David Hallberg, the new Artistic Director of The Australian Ballet, has many exciting plans for the company, one of which is to expand and enhance its international profile.

To that end, he has overseen the introduction of a new virtual platform called Live on Ballet TV, which will make digital ‘front row seats’ available to audiences around the world so they can tune into an Australian Ballet production from the comfort of their own home.

David Hallberg with the principal dancers of The Australian Ballet. Photograph © Pierre Toussaint

“I wish I had the opportunity as a young dancer to see my ballet heroes performing live from my house. That’s what excites me about Live on Ballet TV; we can now bring live performance into all communities around Australia and the world,” said Hallberg when announcing the initiative.

The new digital program will get underway on 28 February with a livestream of TAB’s first production for 2021, Summertime at the Ballet. Exclusive to Melbourne, the gala event – which will be performed at the Margaret Court Arena, 25 –28 February – marks the company’s long-awaited return to the stage after an absence of almost a year, and the launch of a new era under Hallberg’s directorship.

There’s nothing like seeing a performing arts company live, of course, but a high-quality livestream is a gift when you can’t be there in person – and with border restrictions still making it difficult to jet around the country (even if you could afford it), Live on Ballet TV couldn’t come at a better time.

“The way we define performance in this day and age is a different entity altogether I think,” says Hallberg in an interview with Limelight.

“There is nothing like a live artform, dance is a live art. Seeing a performance can’t be replicated and certainly it’s a different experience on a screen, but I will say that part of [the decision to introduce Live on Ballet TV] is because through the pandemic I have been able to experience some of the great ballet companies, theatre companies and opera companies from wherever I am in the world and that was not accessible to me as a viewer, or anyone else as a viewer, before the pandemic. I think that there are some major silver linings of what we have weathered as a population and as a community, and one of them is being able to see the beauty of what is happening not in your home town but halfway across the world.”

Hallberg says that livestreaming all TAB productions is “certainly our ambition. This is a longevity project for me. I really want people who can’t come into the theatre either because of trepidation or for other reasons to be able to see the performance here in Australia. Even if they are in Melbourne [but] can’t come in to the theatre, they can watch it in their living rooms. But people from across the world [can view it] as well. This is a longevity project, so the ambition is to livestream our entire season but for starters we are livestreaming Summertime at the Ballet.”

The program for Summertime at the Ballet features Balanchine’s Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, as well as excerpts from Marius Petipa’s La Bayadère, Tim Harbour’s Filigree and Shadow, Steven Baynes’ Molto Vivace, George Balanchine’s Themes and Variations, Rudolf Nureyev’s Don Quixote, Ronald Hynd’s The Merry Widow, Alice Topp’s Logos and Lucas Jervies’ Spartacus.

Ako Kondo and Chengwu Guo, TAB’s Summertime at the Ballet. Photograph © Pierre Toussaint

The Australian Ballet has partnered with 5Stream to facilitate the livestream. 5Stream has extensive experience in the field, having worked with companies including Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, The Met, Sydney Opera House and The Royal Ballet.

Hallberg says the cameras will offer footage from many different angles including a bird’s-eye-view from above. There will also be pre-show and interval entertainment including behind-the-scenes footage, interviews and expert commentary, exclusive to viewers of the livestream.

“Some of what we are cooking up – which I’m not ready to discuss – is so interesting, and it will offer a really nice connection to the person viewing at home,” he says.

Asked what he can reveal, he says “it will be dancers warming up, it will be live interviews with dancers that have just finished dancing. I have always thought to myself that when Nick Kyrgios or [Novak] Djokovic are interviewed right after their match, why don’t we interview a dancer after they dance on stage and get their take? I have always found the dancer insight is so interesting because the viewer has watched them perform and I think it would be really amazing for the viewer to know how the performer felt the performance went.”

There is also talk of Hallberg hosting some of the bonus material. “I do feel that I am in this position [as Tab AD] and I really want to address the Australian audiences, I want to address the public, and share the storytelling with them. I think that is really important,” he says.

The Live on Ballet TV initiative has been made possible by a grant from the Australian Government’s Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand (RISE) fund, with support from the company Principal Partner Telstra.

The Summertime at the Ballet livestream will take place on Sunday 28 February at 11.45am AEDT and will be available to watch for 48 hours to accommodate international audiences. It will be available to watch once. In a special introductory offer, tickets (which are available via the TAB website) will cost $25.

Live on Ballet TV is part of Hallberg’s ambition to increase the international profile of The Australian Ballet.

“I really want to showcase the talent here. The talent has already been showcased. David McAllister did a fabulous job of that for 20 years and the company toured globally, they went to every major city in the world,” he tells Limelight.

“But I have a different skillset than David and I think that’s partially why I got the job because I am a different director and I have different experiences in my career, and different places where I have forged relationships. I think it would be so thrilling to be able to raise the profile of the company internationally from the places that I have had intimate experiences with.”

Asked how he is settling in to Melbourne, Hallberg – an American, superstar dancer – admits that he is not yet fully settled.

“It is taking a lot more time than I thought it would. I still don’t have a permanent place to live. I wanted to buy a car, I wanted to buy a bike, I wanted to grocery shop twice a week but I am just at the studios all day and all night. That’s why I am here, I love the job I have gone into, it’s so challenging, it’s so fulfilling. I just connect with the dancers really deeply and care for them so much, I had a tearful moment in the rehearsal studio yesterday to be honest, when I watched the progress that they have made just in a number of weeks.”

“So I think I am settling well in that regard but if you wanted to measure it in terms of the human aspect or the domestic aspect of it, I fall short a little bit at the moment,” he says with a rueful laugh.

“It always takes time. It’s funny, I’ve always said I’ve so warmed up to the Australian culture. But the minute I moved here I really felt the cultural difference, and I think it’s because I’ve actually moved here and it’s a different mentality. I’ve really noticed the subtle cultural differences between Australians and Americans, which I am adapting to. I have lived in Russia!”

The Live on Ballet TV livestream of Summertime at the Ballet will take place on Sunday 28 February at 11.45am AEDT


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