Borders break down as dance stars lead a double life

There’s a buzz about the move of David Hallberg, American Ballet Theatre principal, to the Bolshoi Ballet and a fair bit of hand wringing about the US losing this exceptional American dancer to Russia.

He starts in November, having been invited to join the Bolshoi by its relatively new artistic director, Sergei Filin.

Until now, all the traffic has been the other way, beginning with Nureyev’s defection 50 years ago.

Hallberg says this is all about globalisation, and “the globalisation of dance in particular”.

But Hallberg is not disappearing from the American stage. Far from it. He will split his time between the Bolshoi and ABT and live in both Moscow and New York.

He’s not the only roving dancer at ABT.

The company’s artistic director, Kevin McKenzie, appears to maintain an open door policy.

Among the ABT principals, the Russian-born Diana Vishneva is also a principal with the Mariinsky Ballet of St Petersburg, while Angel Corella maintains his own ballet company in Spain and Roberto Bolle is a roaming guest artist, soon to appear in Hamburg and Milan.

Ethan Stiefel, now artistic director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet, will be back with ABT next June and July to dance in the company’s summer season.

It’s interesting to speculate on how the style of dancers may change as globalisation spreads ever further.

Will it eventually mean the end of the English, Russian or American schools of ballets?

The last to change, if it ever does, would be the French school.

The etoiles of the Paris Opera Ballet are all French, whereas there are only three British principals at the Royal Ballet in the UK, no British principals at the English National Ballet and just three Americans among the 20 principals of San Francisco Ballet.

At ABT, only five of the 15 principals were born in the US, but with Stiefel in NZ, Hallberg in Moscow half the time, and Stiefel’s wife, Gillian Murphy guesting in NZ for part of next year, that will leave only Julie Kent and Cory Stearns to wave the stars and stripes. Their colleagues in the top ranks come from Cuba, the Ukraine, Russia, Brazil, Spain and Argentina.

Globalisation, however, has not arrived at the Australian Ballet, where only one of the 13 principals was not born in Australia – the Cuban, Yosvani Ramos.

Of course at the corps de ballet level around the world, it’s another story. Just ask any young dancer who is not American but trying to get a job in an American company.

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David Hallberg in Sleeping Beauty

David Hallberg in Sleeping Beauty, photo © Andrea Mohin

Kevin McKenzie

Kevin McKenzie, photo © Fabrizio Feri

Ethan Stiefel proposing to Gillian Murphy

Ethan Stiefel proposing to Gillian Murphy