The Australian Ballet has long been a home away from home for David Hallberg. During a two-year struggle with an ankle injury that required two surgeries, he spent the most pivotal time of his recuperation in Melbourne, working with TAB's in-house medical and physical therapy team. Combined with a decade of guest performances there, including his triumphant comeback show in December 2016, it seems only fitting that Hallberg has returned to TAB as its new artistic director.
The announcement that you were taking over leadership at The Australian Ballet came about a week before much of the world started locking down due to the coronavirus. How has the pandemic affected your career transition?
When COVID hit, I was about to dance Swan Lake with The Royal Ballet, my last scheduled shows with Natasha [Natalia Osipova]. We'd wanted to do Swan Lake for years, and just as we were finally getting our chance, everything shut down. I got on a plane to Melbourne before the borders shut in Australia. I stayed there for three months, and—this is the silver lining—I got so much preliminary work done.
I'm not used to being on the other side. A lot of the ballet career is passive; if you're in the machine of a huge organization, the machine just runs for you. So now I'm running the machine, in a way, and I'm green, but I'm learning.
You more or less said goodbye to New York City audiences with ABT's digital fall gala.
There was supposed to be a farewell tour. I was in shape to dance Siegfried when everything stopped. I essentially took about four months off dancing. After Melbourne, I spent time with my parents and went on an epic road trip. I started getting back into shape in Phoenix and when I returned to New York, some things started to form: Christopher Wheeldon created on Sara Mearns and me for Fall For Dance. We had always wanted to dance together. And then Pam Tanowitz and I worked together on a solo that we filmed for ABT's gala.
Tell us about your history with Pam.
When ABT Incubator was called the "Innovation Initiative," she was the first choreographer I brought in. That was 10 years ago, and she wasn't getting the recognition that she is now. She's really fascinated with classical ballet, but comes from a completely different background, approaches it with a bookish dissection. Pam's work is smart, not showy, and well thought out. She doesn't spoon-feed the audience, nor does she tell the dancers, "Oh my God, do that trick that I saw you do on Instagram." The solo was actually the first time we've ever created together. We did this kind of dark, film noir piece with a vintage feel.
Have you been able to put your stamp on TAB's 2021 season?
2021 was already done by David McAllister, but, lo and behold, some of what was planned can't happen because of COVID-19. Pam is someone I am bringing down quickly—in fact, she is my first commission. She's going to create a big men's piece to the music of Caroline Shaw. And then I am bringing down William Forsythe's Artifact Suite. It is part of my effort to fill in the gaps of work that hasn't yet been seen here. We're also doing a big return-to-the-stage, family-friendly gala for the end of February, when it's the height of summer here.
This is really a new chapter in your life.
After my return from the injury, I felt I had a different relationship with New York. It didn't stimulate me as much as it used to. The speed got to me. But I will miss my routines and rituals: roaming the city; having pancakes in my diner and reading the Sunday New York Times; going to New York City Ballet on a cold fall evening by myself.
But I love Melbourne. You know, I've lived out of the suitcase. I've jumped off a plane and gone into performances. And now, maybe it is because I am almost 40, I'm just ready to plant some roots. I'm here for the long run.