A Body of Work: DANCING TO THE EDGE AND BACK Review- Ballet Dancer’s Memoir

The human body is a marvelous machine, one that can withstand a ridiculous amount of strain while constantly healing itself and resetting. It can accomplish enormous feats, allow for countless adventures, and, most notably to this author, serve as a work of art.

Body of Work
Photo: Ken G. Becker

For ballet dancers across the world the body is their tool, something they train and perfect and utilize in order to create majestic works of art for enraptured audiences. David Hallberg is one of these dancers- a most prominent one. In his premiere memoir A Body of Work: Dancing to the Edge and Back, Hallberg delves deep into the intricacies of the ballet world by describing his evolution from a young boy marginally interested in tap to the first American to join the Bolshoi Ballet.

A Body of Work is as much a teaching book as it is an autobiography. While connoisseurs of dance or followers of the Bolshoi may already hold a high level of understanding about the intricacies of ballet, Hallberg does not simply write for the expert. As a lover of- but by no means expert in- the arts, this author appreciated Hallberg’s deconstruction of the hierarchy of ballet, the specificities of its common choreographies, and the history behind its most famous dances. Hallberg’s words could bring anyone deep into the world he loves, regardless of knowledge or even prior interest. It becomes easy to become swept up into such a world, of competition paired followed by respect, of frustration followed by success, and of pain and loss followed by recovery.

The body is central to Hallberg’s journey, and it becomes immediately clear why. He begins his memoir mid-injury, describing a torn ligament in his ankle that proliferated until he was sure he would never dance again. At this point, after describing the true depths of pain and depression such a failure in his body produced, he chooses to return to where it all began- his first foray into the dance world. He describes his life as a child discovering his love of performance, of dance in a general sense, and eventually of ballet. He also describes his childhood tormented by bullies, the security found in the first boy he ever loved, and the support of his parents in his choice to make dance the center of his life.

Throughout all of these milestones Hallberg relied on his drive, his love of dance, and the different ways in which he could push his body to truly express itself. The time he spends on an ode to his first teacher is mesmerizing. It is impossible not to cheer for the young Hallberg when he finds out that he has been invited to dance with the Paris Opera Ballet School.

 

Body of Work
Photo: Alan Andacht
Body of Work
Photo: Henry Leutwyler

Who Will Like A Body of Work?

The central story of Body of Work is David Hallberg’s journey into becoming the man he is meant to be, and his struggle with both mind and body to get there. Ballet, dance, and arts lovers alike would find this book fascinating and impossible to put down. Readers who have never heard of the Bolshoi Ballet or any other company for that matter would still gain from a reading. At its heart, Hallberg’s memoir is about the human body and its journey to success. It is about the physical, mental, and emotional factors that can affect anyone with a dream, and serves to inspire anyone hoping to find their place in the world- or recover that place- in the same way David Hallberg did. At worst, a reader will emerge at the end of this book with a new appreciation of the world of dance and its artists. For many if not most of us, reading Halberg’s story will give a sense of what a human with drive and heart can do by working with his body and mind, to accomplish what heretofore was pronounced impossible.

 

For more information on this book, visit Simon and Schuster Publishing's Website.

 

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