David Hallberg with Australian Ballet – Cinderella – Sydney

David Hallberg at Sydney Opera House.<br />© Wendell Levi Teodoro. (Click image for larger version)

David Hallberg at Sydney Opera House.
© Wendell Levi Teodoro. (Click image for larger version)

Australian Ballet
Cinderella with David Hallberg guesting

Sydney, Opera House
14 December 2013
davidhallberg.com
australianballet.com.au
sydneyoperahouse.com

Interview with David Hallberg
2007 by Eric Taub for Balletco Magazine

David Hallberg: the charming Prince

When David Hallberg was a child his inspiration to dance initially came from Fred Astaire whose old Hollywood movies Hallberg loved to watch. He admits he was obsessed. In those days he didn’t own a pair of tap shoes so, when Halloween was approaching, he attached coins to his shoes and tapped as a trick or treat act. Hallberg went on to take formal tap and jazz classes but it was not long before ballet drew him into a new dance world. His ballet teacher in Phoenix, Arizona, was Kee Juan Han, who recognised his talent but told him that it needed to be shaped. He was thirteen. There were no other boys in his ballet class but he persisted, nurtured by Han, and now, with his beautifully-proportioned body, extraordinary feet, and easy, fluid technique, he is the epitome of the danseur noble.

Hallberg has been in Sydney, Australia, guesting with the Australian Ballet as the Prince in Alexei Ratmanky’s new take on Cinderella, a production that was reviewed earlier in 2013 by DanceTabs. In this Cinderella the Prince makes his appearance early on in Act II, the ball scene. There is a huge build-up to his entrance. The Prince’s four friends, who are in fact his minders, attempt to clear centre stage of guests; those guests engage excitedly with each other, and the Stepmother and her two daughters, Skinny and Dumpy, try to push themselves forward. The Prince arrives dressed in an elegant white suit with a tuxedo-style jacket worn over a smart vest. His entrance begins with a spectacular diagonal of grands jetés, and Hallberg’s entrance drew gasps and shouts of ‘bravo’ from the audience. His magnificently-stretched jetés soared through the air, seemingly without effort. The perfectly-placed grandes pirouettes that followed whipped around in spectacular fashion, and the entrechats sprinkled throughout his solo were quite the most perfect examples of that step that I have seen.
 

David Hallberg at Sydney Opera House.© Wendell Levi Teodoro. (Click image for larger version)

David Hallberg at Sydney Opera House.
© Wendell Levi Teodoro. (Click image for larger version)

Hallberg played the role of the Prince in a very royal manner. He was slightly imperious as he gave orders to his entourage and, while he greeted his guests at the ball in a charming manner, he was regally distant. Similarly, although when he first saw Cinderella, danced by Australian Ballet principal Amber Scott, he was instantly attracted to her, there was still something withdrawn about his reaction to her. There were moments when he seemed to me to be more like the Prince in a traditional Swan Lake Act I rather than a character in a twenty-first century reimagining of an old story.

Hallberg is no stranger to Ratmansky’s work. He has appeared in at least five others of his works and next year he will dance in Lost Illusions with the Bolshoi Ballet. Of working with Ratmansky, Hallberg says: ‘He is so clever. I love the nuances in his work. He has his signatures but he is so relevant, so of his era’. So Hallberg’s choice to play the Prince in a manner that was at odds with how the rest of the cast handled Ratmansky’s creation is a curious one. It is especially so because Hallberg says that when he is not in the theatre he loves to see other art and that his particular taste is for the contemporary. Hallberg’s dancing was, of course, stunning to watch. I especially admired his dancing in the scene where he travels the world looking for the owner of the glitzy shoe. Much of Ratmansky’s choreography for this section is full of lightning-fast moves that often change direction quickly and Hallberg threw himself into it with gusto. And his several pas de deux with Scott had an incredible lyricism. But to do full justice to Ratmansky’s reimagining of the story, this Cinderella needs a less classical reading than the one Hallberg gave us.
 

Amber Scott as Cinderella. © Lynette Wills, for Australian Ballet's Behind Ballet blog.

Amber Scott as Cinderella. © Lynette Wills, for Australian Ballet’s Behind Ballet blog.

As a result the evening fell a little flat, especially as Scott’s portrayal of Cinderella lacked the sparkle and individualism that marked performances by Leanne Stojmenov, on whom the role was created.  There were some stellar performances from others in the cast, especially Amy Harris as the Stepmother who let fly with her tantrums when her hairdresser failed to live up to her expectations, or when the shoe didn’t fit. But the work does need the Prince to be a strong, contemporary character. Despite the fact that he is royalty, his behaviour has to fit the contemporary mood of the ballet.

In many respects it is a shame that Sydney was chosen as the city to host Hallberg, despite the fact that Sydney clearly offers great photo opportunities. The inadequacies of the stage of the Joan Sutherland Theatre in the Sydney Opera House are well known. The stage is small and is short on wing space, and that’s even before we get to the orchestra pit, which is partly underneath the stage and is the bane of musical directors and orchestral players. Ratmansky’s Cinderella looked cramped in Sydney compared with the magical and mesmerising effect it had on the bigger Melbourne stage. However, it perhaps would not have made a difference had Hallberg danced in Melbourne. Space was not the major issue.
 

David Hallberg. © Nancy Ellison, and from Eric Taub's 2007 interview for <a href="http://www.ballet.co.uk/magazines/yr_07/mar07/interview_david_hallberg.htm">Balletco Magazine</a> (the forerunner of DanceTabs)

David Hallberg. © Nancy Ellison, and from Eric Taub’s 2007 interview for Balletco Magazine (the forerunner of DanceTabs)

Hallberg gave his last show in Sydney on 14 December and then flew out to Paris to make his debut with the Paris Opera Ballet. I thought he missed the point of Ratmansky’s take on Cinderella. But it will take me a long while to get over those astonishing entrechats.
 

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Dr Michelle Potter is a freelance dance writer and curator based in Canberra, Australia. She was inaugural curator of dance at the National Library of Australia, 2002-2006, and curator of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library, 2006- 2008. Her website is at michellepotter.org
8 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. Ratmansky’s take on “Cinderella” may be a 21st century re-imagining but it is set in the early/middle 20th century, with it’s many visual/choreographic references, so Hallberg’s more Romanov than rock-star approach might be valid. Especially as Kevin Jackson seemed to have the same approach to the role. I presume the role was created on Daniel Gaudiello who gave the far more extroverted approach that Michelle prefers but I wonder if Ratmansky didn’t create the role with the 2 interpretative possibilities available. For me the ballet worked dramatically both ways. It was a matter of personal taste – I preferred to spend the evening in the company of a well mannered prince !

  2. I didn’t see Kevin Jackson so can’t really comment on his interpretation, but you are right Adrian that Ratmansky’s ‘Cinderella’ is set in the 1930s. However, it is, in my opinion, a somewhat eccentric vision of that era and visually the focus is very much on the contemporary art of the period. So playing the Prince as a well-mannered, decorous gentleman doesn’t make sense to me. Such an interpretation is too much at odds with everything else that we see and occasionally makes the rest of the cast look silly. Personal taste does come into it but I prefer some coherence of approach. But that technique!

  3. I don’t want to labour the point Michelle, but I saw the reserved approach being quite in keeping with how a true hearted person would be if they were surrounded by the fawning, obsequious courtiers of a new regime which I got from the settings and costumes of the second act. That setting and the behaviour of the corps seemed to me to be a satiric take on the new Soviet upper class. And Gaudiello’s performance seemed to indicate he was taking a leading part in this new regime and setting the behaviour. With Hallberg’s approach we see someone looking for another way. I am not saying I didn’t enjoy and appreciate Daniel’s performance, I am just trying to work out if Ratmansky had both interpretations built into the role.

  4. Adrian I think we are working a little at cross purposes since we are talking about three different dancers (Princes) and neither of us has seen all three. Perhaps Ratmansky was leaving room for different interpretations. Any choreographer worth his salt would and I take your point about the reference to the new Soviet regime. Ratmansky certainly has a way with satire. But whatever is the interpretation it has to work. I just didn’t see the Hallberg search for a different pathway as convincing. I thought he didn’t really inhabit the role. It too often seemed like Hallberg showing off a beautiful classical body and line, not Hallberg immersed in a role. Too much artifice. Perhaps Jackson was more able to get the idea across?

    Anyway, as ever, it is good to exchange thoughts with you. The discussion is always thought-provoking.

  5. Adrian, Michelle – I note neither of you mention Adam Bull in the role. Did either of you see him and if so, what did you think?

  6. Hi Anna, no I didn’t see Adam Bull. There is a comment from Sarah on one of the posts on my own website that mentions Adam. See http://michellepotter.org/reviews/alexei-ratmanskys-cinderella-a-second-look. Did you get an opportunity to see him? It would be good, in the context of the present discussion, to know what you thought of his interpretation of the Prince.

  7. No, I did not see Bull in Melbourne. I don’t believe he appeared in the Cinderella season in Melbourne. We had Gaudiello/Jackson/King-Wall perform as the Prince. And because of the way perfs fell and various rearrangements of castings I only got to see a couple of each of Daniel and Kevin. But I know Anna tries to see all casts so I would like to hear her views on this issue.

    • I blush to admit that this year I missed the Melbourne season of Cinderella entirely. The brief trip I made to Sydney enabled me to see Gaudiello/Stojmenov, Bull/Jones, and Hallberg/Scott only.

      Gaudiello/Stojmenov: you’ve all said it all :)

      Bull/Jones: Adam always seems too big for the Sydney stage – I feel like he’s shortening and lowering everything in order to stay within its confines. He felt about half a beat behind, although he wasn’t – if you see what I mean? Lana’s very first movements, with the portrait of her mother, afflicted me quite suddenly with Teary Eyes, and it was always going to be a tall order for me to sustain that level of emotional involvement.

      Hallberg/Scott: divine. Too, too beautiful.

      Eloise Fryer was a wonderful Dumpy, and how I wish I’d seen Lynette Wills’ Fairy Godmother. Both Laura Tong and Amy Harris were thoroughly enjoyable as the Stepmother.

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