A Body of Work: Dancing to the Edge and Back
by David Hallberg
432 pages, $28.
IT IS to David Hallberg’s credit not only that he has written a very thoughtful and substantial reflection on his career as a dancer, but also that the career itself has consisted of several highs and lows rarely experienced by other dancers in their typically short careers. Hallberg was the first American dancer to join the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow. He became a premier danseur there in 2011 while continuing to perform in the American Ballet Theatre, the company he had always dreamed of belonging to, having joined in 2000 after a hideously traumatic year being patronized and bullied at the Paris Opera Ballet School. (His audition for a place there at age sixteen is a truly rewarding find on YouTube).
A Body of Work is a lovely title, suggesting not only the triumphant moments that Hallberg’s realized but also the many challenges that he, like most ballet dancers in this cruelest of crafts, has faced. Chief among these was the deeply serious ankle injury that saw him retire from the Bolshoi after three seasons and found him undertaking radical—and remarkably successful—physiotherapy for well over a year in Melbourne. The title also refers clearly to Hallberg’s inner demons, which, during a period of acute despair, led him suddenly to start smoking, as well as to demand that a barber shave off his golden locks, which were needed for his performance. When the ankle gave out for a period, Hallberg gave up.
Richard Canning contributed an essay on New Zealand dancer Douglas Wright’s memoir Ghost Dance for an anthology he edited, 50 Gay & Lesbian Books Everybody Must Read (2009).