“I want to give that back to the Australian Ballet,” he said. “They’ve given me my career back.”
The appointment means Hallberg’s nomadic lifestyle will soon end. But not immediately.
On Wednesday he was due to fly back to London to dance in the Royal Ballet’s production of Swan Lake.
His regular schedule of jetting between New York, Moscow and London will slowly fade away although he will be on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House next year for a farewell performance with the American Ballet Theatre, a company he joined in 2001.
Hallberg was born in South Dakota and trained in Arizona and Paris. He was appointed principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre in 2006 and in 2011 became the first American to join the Bolshoi Ballet as a principal dancer.
Over the course of his celebrated 20-year career, he has danced every major full-length classical work.
His plan to move to Australia began in 2018 when McAllister asked him, “What would you think about being the next director?”
McAllister would have reached out to other dancers and directors as well, but there was already a strong connection between Hallberg and the Australian Ballet.
Through good times, as a guest artist with the company, and tough times when the company’s physiotherapists helped Hallberg recover from his injury, he was already on track to settle in Australia.
“I had two years to come to terms,” he said. “I didn’t know where I would be but after I could jump again and turn again, I thought that this is the right place to be.
“I do feel the talent here, I believe in the talent here and I believe in nurturing this talent and giving it opportunity. I know the dancers really well, I know where they can go, how they can be pushed in repertoire and tours round the world and I’m so excited to bring the Australian Ballet to the cities I know so well without alienating audiences in Australia.”
McAllister has already curated the company’s repertoire for 2021 although Hallberg will be ready to jump into his role next year.
As the eighth director of the company, Hallberg will be the first from overseas since Maina Gielgud’s time from 1983 to 1996. Following her as directors were two Australians, Ross Stretton and McAllister.
Hallberg’s many contacts in England, Russia, France and the United States will open up opportunities including the arrival of guest artists who may dance with and inspire the Australian Ballet dancers, not just as stars but to allow them to “really believe in what they stand for as humans”.
Nevertheless, his focus will be on the company. During interviews with the Australian Ballet’s board, he said his artistic vision for repertoire “won’t be just cut and paste onto a company but sensitive to the culture”.
Asked how he would help dancers who linger for years in the lowest level of any ballet company, the corps de ballet, Hallberg said, “one of my goals is, when the time comes, to re-examine the corps de ballet’s role”.
“I’ve witnessed both sides of the spectrum, including the way the performance of the corps can completely change in a good or bad way,” he said.
Meantime, Hallberg said he was looking forward to buying a home in Melbourne, settling down in one spot, and even “buying some groceries”.
Nick Galvin is Arts Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald