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.

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

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.

Latest Posts


Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

2020 Stars of the Corps: 10 Dancers Making Strides In and Out of the Spotlight

The corps de ballet make up the backbone of every company. In our Fall 2020 issue, we highlighted 10 ensemble standouts to keep your eye on. Click on their names and photos to learn more!

Dara Holmes, Joffrey Ballet

A male dancer catches a female dancer in his right arm as she wraps her left arm around his shoulder and executes a high arabesque on pointe. Both wear white costumes and dance in front of a blue backdrop onstage.

Dara Holmes and Edson Barbosa in Myles Thatcher's Body of Your Dreams

Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet

Wanyue Qiao, American Ballet Theatre

Wearing a powder blue tutu, cropped light yellow top and feather tiara, Wanyue Qiao does a piqu\u00e9 retir\u00e9 on pointe on her left leg and pulls her right arm in towards her.

Wanyue Qiao as an Odalisque in Konstantin Sergeyev's Le Corsaire

Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, Houston Ballet

Three male dancers in tight-fitting, multicolored costumes stand in positions of ascending height from left to right. All extend their right arms out in front of them.

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson (far right) with Saul Newport and Austen Acevedo in Oliver Halkowich's Following

Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet

Leah McFadden, Colorado Ballet

Wearing a white pixie wig and a short light-pink tunic costume, a female ballet dancer poses in attitude front on pointe with her left arm bent across her ribs and her right hand held below her chin.

Leah McFadden as Amour in Colorado Ballet's production of Don Quixote

Mike Watson, Courtesy Colorado Ballet

Maria Coelho, Tulsa Ballet

Maria Coelho and Sasha Chernjavsky in Andy Blankenbuehler's Remember Our Song

Kate Lubar, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

Alexander Reneff-Olson, San Francisco Ballet

A ballerina in a black feathered tutu stands triumphantly in sous-sus, holding the hand of a male dancer in a dark cloak with feathers underneath who raises his left hand in the air.

Alexander Reneff-Olson (right) as Von Rothbart with San Francisco Ballet principal Yuan Yuan Tan in Swan Lake

Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

India Bradley, New York City Ballet

Wearing a blue dance dress with rhinestone embellishments and a sparkly tiara, India Bradley finishes a move with her arms out to the side and hands slightly flexed.

India Bradley practices backstage before a performance of Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2.

Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB

Bella Ureta, Cincinnati Ballet

Wearing a white dress with pink corset, Bella Ureta does a first arabesque on pointe in front of an onstage stone wall.

Bella Ureta performs the Act I Pas de Trois in Kirk Peterson's Swan Lake

Hiromi Platt, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

Alejándro Gonzales, Oklahoma City Ballet

Dressed in a green bell-boy costume and hat, Alejandro Gonz\u00e1lez does a saut\u00e9 with his left leg in retir\u00e9 and his arms in a long diagonal from right to left. Other dancers in late 19-century period costumes watch him around the stage.

Alejandro González in Michael Pink's Dracula at Oklahoma City Ballet.

Kate Luber, Courtesy Oklahoma City Ballet

Nina Fernandes, Miami CIty Ballet

Wearing a long white tutu and crown, Nina Fernandes does a saut de chat in front of a wintery backdrop as snow falls from the top of the stage.

Nina Fernandes in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker

Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet

Evelyn Cisneros-Legate. Photo by Beau Pearson, Courtesy Ballet West

Ballet West Academy's New Director on Dream Building During COVID-19

Evelyn Cisneros-Legate is bringing her hard-earned expertise to Ballet West. The former San Francisco Ballet star is taking over all four campuses of The Frederick Quinney Lawson Ballet West Academy as the school's new director.

Cisneros-Legate, whose mother put her in ballet classes in an attempt to help her overcome her shyness, trained at the San Francisco Ballet School and School of American Ballet before joining San Francisco Ballet as a full company member in 1977. She danced with the company for 23 years, breaking barriers as the first Mexican American to become a principal dancer in the U.S., and has graced the cover of Dance Magazine no fewer than three times.

As an educator, Cisneros-Legate has served as ballet coordinator at San Francisco Ballet, principal of Boston Ballet School's North Shore Studio and artistic director of after-school programming at the National Dance Institute (NDI). Dance Teacher spoke with her about her new position, her plans for the academy and leading in the time of COVID-19.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Complexions Contemporary Ballet's Tatiana Melendez Proves There's No One Way to Have a Ballet Career

This is Pointe's Fall 2020 cover story. Click here to purchase this issue.

Talk to anyone about rising contemporary ballerina Tatiana Melendez, and one word is bound to come up repeatedly: "Fierce." And fair enough, that's a perfectly apt way to describe the 20-year-old's stage presence, her technical prowess and her determination to succeed. But don't make the mistake of assuming that fierceness is Melendez's only (or even her most noteworthy) quality. At the core of her dancing is a beautiful versatility. She's just as much at ease when etching pure classical lines as she is when boldly throwing herself off-balance.

"Selfish choreographer that I am, I want Tatiana to stay with Complexions for all time," says her boss Dwight Rhoden, Complexions Contemporary Ballet's co-artistic director and resident choreographer. "She has a theatricality about her: When the music comes on, she gets swept away." Not too shabby for someone who thought just a few years ago that maybe ballet wasn't for her.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks