David Hallberg Curates a Never Before Seen Gathering of Australian Dance Artists for DanceX

October 18, 2022

An eclectic roster of Australian dance artists gathers together for the first time for DanceX. A new festival conceived and curated by David Hallberg, artistic director of The Australian Ballet, it runs October 20–November 1 at the Arts Centre Melbourne. Spanning 12 shows divided into three programs, DanceX features contemporary and classical troupes alongside First Nations companies from across the continent.

“The crux of DanceX was partly selfish and partly pandemic-related,” says Hallberg. Between March 2020 and October 2021, the city of Melbourne spent a total of 262 days at home in the course of six lockdowns, enduring some of the world’s toughest COVID-19 measures. “So many people were locked out of their studio space, and everyone was traumatized by it all,” says Hallberg, who took over leadership of The Australian Ballet in 2021. “So I thought, Why don’t we get as many people as we can together and have this festival?”

David Hallberg sits on a wooden block against a grey backdrop, looking pensively at the camera. His knees are bent, bare feet stretching in forced arch against the floor. One elbow rests on a thigh, while the other arm reached to the back of his neck. He wears a black t-shirt and pants.
David Hallberg. Photo by Pierre Toussaint, courtesy The Australian Ballet.

The selfish part was that the festival gave Hallberg an impetus to get to know the wide-ranging Australian dance community better. “I go back to my education in New York City over 20 years,” he says. “I moved to New York not knowing anything other than American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet. Then, out of sheer curiosity, I did a deep dive into the New York dance scene.” Now, in Australia, “I’m on a huge learning curve, as an American. I’ve decided to just have a clean slate in terms of absorbing, and educating myself, and I’ve learned there is really rich dancing throughout the country. It’s all a big first-time/first-date kind of feeling.”

Though the festival was postponed from 2021, the additional time allowed Hallberg to learn more about smaller, independent­ First Nations dance companies. Guided by Merindah Donnelly, executive producer of BlakDance, DanceX programmed Karul Projects and Marrugeku in addition to Bangarra Dance Theatre, the largest First Nations dance company in the country.

Since Lucy Guerin Inc and Chunky Move typically make project-specific or site-based work, Hallberg commissioned them both to create new pieces for the proscenium stage: Guerin’s company will premiere a duet for two women that juxtaposes improvisation with formal structures and patterns, while Chunky Move’s premiere takes inspiration from how tools and machines inform human movement. 

DanceX is also a chance for The Australian Ballet to showcase its contemporary chops. In addition to shorter works by Australian choreographer Lucas Jervies and resident choreographer Alice Topp, the company will perform Johan Inger’s I New Then, a dance theater piece in socks set to songs by Van Morrison.

Australian Dance Theatre, Sydney Dance Company and Queensland Ballet round out the festival roster.

“This list of participants has never happened here before,” says Hallberg, “so I think it’s just a really great excuse for everyone to get together and experience the richness of the dance community in Australia.”