Photo by Theo Kossenas, Courtesy The Washington Ballet
You made a deal with your mom to take ballet classes in exchange for a ride to tryouts for the football team. How did that work? I thought that I would take ballet for a couple months, become a master and then leave that alone and concentrate on football. Ballet had other ideas, which perplexed me, and ultimately, I think, made me fall in love with it.
How is The Washington Ballet evolving under Julie Kent's leadership? It's still early, but I think that the company is growing stronger classically. And we have Julie, Victor Barbee, Xiomara Reyes and Rinat Imaev—a great team of people who are giving their input and expertise, which is quite helpful.
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.
"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.
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 & Schusterandvariousotherretailers.) 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 Bolshoiand 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.