“I think that editing is always key with this work. I'm not the one to create the idea, but I can interpret that dream or vision and make sense of it. It’s about creating a language for the choreography so the dancers are able to produce it and put it out on stage.”
Craig Hall graduated from The Academy in 1997 and went on to dance at the New York City Ballet for 17 years. He was promoted to soloist in May 2007, and in 2016 he joined the company’s artistic staff as a ballet master. Currently, he is working with Justin Peck (NYCB’s resident choreographer) staging new ballets, as well as taking the choreography to other companies. Furthermore, Craig is now part of a four-person interim team leading the organization. Craig discussed his new positions and time at The Academy with Academy Marketing Director Tim Butler.
Tim: So what is it like being back at The Academy?
Craig: It's a mind trip! So much of it has changed. The faces are different and there are a lot of structural and cosmetic changes.
Tim: I bet the building looks a little bit better.
Craig: Yeah! But so much of it is exactly the same, in a good way. The spirit is the same. I connect with these kids because I know what they are going through. When I’m watching this dance class I feel like I’m seeing a young me and all of my classmates in there. I can see us in these students as I walk through these halls. It's like I'm still a student here.
Tim: How many students were at The Academy when you were here?
Craig: I believe I was in a graduating class of about 42. But there are many more boys in the Dance Department now than when I was here.
Tim: I think we have 11 or 12 now. It’s very encouraging.
Craig: When I started at The Academy there were two boys in the Dance Department, and by the time I left I think we had maybe five.
Tim: I’m sure Randy [Duncan, Chair of the Dance Department] told you about the Young Men’s Dance Initiative. A donor and supporter of The Academy [Rusty and Jeffrey Sanfilippo] created a scholarship program at the school for freshmen male dancers.
Craig: Yeah! He did tell me. That will be huge.
Tim: What are you working on right now with New York City Ballet? And what are you most excited for coming up?
Craig: I am very excited about our winter season and the new ballets we are debuting. I work mainly with Justin Peck as his assistant, and I’m excited for his new ballet coming up very soon. It’s a huge work with a ton of dancers and a brand new composition by Sufjan Stevens.
Tim: That sounds great. But you are also working within the administration of the organization, correct?
Craig: I am one of four people who is in charge in the interim [NYCB’s search committee] while we interview candidates for a permanent director position. And there’s a possibility that what I am doing with the organization right now could become permanent, but I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. One year ago, I didn’t think I would be in this position! It’s been a great ride, but also a lot of work.
Tim: And also kind of a foreign role, I would imagine.
Craig: Well, in the past I was in charge of all studio things: managing the schedules, working with the choreographer, getting the ballets on stage. But now I’m helping with creating a yearly schedule — which ballets are debuting, casting, and more — which is something extra. Most times it's exciting — but it's a lot of responsibility. It's another side of the business that, as a performer, I never thought that I would be a part of. A muscle of mine I never knew I needed to use.
Tim: Have you been leading masterclasses like this often?
Craig: I have been doing more and more — mainly in New York. But I do travel, and through New York City Ballet I will go to other dance companies to help stage ballets. I'll be back in Chicago in July to work with Joffery Ballet to stage a ballet of Justin Peck's.
Tim: You’ll meet another alumni, Evan Boersma, who just graduated two years ago, but is with Joffrey now and currently dancing in “Swan Lake”.
Craig: Looking forward to it!
Tim: What do you think The Academy most prepared you for?
Craig: This place helped me out in so many ways. Right away I was taught to really give everything my all. A dancer's career is so short. And there are a lot of talented people out there. What sets you apart? Is it your discipline and hard work? Is it the special spark that you have once you are on stage? Try and discover what that is. For me it was just hard work. I don't think that I was the best, but I felt like I was the most determined. And The Academy helped instill that in me.
Tim: You remember other dancers when you were coming up that you could point to and say: “you are better than me, but not working as hard as me.”?
Craig: Definitely. There were better dancers than me, or dancers who had a better facility. But I was disciplined to learn more, and I was prepared at the moments when it mattered. I keep saying that I've worked very hard, and I have had a lot of people in my life that have pushed me and guided me. However, if that moment to shine arrives, and you fumble it, that could be your chance.
Tim: For sure. Hard work is paramount but timing is also important. People might think that there are prescribed steps to get to the place they want to be. But with music, for example, there are a ton of musicians that aren’t successful or famous that may be as proficient at their instruments as someone who is. The opportunity didn’t come or they didn’t seize it.
Craig: Exactly. Just continue to push yourself and find that opportunity. There’s such a fire inside these kids now that won’t necessarily be there when they get older. I am still motivated, but not in the same way I was when I was 17 years old. And you have to push yourself when no one is watching. You have to count on yourself to set the standards.
Tim: That’s good advice. You need to work just as hard when you are alone in the studio as you do when Randy is in there watching you.
Craig: You want to impress your teachers, but you can’t focus on trying to appease someone. You’ll almost paralyze yourself. You need to let that all go, which is hard because as dancers we spend every single day staring at ourselves in the mirror, trying to get a leg higher or create the perfect line. But we have to shed all of that and dig within, and keep pushing for ourselves.
Tim: You need to be your own worst critic.
Craig: And that is part of the reason why I am no longer dancing professionally. I still dance part time and take classes to keep in shape. And I did a performance in Taiwan in February. But I've realized now with my schedule that I can't put in as much effort as I once could, so the work won't be the same. And I know what my standards are. I’m happy to delve into a different side of this artform.