Hallberg spoke movingly of the frustrations of being a perfectionist. He described himself as “doomed” because “it’s never good enough. . . . The numbers of performances I’ve maybe been pleased with I can count on one hand over a 12-year career.”
Yet dancing the prince in “Swan Lake” and “Sleeping Beauty” has limited appeal. “I only get a certain amount of fulfillment in those roles,” he said. What he prefers “is someone pulling me out of my comfort zone, like an avant-garde choreographer in New York or dancing projects that don’t use my ballet technique.”
Having toured the National Gallery’s “Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909-1929” exhibit, Hallberg spoke of wanting to dance works of that era: “Petroushka,” “Spectre de la Rose,” “Afternoon of a Faun,” and he mimicked the Faun’s iconic flattened profile. “How does it look?” he cracked.
But what Hallberg said he craves is new roles. “The perpetual search of a dancer is to find a voice within another choreographer working today,” he said, adding that he has found that with Alexei Ratmansky, ABT’s artist in residence and former Bolshoi director.
Hallberg has thrown in his lot with Russians, it seems, by happenstance perhaps more than design. He spoke of the deep artistic rapport he shares with Russian ballerina Natalia Osipova, a guest artist with ABT.
“In a sense, she’s who I would like to be as a dancer,” Hallberg said. “She runs by the beat of her own drum, questions everything and makes everything her own.”
Kaiser asked if she had anything to do with his joining the Bolshoi. “We don’t really talk, to be honest,” said Hallberg, laughing. “Her English is, uh, getting better, and my Russian is . . . ” he paused, with perfect comic timing, “staying the same.” But, he added quietly, “a big reason to go to the Bolshoi was for me to dance with her.” That plan was dashed when Osipova left the Bolshoi to join another company.
Hallberg’s Bolshoi invitation came over a sushi lunch with Filin, who had been the director for only two weeks when ABT arrived in Moscow on tour.
“I started asking a lot of questions,” Hallberg said. “Like, ‘Do you really mean this?’ They said, ‘We have gotten approval from the Kremlin.’ ”
Ratmansky, who was also in Moscow at the time, urged him to accept, Hallberg said. Washington audiences can see the result of this circuitous journey in May, when Hallberg returns to the Kennedy Center for the Bolshoi performances of “Giselle.”