can see where it is now, and I want to drive it forward. The most obvious thing would be to be a director of company. I feel so impassioned about leading dancers and taking what I've been given in my career around the world and applying that to an institution. I've always had an interest in that, but eventually, push will come to shove, and I will hopefully find an institution that I believe in and that believes in me, and I'll be so ready.

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Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'The Nutcracker.' Photo by Rich Sofranko

Catching a performance of The Nutcracker has long been a holiday tradition for many families. And now, more and more companies are adding sensory-friendly elements to specific shows in an effort to make the classic ballet inclusive to children and adults with special needs.

While the accommodations vary depending on the company, many are presenting shorter versions of the ballet with more relaxed theater rules. Additionally, lower sound and stage light levels during the performance, as well as trained staff on hand, make The Nutcracker more accessible for those on the autism spectrum and others with special needs.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's performance will take place on Tuesday, December 26th, and they are one of the pioneer companies in presenting sensory-friendly performances of The Nutcracker (their first production was in 2013). PBT also offers sensory-friendly versions of Jorden Morris' Peter Pan and Lew Christensen's Beauty and the Beast throughout the year.

See our list of sensory-friendly performances, and check out each site for all of the details regarding their offerings.

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Pilates hundred intermediate set-up, modeled by Jordan Miller. Photo by Emily Giacalone.

The Pilates hundred is a popular exercise used by many dancers for conditioning and warming up, but it's also one of the most misunderstood. Pumping your arms for 100 counts sounds simple enough, but it requires coordinated breathwork, a leg position that suits your abilities and proper alignment. Marimba Gold-Watts, who works with New York City Ballet dancers at her Pilates studio, Articulating Body, breaks down this surprisingly hard exercise. When done correctly, the benefits are threefold: "If you're doing it before class," she says, "the hundred is a great way to get your blood flowing and work on breath control and abdominal support all at once."

To Start

Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Nod your chin toward the front of your throat, and reach your fingertips long.

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At just 16 years old, the Bolshoi Ballet's Maria Alexandrova already had the makings of a great artist. In this variation from Coppélia, she portrays the carefree Swanilda with blithe, youthful ease.

When she bounds on stage in her perky pink tutu, you immediately notice her legs–they just go on forever. In the first sequence of steps she keeps her jetés and développés low, but then the phrase repeats and she lets her gorgeous extensions fly. She sails through Italian fouettés and whirls around in piqués en manège that get faster and faster. While she nails all the virtuosic movement, Alexandrova also pays beautiful attention to detail throughout the variation. Even the simplest steps become something exciting, like her precise pas de bourrées beginning at 1:03 that sing with musicality.

Swanilda has been one of Alexandrova's signature roles throughout her career. For a fun side by side, watch her perform the same variation almost 20 years later in this video. Although Alexandrova formally retired from the Bolshoi in February, she still performs frequently in Moscow and internationally as a guest artist. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!


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Ingrid Silva and her dog, Frida Kahlo. Photo by Nathan Sayers for Pointe.

You're probably already following your favorite dancers on Instagram, but did you know that you can follow many of their dogs, too? We rounded up some of our favorite dog-centered accounts and hashtags to keep you pawsitively entertained (sorry, we can't help ourselves).

Cora and Maya (American Ballet Theatre's Sarah Lane and Luis Ribagorda)

Sarah Lane and Luis Ribagorda's pups Cora and Maya update their profile pretty frequently. Often accompanying Lane to the ABT studios, they can also be seen using tutus or piles of pink tights as dog beds.

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Vladislav Lantritov and Ekaterina Krysanova in "Taming of the Shrew." Photo by Alice Blangero, Courtesy Bolshoi Ballet.

If you haven't checked your local movie listings yet for this weekend, hop to it. The Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema series and Fathom Events is broadcasting a performance of Jean-Christophe Maillot's The Taming of the Shrew to theaters nationwide on Sunday, November 19. (To see if it's playing near you and to purchase tickets, click here.) While the rest of the Bolshoi's cinema season features 19th- and 20th-century classics, The Taming of the Shrew gives audiences a chance to see the revered Moscow company in a thoroughly modern, 21st-century take on Shakespeare's famous play.

Aside from a limited run in New York City this July, American audiences have had little exposure to Maillot's 2014 production. To learn more, check out these two exclusive, behind-the-scenes webisodes below. Principal dancer Ekaterina Krysanova, who stars as the hotheaded Katharina, gives an intimate play-by-play of two major scenes in Act I. The first is her fiery rejection of three potential suitors (who all would prefer to marry Katharina's younger sister Bianca).

The second scene breaks down Katharina's first encounter with Petruchio (danced by the larger-than-life Vladislav Lantritov), the only man who seems to be able to challenge her. Here, too, we see the shrew's heart start to soften. (Don't miss her time-stopping attitude turn at 4:27.)

The Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Series continues through June; for more details on upcoming screenings, click here.

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Smuin Ballet dancers Erica Felsch, Rex Wheeler, Mengjun Chen and Tessa Barbour in "White Christmas," choreographed by dancers Ben Needham-Wood and Michael Smuin. Photo by Keith Sutter, Courtesy Smuin Ballet.

Nutcracker-ed out? Or just can't get enough holiday ballets? These unique Nutcracker interpretations and non-Nutcracker productions will make your season bright.


The Hip Hop Nutcracker

Through December 30

Tchaikovsky's masterful Nutcracker score isn't just for classical ballet…

Hip Hop + a live DJ + an electric violinist unite in The Hip Hop Nutcracker, currently touring the U.S.

Familiar characters such Drosselmeyer, the Nutcracker, Mouse King and Marie (here called Maria-Clara) dance through an updated New York City storyline with choreography by Jennifer Weber, artistic director of the Brooklyn-based theatrical hip hop company Decadancetheatre.

Premiered in 2014, The Hip Hop Nutcracker is produced by New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

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