Entertainment » Books

A Body of Work

by Lewis Whittington
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Saturday Feb 10, 2018
A Body of Work

David Hallberg was the only American to be a principal dancer for both the American Ballet Theater and the Bolshoi Ballet, at the same time. He was also dancing all of the danseur leads on stages all over the world in Giselle, La Sylphide, Coppelia, Swan Lake and everything in between including Romeo in R & J. And he was an out gay man in princely roles. At the height of his powers and fame, Hallberg crashed to earth with a series of injuries (and surgeries) that threatened his entire career.

Many professional dancers resist talking about injuries for a number of reasons, but Hallberg chronicles disastrous physical breakdown, as well as his hard-fought return to the dance stage, becoming an even more powerful artist in his memoir "A Body of Work: Dancing to the Edge and Back."

Born in South Dakota, Hallberg wanted to become a dancer after seeing a Fred Astaire movie on television. When his family moved to Phoenix, Arizona he started to take a ballet class, undaunted even though he was being ostracized and bullied at his regular school for pursuing dance. It only made him work harder at it.

Fortunately, he met a dancer from another school through his regular dance studio and they not only looked out for each other, they fell in love. By the time they were 14 they had the talent, grades and drive to go to the Arizona School for the Arts, where LGBTQ students were the norm. He and Jack drifted apart but remained friends, Hallberg writing of the experience "Jack remained paramount in my adolescent development. Our relationship established my sense of how anyone should love and be loved."

David's parents were supportive of his career goals and as parents of a gay son; his mother showed her support early on by getting the message across they wanted him to be safe.

Hallberg began his formal ballet training at the age of 13 with Kee Juan Han at the Arizona Ballet School, one of the world's most demanding ballet instructors, who recognized Hallberg's potential immediately. Under Han's coaching, Hallberg was advancing, literally by leaps and bounds, was winning competitions, and eventually was accepted at the Paris Opera Ballet School, where he trained for a year, but was snubbed as the only American student.

He joined the American Ballet Theatre in 2001 and became a Principal Dancer in 2005. In 2011, after several guest appearances at the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, he was invited to join the company. He had even made a triumphant return as guest principal dancing at the Paris Opera Ballet. Then in 2014 at the height of his success, he faced his biggest challenge. He injured his ankle and subsequent foot surgeries brought his career to a halt.

He dropped out of sight professionally but was persuaded by friends at the Australian National Ballet to work with their physiotherapy team for 15 months of specialized training techniques to rebuild his dancing body. The hours of daily rehab were not going well and Hallberg was convinced that he would never be able to dance again. He reached a breaking point mentally and physically and was ready to walk away. Despite all odds, that was not the end of the story.

Even though Hallberg doesn't reveal much about the gay world in dance, he keeps his personal life pretty much to himself, but he doesn't avoid the subject either. "A Body Of Work" is one of the best dance books of the year; not only an engaging and even thrilling backstage look at international ballet. Hallberg's frank account of his life in ballet is as rigorous, sharp and lyrical as his performances are onstage.

A Body of Work: Dancing to the Edge and Back
By David Hallberg
Touchstone Hardcover; 424pg; photos

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.


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