David Hallberg Creates a Program of Premieres for Young Dancers

Like an annual migration, hundreds of leggy tweens and teens arrive in New York this time of year for the Youth America Grand Prix, the ballet competition that awards $300,000 in scholarships.

This year drew more than 1,200 bunheads, some of whom stay through the week to see the final benefit gala, danced by professional stars, on Friday night. Though ballet galas tend to follow a standard formula—a string of flashy excerpts from crowd-pleasing ballets, almost invariably including “Don Quixote”—this Friday evening’s event at the David H. Koch Theater will be different. Four of the five works have never been danced in the U.S., and one is a world premiere.

“I just can’t sit through another ‘Don Q’ pas de deux,” said the gala’s curator David Hallberg, principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre and the Bolshoi Ballet.

David Hallberg in the studioENLARGE
David Hallberg in the studio PHOTO: NATALIE KEYSSAR FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Mr. Hallberg was invited to set the program by the competition’s co-founder Larissa Saveliev, who believed the dancer’s creative tastes would bring a new perspective.

“We try to educate the next generation, showing them something that is important,” she said.

“We try to educate the next generation, showing them something that is important,” she said.

With the program, Mr. Hallberg chose to honor companies that have supported his journey from a tap-dancing South Dakota boy to global ballet star.

For American Ballet Theatre Studio Company, the training ground where Mr. Hallberg had his start, he commissioned (with donated funds) a new work that will have its world premiere on Friday. Its creator is Pontus Lidberg, a Swedish choreographer venturing into new territory with dance films, most recently with former New York City Ballet principal Wendy Whelan and composer David Lang.

The Australian Ballet, Mariinsky Ballet and Tokyo Ballet have all invited Mr. Hallberg as a guest artist, and for them, he has selected works that represent their artistic missions. The Australian Ballet will dance “Unspoken Dialogues” by Stephen Baynes, the company’s resident choreographer.

The Mariinsky Ballet is sending dancers for “Choreographic Game 3×3” by Anton Pimonov, a young dancer who has been making his mark with choreography in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The Tokyo Ballet is bringing “Bhakti III” by Maurice Béjart, a master choreographer whose work isn’t often presented here. “They’ve kept up the lineage of Béjart,” said Mr. Hallberg.

The Bolshoi Ballet, which Mr. Hallberg joined in 2011, will dance an excerpt from “Marco Spada,” a full-length narrative ballet originally created for Rudolf Nureyev and recently reconstructed by choreographer Pierre Lacotte.

By selecting works that haven’t been seen here, Mr. Hallberg is delivering a twofold contribution: He gives dancers the opportunities to star in premieres—and he expands what is onstage for New York dance fans to see.

“There is a major deficiency in choreographers presented in New York,” he said.

But really, he said, it is all about the young dancers, squealing and cheering up in the balcony: “It lets the kids see the dancers they look up to, live and onstage.”

Write to Pia Catton at pia.catton@wsj.com

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