Craig Hall dances with ballerina Wendy Whelan during a performance in 2014.
Wednesday, May 25, 2016 || By Michael Romain
Craig Hall, 36, is counting the days until he executes his final tour en l’air as a soloist with the venerable New York City Ballet (NYCB). He’ll be ending his nearly 20-year career with the company in July, according to a glowing May 23 New York Times review by dance critic Alastair Macaulay.
Last Sunday, Hall saved his last dance at New York City’s Lincoln Center for the ballerina Tiler Peck, just one of the many world-class talents with whom he’s partnered, and, in the words of Macaulay, shared “the spirit,” over the years.
That Hall is leaving a successful career as a soloist and partner in one of the world’s foremost dance companies is newsworthy; but just as newsworthy is where he began — right here in Maywood.
If, on May 22, Hall had his last dance onstage at Lincoln Center with Peck, he may have had his first with Lois Baumann, his instructor at the Maywood Fine Arts dance program Stairway of the Stars. He was three years old when he started, said his proud mother Dorothy.
“The whole family was in Maywood Fine Arts,” said Dorothy. “That was our activity, but he just took it to higher heights.”
Did she know then that her son would become what he is now?
“Yes, we did,” she said, without hesitation. “He never complained about going. He was always just there. He’d be in four or five skits. Most of the kids would be in one or two of them.”
At a point, however, her son’s talents nearly overwhelmed her family’s finances. Help from the Baumanns kept young Hall pirouetting toward the bright lights.
“Lois would say, ‘He needs a costume for this and for that.’ I had five kids! But she always worked with us and always kept us going.”
Hall maximized the learning he got at Stairway, moving up to train at the Chicago Academy of Arts, where he learned tap and jazz dance and was forced to navigate through a world he told one interviewer was inherently intimidating to a newcomer.
“[T]here was a major intimidation factor going on there,” Hall told Dance Magazine in 2011, adding that he was in a class of 35 guys, all of whom had formidable technique.
From CAA, Hall climbed his way to the Ruth Page Dance Foundation and eventually the School of American Ballet — the NYCB’s official breeding ground for would-be star talent, according to a biography of Hall by the Indianapolis City Ballet.
In 1999, Hall became an apprentice with the world famous dance company before joining as a corps de ballet a year later. In 2007, he was promoted to soloist.
In his Dance Magazine interview, Hall explained that he doesn’t consider himself a classical dancer; rather, “I do more of the roles where you really give your heart or something else — a mysterious side, a sexual side, some kind of intensity. I like looking into a dancer’s eyes and pulling something out of them that’s also pulling something out of me.”
Hall became the first African American dancer at NYCB to perform as Apollo during the company’s prestigious season-ending program “Dancer’s Choice.”
When he leaves as a soloist with NYCB in July, Hall will start a new life as a “ballet master supervising the repertory of the choreographer Justin Peck,” according to Macaulay. He’ll also accept some dance engagements elsewhere.
“I love tennis,” Hall told Dance Magazine. “If I weren’t a ballet dancer, I would have gone after pro tennis.” VFP
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