Hallberg speaking at a Bolshoi press conference before the premiere of "The Sleeping Beauty." ITAR-TASS Photo Agency/Alamy Stock Photo, Courtesy Simon & Schuster, Inc.

There and Back Again: David Hallberg Discusses His New Memoir

"Do you still love ballet?" I ask David Hallberg as we sit in a drab conference room at American Ballet Theatre discussing his new memoir, A Body of Work: Dancing to the Edge and Back. The book details Hallberg's grueling return from a series of injuries that left him questioning whether he would ever dance again. "Yes, I love it even more," he says almost hungrily, as he stares me down with his searching, slightly hollow gaze.

A Body of Work is not an easy read. Its final section, devoted to the long road back from injury and despair, is the most distressing, but what comes before is not much lighter. The self-portrait Hallberg has outlined is stark: a boy, and later a man, propelled by a single-minded drive, subjected to savage bullying at school in Arizona; ostracism during a year of studies at the Paris Opéra Ballet School; arduous private training that has his parents half-joking about appealing to child services; un-empathetic partners; a punishing work schedule that leaves his body broken. All this, in order to satisfy the "gravitational force" of ballet, which he feels "pulling [him] in deeper and deeper," he writes.


Hallberg after one of his first performances back with ABT in May 2017. Photo by Kent G. Becker, Courtesy Simon & Schuster, Inc.

What explains this drive? Early on, Hallberg writes, "I was attracted to the idea of perfection, to the fact that there are precise ways to execute every turn, jump, and step. I savored the nonnegotiable structure of the work. I couldn't get enough." Later, there was the ego boost of success and fame. In 2011, already a principal at American Ballet Theatre, he became the first American to be invited to join the Bolshoi Ballet as a principal dancer. He split his time between New York City, Moscow and a multitude of guest stages. "I felt an adrenaline rush journeying to one company after another, each vastly different from the previous ones," he writes. He was on top of the world.

Hallberg's first dance recital at age 11. Photo Courtesy Hallberg.

Until he wasn't. This frenzy of travel and performance, which left little time to prepare his body, led to fatigue and, eventually, injury. "I was already running on empty, but the difference in style [at the Bolshoi] was (as I look back now) potentially the tipping point," he writes. First he twisted an ankle, then he broke his fifth metatarsal, and later developed an acute chronic pain in his left foot. Then surgery, then more surgery. As one year away from the stage became two, he began to seriously question whether he would ever make it back.

"Do you ever regret going to the Bolshoi?" I ask him. There is a pause. "The answer is no," he says. "Because of my experience there, I now have in my body and in my mental reserve how the greatest company in the world exists. But where I feel some hesitation is that I didn't know myself physically well enough, so I didn't know my physical limits." He is still unsure of when, or whether, he will perform with the Bolshoi in the future. "We're in talks," he says, simply.

Hallberg backstage with ABT physical therapist Peter Marshall. Photo by Henry Leutwyler, Courtesy Simon & Schuster, Inc.

One of the most insistent motifs of Hallberg's book is solitude. In the final chapters, as he remakes his dancing body in long sessions at a rehabilitation program at The Australian Ballet—which has one of the best rehab teams in the world—he spends the evenings and weekends alone. He whiles away the hours sitting on a park bench, watching families enjoy themselves or drinking pint after pint at the pub. "That solitude forced me to go through what I went through," he says now. He sees it as part of his recovery.


Hallberg at age 15 in "The Sleeping Beauty." Photo Courtesy Hallberg.

Among the lessons he has learned, perhaps the most important is how to say no. And with it, the realization that dancing has become less about pleasing others and more about finding meaning and freedom onstage. He writes with awe about his experiences partnering the Russian ballerina Natalia Osipova, both at ABT and at the Bolshoi. "At last," he writes of their first Romeo and Juliet, "what I felt onstage was total honesty."

The memory of these performances is still fresh. In fact, as he tells me, "she is one of the reasons I came back from all of this. To dance with her again. Every day, I thought of what I felt with her onstage." Now, the ordeal behind him, he will get his wish. This March, if all goes well, they will be reunited in Giselle at The Royal Ballet.

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 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

Quinn Wharton

Pacific Northwest Ballet's Angelica Generosa Shares Her Classic, Comfy Style In and Out of the Studio

"I love the feeling and look of effortless fashion," says Angelica Generosa. Preferring a classic style, the Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist keeps her wardrobe stocked with blazers. But they serve a practical purpose, too. "It tends to get chilly in Seattle, so it's the perfect accessory for layering," Generosa explains.

She's also quite fond of designer handbags. "They're my go-to accessory, and they're also my weakness when shopping," she says, naming Chloé, Chanel and Dior as some of her favorite brands. "I really appreciate the craftsmanship it takes to produce one—they're so beautiful and each has its own story, in a way."

In the studio, Generosa prioritizes comfort, and she'll change up her look depending on the repertoire (leotards and tutus for classical works, breathable shirts with workout pants for contemporary). But she always arrives to work in style. "I really love putting together outfits for even just going to the studio," she says. "It's another way of expressing my mood and what kind of vibe I'm going for that day."

The Details: Street

Angelica Generosa, wearing a blue blazer, white blouse and gray jeans, is photographed from underneath as she walks and looks to the right.

Quinn Wharton

BCBG blazer: "It has some shoulder pads and a really cool pattern," says Generosa. "It reminds me of my mom and '80s fashion."

Zara blouse: She incorporate neutrals, like this white satin button-up, to balance bright pops of colors.

Angelica Generosa looks off to her right in front of a glass-windowed building. She wears a blue blazer, white blouse, gray jeans and carries a small green handbag.

Quinn Wharton

Madewell jeans: Comfort is a major factor for Generosa, who gets her fashion inspiration from her mom, friends and people she comes across day to day.

Chloé bag: "I tend to have smaller purses because I'm quite small. Bigger bags overwhelm me sometimes—unless it's my dance bag, of course!"

The Details: Studio

Angleica Generosa, wearing a blue tank leotard, black wool leggings and pink pointe shoes, balances in a lunge on pointe with her left leg in front, facing a wall of windows.

Quinn Wharton

Label Dancewear leotard: "This was designed by my good friend Elizabeth Murphy, a principal dancer here at PNB. Her leotards always fit me really well."

Mirella leggings: "I get cold easily," says Generosa, who wears leggings and vests to stay warm throughout the day.

Angelica Generosa, wearing a blue tank leotard, black wool tights and pink pointe shoes, jumps and crosses her right foot over her left shin while lifting her arms up to the right.

Quinn Wharton

Freed of London pointe shoes: "When sewing them, I crisscross my elastics and use an elasticized ribbon from Body Wrappers," which helps alleviate Achilles tendon issues, she says. She then trims the satin off of the tip of the shoe. "Then I bend the shank a bit to loosen it up and cut a bit off where my arch is."

Getty Images

This New "Nutcracker" Competition Wants Your Dance Studio to be Part of a Virtual Collaboration

Despite worldwide theater closures, the Universal Ballet Competition is keeping The Nutcracker tradition alive in 2020 with an online international competition. The event culminates in a streamed, full-length video of The Virtual Nutcracker consisting of winning entries on December 19. The competition is calling on studios, as well as dancers of all ages and levels, to submit videos by November 29 to be considered.

"Nutcracker is a tradition that is ingrained in our hearts," says UBC co-founder Lissette Salgado-Lucas, a former dancer with Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Joffrey Ballet. "We danced it for so long as professionals, we can't wait to pass it along to dancers through this competition."

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks