American Ballet Theatre’s David Hallberg on Siegfried, Paris and a spill at the Met.
Ascending the Ranks
School Days: Studied jazz and tap from age 8 to 13 before starting ballet with Kee-Juan Han at The School of Ballet Arizona.
Getting Serious: Attended two summer programs at ABT and in 2000, spent a year training at the Paris Opera Ballet School.
Going Pro: Joined the ABT Studio Company in 2000 and the main company in 2001. Promoted to soloist in January 2004.
Most Exhilarating Moment Onstage: The end of Swan Lake. “You’ve given your love to Odette, and you’ve screwed it all up. You’re back at the lake, all your dancing is over and you just let go and pour out your emotion to this woman. Then, in Kevin [McKenzie]’s version, Siegfried runs up a ramp with a sprinting start, dives into the air and lands on these big blue mats under the scenery, but from the audience, it looks like you’ve taken a huge leap dive off a cliff [into the lake]. It is the best feeling.”
Dream Roles: Romeo and Albrecht
Most Embarrassing Moment Onstage: Tripping on his leather shoes in front of a full house at the Met, at the climax of a variation. “I was dancing Espada in Don Q. I didn’t fall, but I stumbled forward and my arms were flailing everywhere. Then I had to [compose] myself and be like ‘who saw that?’!”
Mentor: Guillaume Graffin, a former professional ballet dancer who is now an ABT ballet master. “He’s really been helpful with preparing roles and [developing] character.”
An American in Paris
To the Letter: Hallberg auditioned for the Paris Opera Ballet School by video when he was 16, but assumed he had been rejected when he received a one-page acceptance letter in French, which he didn’t speak at the time. “I thought I didn’t get in, [because] usually the rejection letter is just a page. I thought I was too old and they wouldn’t take foreigners.”
Etiquette: “When a teacher walks by, you have to stand up and bow your head and wait until they leave the room to sit down,” says Hallberg. The uniform consisted of white T-shirt, gray tights and gray slippers. “When I showed up, they were very prompt in telling me I had the wrong shade of gray [tights].”
Language Barrier: “I barely spoke any French when I got there. We had academics for four hours in the morning, and they put me with the 11- and 12-year-olds so I would learn the language as quickly as possible. By the end, it just flowed out of me. Now, I watch French films and try to talk to anyone I meet who speaks French.”