American Ballet Theater's latest Orange County engagement signals a changing of the guard. Seminal ABT ballerina Amanda McKerrow left the stage nearly a year ago; Alessandra Ferri has cut back on performances; and what of the tragic injuries of Ethan Stiefel—as much our loss as ABT's? Now more than ever, the company needs a male lyrical dancer (a blond would be nice) to fill the princely shoes of Albrecht and Romeo.
Which brings us to David Hallberg, a young dancer promoted from the corps de ballet to soloist in 2004. This could be his year (and I'll pretend Orange County is the place to launch a new dancer—not merely an out-of-town opening, before facing the pointed tongues of New York dance critics). Whatever the case, Hallberg will debut in Balanchine's Apollo—and also in the Orange County premiere of Sir Frederick Ashton's Sylvia, which was revived last year for ABT and the year before for the Royal Ballet.
Hallberg, who has been with ABT for five years, has a dangerous look about him. He's tall—check; blond—check; and sufficiently cheeky-yet-earnest to garner sufficient attention. After all, he describes himself as towering, with good proportions for classical ballet.
Basically, he's in the running to become the next ABT-Man-God—there are always a few in every company (they tend to get all the parts and all the girls)—a sort of Zoolander of the dance world.
The road to American Ballet Idol can be uneven, but Apollo is a perfect vehicle. In the past other dance deities such as Peter Martins and Mikhail Baryshnikov used the role to showcase their magnum looks. Clad in white tights with a tunic over one shoulder, the young god of music, Apollo, receives instruction from three long-legged muses: Calliope, the Muse of poetry; Polyhymnia, Muse of mime; and Terpsichore, Muse of dance and song. Filled with abstract movement and syncopation to a positively jangle-bangle score by Stravinsky, the male is always center stage—at least metaphorically.
For a first-timer though, commanding the stage as an immortal takes confidence in one's own supernatural powers of attraction. "You have to be so in character," the South Dakota-born Hallberg worries. "You can't just go out there and dance Apollo, it's not 'The curtain is at eight' type of thing. It's the type of role that you really, really evolve with it. You are going to be green the first time you do it."
In contrast, the ballet Sylvia—first created in 1876 by Louis Merante and set to music by Leo Delibes for Theatre del'Opera in Paris—asks the woman to be the jewel. Ashton's version dates to 1952, when it was a showpiece for British ballerina Margot Fonteyn. His choreography tends to be dizzying and light with great emphasis on the narration. And while you're watching for Hallberg, look out for another recently promoted dancer, principal Michele Wiles. She eagerly attacks Sylvia's seemingly endless leaps and supported balances, and may well live up to the great Fonteyn's ability to give each step heart-splitting importance.
Wiles manifests a quality of dance hard to come by these days—but Hallberg, who plays Aminta, a lowly shepherd fawning over Sylvia, says he's more relaxed about this role, since the bulk of the dancing in the ballet falls to Wiles.
Sigh . . .but we'll be watching Hallberg.
APOLLO, JEU DE CARTES, GONG AND SYLVIA PRESENTED BY AMERICAN BALLET THEATER, AT SEGERSTROM HALL, ORANGE COUNTY PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, 600 TOWN CENTER DR., COSTA MESA, (714) 556-2787; WWW.OCPAC.ORG. TUES.-THURS., MAY 4, 8 P.M.; SYLVIA, MAY 5, 8 P.M.; MAY 6, 2 & 8 P.M.; MAY 7, 2 P.M. $25-$85.