David Hallberg has been appointed as the next Artistic Director of The Australian Ballet. The American-born superstar dancer, who is a Principal with both American Ballet Theatre and The Bolshoi Ballet, as well as a Principal Guest Artist with The Royal Ballet, knows The Australian Ballet well. He is currently a Resident Guest Artist with the Company, and in 2015/16 undertook an intense 14-month rehabilitation program with TAB’s medical team, who helped him recover from a debilitating ankle injury.
It will be the first time that Hallberg has run a ballet company as Artistic Director. Speaking to Limelight last year, prior to performing at the Sydney Opera House in Pure Dance with Natalia Osipova, he said that he would like to run a company one day. “[It] certainly feels like that’s the direction I’m headed in. I do feel a very inspired inclination to nurture the younger generation, and to really nurture audiences as well from the repertoire that I’ve witnessed throughout the world. I do feel like I’ve been fortunate to gain a lot of experience in Russia, in England, in New York, Japan and all over the world,” he said. “There’s going to come a time where the spotlight goes off me and goes on to other dancers, and I really would like to reward them with the experience that I’ve garnered.”
Hallberg will take up the position next year, replacing David McAllister who retires in December 2020. He will, however, spend time this year with McAllister and TAB Executive Director Libby Christie as the Company plans for the future. “I plan on coming [to Australia[ a number of times. I have a lot of learning to do, a lot of observing to do. David McAllister has been so warm and open to making this transition as smooth as possible. He is offering himself as much as I need him so I plan on really absorbing a lot from the institution in the next coming 10 months,” he tells Limelight.
At the announcement in Melbourne earlier today, Hallberg himself said that it was “a great honour to join this iconic cultural institution as its next Artistic Director. We have had a long history, first as an invited dancer, then seeking the expertise of its world-renowned medical team, and finally as its Resident Guest Artist. During this time I have fallen in love with Australia, its people and this wonderful ballet company. I am thrilled for the future of this Company, a Company that inspires me with its level of excellence and global standard. I look forward to using the experience I’ve garnered over my 20-year career around the world and funnelling it into the culture of The Australian Ballet. The future looks very bright for this world class Company.”
Speaking to Limelight shortly after the announcement, Hallberg says that the move into a creative role has “been percolating for years, to be honest, but I’ve never been that specific in terms of the role, it was more just a desire to help lead the dance world forward. And it wasn’t until I heard word that this was in the mix, and David was leaving, that I really started to realise that the time was now and the place was The Australian Ballet.”
He says that the fact that he knew the staff and dancers at TAB was key to his decision to apply for the position. “What really was my driving force was that I saw the potential in the dancers, and I know the dancers well and I really believe in where they can go, and that’s really important to me,” he says.
As for his own career as a dancer, he says: “It will be a slow fade out. I am still obviously an active dancer in the dance world globally but I really envision taking the reins of this company and not having other responsibilities or distractions, and so once I take over the directorship I really envisage devoting my time and energy to the Company.”
Hallberg says that he is very keen “to nurture Australian talent, not just choreographically but in other medias as well. It’s important to me to find the best and the brightest Australian talent and really nurture that”.
“I think one of the main challenges around the world is finding an original voice in a ballet company and one of the benefits that The Australian Ballet is they actually have a very unique individual voice and style that is their own. I want to promote those benefits in a way, and so I would love to give The Australian Ballet even more of an individualistic voice in the global dance company, to really set this company apart from other companies around the world.”
He agrees that more needs to be done to increase the number of women choreographers in ballet. “That is definitely important, but what else is important is the conversation that The Australian Ballet has with this age, and being relevant in the community, and really trying to ask the question of what is the greater responsibility to the greater community by The Australian Ballet. Right now, the focus is definitely female choreographers but the focus is also in diversity, it’s in inclusivity, it’s in being a relevant and active cultural institution in modern day Australian society.”
Announcing the appointment of TAB’s eighth artistic director, Chair Craig Dunn said: “David’s highly successful international career as a classical ballet dancer and his leadership roles in the companies he has danced with regularly, mean David will bring a unique artistic lens and global view to his leadership at The Australian Ballet. David is very well known to our dancers, the company and our Australian audiences through his regular visits, including a 14-month-long “residency” during injury rehabilitation. It is our very good fortune that David has chosen to transition from his career as dancer to that of Artistic Director with The Australian Ballet. David’s appointment heralds an exciting new era for both The Australian Ballet and for dance in Australia and we look forward to welcoming him as our Artistic Director in January 2021.”
David Hallberg and Natalia Osipova in Anthony Tudor’s The Leaves are Fading, performed as part of Pure Dance, Sadler’s Wells Theatre, 2018. Photograph © Johan Persson
An exceptionally refined dancer, Hallberg has been described by The New York Times as “a paragon of classical style” and “the most exciting male dancer in the western world”. Famously, he has extraordinary feet which Deborah Jones, the dance critic for The Australian, once vividly described as having a “dramatic arch and superhuman articulation”.
Born in South Dakota, Hallberg trained at the Paris Opera Ballet School and joined American Ballet Theatre in 2001 where he quickly rose through the ranks to become a Principal Dancer in 2006. He made history in 2011 when he became the first American to join The Bolshoi Ballet under the title Premier Dancer. He currently performs as Principal Artist with the world’s leading dance companies – American Ballet Theatre, The Royal Ballet, The Bolshoi Ballet and La Scala. He created The David Hallberg Scholarship at ABT, a mentorship for young aspiring male dancers, and created and directs ABT Incubator, a workshop for emerging choreographic talent. He is the author of a critically acclaimed memoir, A Body of Work: Dancing to the Edge and Back, which includes details of the devastating ankle injury, which almost cost him his dancing career, and his rehabilitation at TAB.