As a globally renowned performer, David Hallberg has travelled the globe, performed on all the elite stages and performed with such stellar companies as American Ballet Theatre, Mariinsky Ballet, Bolshoi Ballet and Paris Opera Ballet. He has partnered dance luminaries from both the east and the west, including the premiere dancers of their generation such as Natalia Osipova and Svetlana Zakharova.
The Australian Ballet has a special connection to Hallberg, as it was the place that allowed him to revive his career after a potential career-ending injury setback. These fortunate turn of events has led to Hallberg becoming the incoming Artistic Director of The Australian Ballet in 2021.
He takes control from outgoing director David McAllister, who has had over a 40-year association with The Australian Ballet. So how did a boy whose original inspiration was Fred Astaire become the creative head of one of Australia’s most traditional and revered cultural institutions?
Dance Informa had the pleasure to speak to Hallberg, who now calls Melbourne home, about his vision of rebuilding the company after the pandemic hit in 2020 and the creative direction he foresees for the company.
Congratulations on your appointment. When do you start, and how does the transition process work?
“The transition is imminent, and I officially start January 4, 2021. I’ve been shadowing David McAllister for a couple of months now and seeing how things work on an organisational level. David has made the transition really smooth, and so the transition has been very easy. He has made himself available to answer any questions, and he’s been there with me all the way.”
How are you feeling at the moment just before you take the reins?
“I’m feeling motivated and inspired and excited to get to work with the dancers. The dancers will come back from Christmas holidays next week, and we’ll start preparing for Summertime at the Ballet which really opens the year for the company. I’m looking forward to sharing my previous professional experience and just really building the company up. I’m excited. I have been coming to Melbourne on and off for 10 years, so I already have a personal relationship with the dancers, which is really nice.
Part of this season will have been inherited from David McAllister, which means there will be a well-rounded season with Harlequinade, triple bill New York Dialects and William Forsythe’s Artifact Suite, which is a fabulous piece and will be presented for the first time to Australian audiences, so it’s something I’m really excited to present and to see the dancers perform.”
So, what is the first area of focus for The Australian Ballet?
“In my first program as Artistic Director, I am showcasing the talent of the entire company. With fresh inspiration, the dancers step back on to the stage into repertoire that exemplifies their versatility as both technicians and artists. These modern and classical ballets are their lifeblood and exactly why they live for the stage and the expression of performance.
It’s a gala program, so we’re doing some gorgeous classical works and some contemporary works such as Artifact Suite,created by William Forsythe in 1984, which is a fabulous piece, so it’s a really balanced program which will really show off the talent of the dancers.”
As part of the 2021 season and the dawn of a new era, there will be Summertime at the Ballet in Melbourne, at the Margaret Court Arena, which will include excerpts from La Bayadère, Spartacus and Theme and Variations.
“Yes, it’s a gala program with the evening opening with The Kingdom of the Shades from La Bayadère with 24 corps de ballet women. In my opinion, this is the greatest corps work in the classical repertoire. And then it’s really over to the evening fairies, which will be some contemporary repertoire from Australian choreographers, some Balanchine, some Don Quixote, something to really show off the talent of the company right through the rankings. So, from the corps de ballet, to the principal ranks. I’m really excited to just work with the company on this program, starting to develop and nurture the talent. And it’s our return to the stage, after a year off stage and with the pandemic and everything that everyone has weathered.”
It seems so appropriate to start your season with Summertime at the Ballet during summer. Did anything else influence your decision?
“Summertime will reflect on the heritage of this company, from the major classics through to new commissions, showcasing a rich history of repertoire and artistic talent. We’re in development. You know, I certainly think the vision for the company is to nurture Australian talent, and the choreographic challenge and the dancer challenge.
Additionally, there is a challenge to bringing repertoire from around the world that Australia hasn’t yet danced and hasn’t yet seen. So it’s really about building up the repertoire, and building up the quality of the company. And that will happen obviously with specific repertoire, when we announce it.”
In relation to the dancers, how do you as Artistic Director choose the dancers for the roles?
“To me, it’s about challenging them artistically. I see dancers who are fit for a certain repertoire, but I also feel that it’s about challenging them as well. So I think about giving them opportunities, and not having them feel they have to prove anything to me. I really just want to support them, support and nurture them. And for me, it’s about developing the talent. It’s not so much saying, ‘Oh, I only see you as Aurora. I only see you as, you know, Romeo.’ It’s about really developing their artistry, their artistic depth and themselves as individual artists. I think that’s really my main goal.”
Can you share some of your plans?
“Like everyone’s plans, my plans for my final dancing year were derailed in a way. And, you know, now it’s really just time to look forward and time to nurture these artists, and develop the future of the company.”
For tickets and more information on The Australian Ballet’s upcoming season, visit australianballet.com.au.
By Elizabeth Ashley of Dance Informa.