Insights From David Hallberg's Talk at The Kennedy Center

David Hallberg has reached unprecedented heights as an American dancer. His switch from jazz to ballet as a teenager, his promotion to principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre at the age of 23, his status as the first American star at the Bolshoi Ballet—these milestones were the focus of an hour-long interview with Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser this Saturday.

 

Hallberg’s uncanny description of the sweat and tears behind private ballet lessons six days a week and his personal account of his crowning moments and career regrets gave an intimate look into the life of a ballet legend. Here are are our favorite insights:

 

Balancing Bolshoi: “A Logistical Nightmare”

With the approval of both ABT and the Bolshoi, Hallberg attempted to balance full-time schedules with both companies for more than a year. He'd travel from New York to Russia every two to four weeks, juggling multiple productions, attempting to please various choreographers and two very different company styles. On Saturday, he told the audience that he realizes now that the schedule was a mistake: “It felt like I was in a pressure cooker. It took an extreme toll on me—I started to make stupid mistakes, and my performances suffered.” This season, he plans to focus on one company and one production at a time.


Recovering From Injury

Hallberg may seem superhuman onstage (we all know those arches are simply not normal). But last year, reality hit hard when he fractured his foot after walking down a staircase at the Metropolitan Opera House at the end of ABT’s season, and was out of commission for 10 months. “I realized I’m human. It was an amazingly frustrating time. I started to doubt myself physically.”

 

Life After Dancing

Toward the end of the discussion, Kaiser asked Hallberg a question that haunts all dancers: “Life after dancing...do you think about it?” Hallberg said that while he still hopes for several more years of dancing full-time, he thinks of what’s next “every day of my life.” He said he lives off of adventure and wants to keep that in his post-performance life, mentioning the possibility of directing his own dance company. “I want to do something where I am at risk...staying very aware and observing opportunity and grabbing it when the time is right.”

Latest Posts


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
Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

The Anatomy of Arabesque: Why Placement and Turnout Are Key to Achieving This Crucial Position

Audition for any school or company, and they'll likely ask for a photo in arabesque. The position not only reveals a great deal about a dancer's ability, but it is also a fundamental building block for more advanced movements, like penché or arabesque turn. Beyond technique, it can be the epitome of grace and elegance onstage, creating unforgettable images—just try to imagine Swan Lake or Balanchine's Serenade without an arabesque.

Yet many dancers are unsatisfied with their arabesque lines, and students frequently ask how to improve their extensions. (Social media posts of dancers with extreme flexibility don't help!) In an attempt to lift the back leg higher, dancers may sacrifice placement and unknowingly distort their position in the process. How can you improve the height of your back leg while maintaining proper placement and turnout? We talked to a few experts to better understand the science behind this step.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

#TBT: Gelsey Kirkland and Mikhail Baryshnikov in "Coppélia" (1976)

Gelsey Kirkland and Mikhail Baryshnikov share the unique experience of having danced at both American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet during their careers. The two overlapped at ABT in the mid-'70s, where they developed one of the best-known partnerships in ballet. They were both celebrated for their dynamism onstage; however, in this 1976 clip of the pas de deux from Coppélia, Kirkland and Baryshnikov prove they are also masters of control.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks