“I questioned my safety — I don’t have a bodyguard, I have no protection — but what I didn’t question was my commitment to the company,” Hallberg said. He heads back to the Bolshoi on Tuesday.
“Yes — I’m very happy,” he announced, beaming a brilliant smile to the appreciative audience.
Just down the hall from the Opera House, where he has often held the stage as one of the world’s most celebrated ballet princes, Hallberg proved he is as graceful in words as he is in movement. In a wide-ranging tour through his career, titled “David Hallberg: In Conversation With Michael Kaiser,” Hallberg spoke agreeably and thoughtfully about his often torturous rise to the top of his field, a journey that wound through Rapid City, S.D., Phoenix, Paris and New York.
And for the first time in public, he spoke about the attack on Filin, the man who invited him — “a boy from South Dakota” — to be the first American principal dancer of the legendary Russian powerhouse.
“First and foremost, art is sacred,” Hallberg said. “It serves as an escape, whether it be Beyonce — ” he paused, looked pointedly into the orchestra section and flashed a firm smile, touched with mischief. “Yes, I’m saying she’s an artist. Or whether it’s Andy Warhol. Art is sacred. . . . To do that to someone with such an unbelievable vision for a company as important as the Bolshoi — I have no words for it.”
When the attack happened, Hallberg was in the States, nursing the foot he broke stumbling down stairs in a dark hallway at the Metropolitan Opera House. (He splits his time between the Bolshoi and American Ballet Theatre, where he is also a principal dancer.) In 10 months of healing, “I came to the realization that I’m human,” Hallberg said. “I can break.”
Humanity and vulnerability were the themes of the hour-long interview, which unspooled in a cozy, relaxed manner.
The set could have come straight out of the play “Frost/Nixon,” performed on the Eisenhower stage five years ago: Kaiser and Hallberg in wingback chairs, arranged on an area rug to make the vast space look more intimate. At one point, an overhead screen showed Hallberg’s audition tape for the Paris Opera Ballet’s school at age 16, when the elegant line of the future prince was very much in evidence. A year later, Hallberg landed in Paris, where he spoke no French, had no friends, was teased by other students and, outside of ballet class, was generally miserable. He stuck out the year, then joined ABT.
The man who shot that audition tape, Kee Juan Han, was seated in the audience, but Hallberg asked him to rise for sustained applause and cheers. Now director of the Washington School of Ballet, Han taught Hallberg at the Arizona Ballet School.