In 2011, 29-year-old American Ballet Theatre dancer David Hallberg made international headlines—and history—when he announced that he was joining the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, one of the world’s most prestigious ballet troupes, by the invitation of the Bolshoi’s director.
The first American to join the Russian company as a principal dancer, Hallberg began splitting his time between the Bolshoi and the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) in New York City. He led a stress-filled life of training and travel (his days off were often spent on airplanes, commuting between countries), and the pressure caught up with him in 2015, when foot issues led to his exit from the stage. After two problematic surgeries, Hallberg—devastated—thought he’d never dance again.
In his brisk, beautifully executed new memoir, A Body of Work, Hallberg documents his rise to the top of the ballet world and coping with a career-threatening injury. Born with the perfect ballet physique—tall and long limbed with flexible feet—he began studying ballet seriously at age 13 in Phoenix, Arizona. He was teased at school but supported by his parents, who encouraged his desire to dance.
By the age of 20, Hallberg was living in New York and dancing with ABT. He provides an enthralling inside look at life in the studio—the physical pain, the hard-to-please partners, the struggle to transcend technique and achieve artistry. “Dancing virtuoso steps,” Hallberg says, “can feel like traversing a darkened room trying to avoid a trip wire.”
At the time of his injury in 2015, Hallberg had performance engagements around the world. The road to recovery took two-and-a-half years, including 10 months with the Australian Ballet’s reputable rehabilitation team. In scenes that are emotionally raw and moving, he recounts the painful comeback process.
Performing as effortlessly on the page as he does on the stage, Hallberg, who returned to ABT in top form this year, writes about the technicalities of his craft with clarity and precision. Readers of every taste will find much to relish in his inspiring book (balletomanes will consume it in a couple of sittings). Should Hallberg choose to take it on when he retires, a new role may await him: writer.