David McAllister is to retire from the role of Artistic Director of The Australian Ballet at the end of 2020, in what will be his 20th year leading the Company. Chairman Craig Dunn made the announcement at The Australian Ballet’s Annual General Meeting in Melbourne on Friday.

David McAllister. Photograph © James Braund

In a statement from TAB, Dunn said: “David has taken The Australian Ballet to new heights during his two decades as Artistic Director. He has decided that his twentieth-anniversary year is the right time to hand on the artistic directorship of the company he joined as a dancer straight out of The Australian Ballet School in 1983.”

“His leadership of the company has been extraordinarily successful and he will leave an enduring legacy.”

Dunn said that “an orderly succession-planning process” is in place, as an international search for McAllister’s replacement begins. “The company will begin celebrating David and his enormous contribution when we launch his final 2020 Season in September and throughout next year as David’s final season unfolds around the country,” said Dunn.

Born in Perth, McAllister studied at The Australian Ballet School and joined TAB as soon as he graduated in 1983, rising through the ranks to become a Principal Artist in 1989. He became Artistic Director in 2001, and has led the Company for longer than any of his predecessors, including Maina Gielgud who was AD for 14 years until 1996.

The announcement of his departure came as TAB released its 2018 Annual Report, which showed a surplus of $300,000, after a net performance deficit of $18.6 million was offset by philanthropy and commercial activities as well as government funding and corporate support.

Speaking to The Australian, where she is the national dance critic, leading dance writer Deborah Jones (who has also written features for Limelight) described McAllister’s reign as “steady rather than visionary”.

Possible contenders to replace him include: Li Cunxin, a former Principal Artist at TAB and now AD of Queensland Ballet; Stanton Welch, a former soloist and Resident Choreographer at TAB and currently AD of Houston Ballet, whose new production of Sylvia has its Australian premiere in Melbourne in August/September as part of this year’s TAB season; Australian Leanne Benjamin, who danced with London’s Royal Ballet; Robert Curran, a former TAB Principal Artist who is now AD of Louisville Ballet; and David Hallberg, a Principal with American Ballet Theatre and a resident guest artist with TAB, where he worked with the rehabilitation team after a debilitating foot injury.

Meanwhile, at Bangarra Dance Theatre, Frances Rings has been appointed as Associate Artistic Director to AD Stephen Page. Rings joined the Company in 1993 and has made a name for herself as a choreographer, creating a number of acclaimed dance works including Unaipon in 2004 – which returns to the stage next month as part of Bangarra’s 30th anniversary triple bill Bangarra: 30 years of sixty five thousand.

Appointed Bangarra’s Artist in Residence in 2011, she left the company in 2015 to become Head of Creative Studies at the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Dance Academy.

Page, who has been Bangarra’s AD since 1991, has said that he does not plan to leave in the imminent future but that he expects to hand over the position to Rings within the next three years.