SAN JOSE — Criminal defense attorney Michael E. Hingle likes to joke about his first role in a local ballet. The beanpole of a barrister debuted in “The Toreador’’ — as a horse’s ass.
Eight years later, Hingle has now risen through the ranks of ballet extras to play a more dignified bit part — as “Mr. Posh,” one of the Christmas party guests in San Jose Dance Theatre’s current production of “The Nutcracker.’’ This time, the tall, skinny lawyer gets to wear a tie and glide along the stage for 26 minutes, instead of having to stoop over as he did in 2008 — with his face tucked under the costume of the dancer playing the horse’s front end and only his legs visible.
Since that first performance, the 56-year-old has regularly performed, including as a soldier and a slave.
“The stage is like a courtroom to me, like a second womb,” he said, adding that he has never taken a ballet class.
Highly ambitious, Hingle still aspires to performing more substantive roles someday — both on stage and in the courtroom. A controversial figure in the local legal world, Hingle used to represent the Hell’s Angels and was once charged with tipping off the target of a major drug investigation before he presented evidence he had done nothing wrong. Now, he said plans to turn for Superior Court judge in 2018 if he is not appointed by the governor.
He’s nearly as ambitious about ballet.
“To be on the front line: priceless,” he said with a dreamy expression.
Hingle said it never occurred to him to take ballet when he was in high school, and even if he had wanted to, he wouldn’t have had “the guts”. His physical activity was highly restricted back then anyway, after he was accidentally shot in the eye at age 14 by a fellow Los Gatos High school student. The only sport he was allowed to play while undergoing three surgeries was archery, he said.
But once his eye healed, he shot up from 5-foot-3-inches to more than 6 feet tall, and began skiing competitively. In 1980, Hingle, who is part Cajun, moved to Louisiana to work on an offshore oil rig.
Working his way up from galley hand to safety engineer, he became so muscular that he posed once in an underwear ad for a local department store, he said. Eventually, he put himself through college by working offshore every other week, and then attended law school at Tulane University.
It wasn’t until he returned to San Jose to practice law that Hingle began attending performances of Ballet San Jose, accompanied by the young daughter of his then-girlfriend. But after the couple split and he no longer had contact with the child, he stopped going because it made him too sad, he said.
Then in 2008, a friend told him the company was auditioning “supernumeraries,” or extras, and he leaped at the chance. Once he landed his first gig with the company, he was hooked.
Ballet San Jose, which long teetered on the brink of financial ruin, closed in March. But that didn’t stop Hingle, who quickly snagged another volunteer position with the San Jose Dance Theatre, a dance academy that has performed “The Nutcracker” locally for more than 50 years. This year, two casts of about 75 professional dancers, students and volunteers will put on eight performances at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts.
Hingle says he spends less time with his wife and sons, and makes less money in the months-long run-up to Nutcracker. When he’s not at the studio, he works obsessively on perfecting his technique and timing in front of his hallway mirror and watches videos of Nutcracker, frame by frame.
But he said it’s worth it.
“If you want something to take you away from the stress of criminal law, ballet does it,’’ Hingle said. “The amount of absolute concentration it requires — you have to hit your mark exactly or you’ll hold someone else up — takes you completely away from everything else.’’