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Thursday, June 7, 2012

‘I Knew I Needed Something That Really Scared Me, That Was Uncharted Territory’

David Hallberg at a Harvard master class. (Liza Voll)

Ballet star David Hallberg, 30, is at the peak of his career.

When he came to Harvard to teach a master class recently, he was introduced as one of the greatest male classical ballet dancers, who “single-handedly is making ballet relevant.”

But Hallberg recently decided to shake up his life and do something no other American principal dancer has ever done: Joining the world-famous Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, Russia.

Stephen Colbert jokingly called him a Benedict Arnold in tighter pants. Hallberg said he wanted a challenge.

“I was sitting back, I was happy, but I knew I needed something that really just scared me, that was a complete risk, that was uncharted territory,” he told Here & Now‘s Lynn Menegon.

“A dancing career is short, and you need to gain as much as you can while you can. I think that’s life in general really,” he said.

Hallberg was chosen to be the lead dancer when the Bolshoi Theater reopened after extensive renovations. Some in Russia saw that as controversial, particularly one Bolshoi star who saw Hallberg’s inclusion in the Bolshoi as an insult to Russian Ballet.

“It was a very bold move for the Bolshoi to do that,” Hallberg said. “The Russian schooling is so respected and to have someone who isn’t trained through the school come up and open the restoration of the theater, it raises eyebrows.”

‘Dancer, Dreamer, Detailed, Defective’

Hallberg describes himself on his Twitter feed as “dancer, dreamer, detailed, defective, distracted, discreet, delicate, dog, doomed.”

David Hallberg, with Harvard students at Harvard in Cambridge, Mass. (Lynn Menegon/Here & Now)

He explained what he meant by “doomed.”

“What I mean by that is my search for more. And that is a doomed process, because it’s a perpetual process. It will never end. I’m doomed by my insatiable curiosity,” he said.

Inspired By Fred Astaire

South Dakota-born, Phoenix-raised Hallberg says his interest in dance was sparked by Fred Astaire, so much so that at age eight, Hallberg put nickels on the soles of his shoes to try to tap.

“Fred Astaire was an inspiration when I was eight years old. He was the inspiration,” he said. “He’s so suave, he’s so smooth. He’s so charismatic.”

He says “Top Hat” was particularly exciting to him

“He had such pleasure in his face, in his body. He was absolutely communicative through his movement and that’s what excited me the most.” he said.

What Teaching Means To Him

Hallberg explained why he was teaching a master class at Harvard.

“I’ve learned a certain amount in the past 11 years of a career and I feel like I can say something. I’m not saying I’ll change people’s lives but it’s a responsibility to continue this respect and love for this art form,” he said. “I’m happy to do it at a small school in the middle of America and I’m happy to do it at a Harvard University.”

Audio Extra: While standing outside, without a jacket, on a chilly Massachusetts day, David Hallberg recounts a day in Russia when he realized that living there had changed his tolerance for the cold.

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