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.”