“Who would have thought that a daggy little kid showing off on a septic tank in suburban Perth would one day have dessert with a princess?’ is just one of myriad funny recollections in this most engaging memoir from David McAllister, Soar – A Life Freed by Dance. He was at supper with Princess Diana, trying to chop into a frozen sorbet with a knife, after a gala performance by The Australian Ballet (TAB) at London’s Coliseum in 1992.
The “daggy little kid,” a vivacious, hyperkinetic, strong-willed one, was born into a loving Perth family that accommodated his obsession for dancing and creative fantasies. This obsession escalated when his Granny took him to His Majesty’s Theatre to see TAB’s sumptuous Cinderella, with Australian icon, Kelvin Coe, as the prince. Soon the star-struck seven-year-old took his first class dressed in Jiffies, footie shorts and T-shirt. From then on, he seemed to get whatever he wanted: he joined The Australian Ballet School Melbourne in 1981, and in 1983 was seconded to the company with good friend Steven Heathcote. Neither returned to school and swiftly achieved popularity and promotion. New opportunities, like McAllister’s winning the 1985 Moscow International Ballet Competition bronze medal, and guesting at the Bolshoi and Mariinsky Theatres, were life changing.
Soar was released just weeks before McAllister leaves TAB, where he rose from student understudy in 1983, to artistic director in 2000. Underpinning Soar is the frank telling of a conflicted life. Happy at home and ballet class, he was serially abused at three Catholic schools. Liberated into a profession and illustrious career, he feared being gay. The slow burn to acknowledging his homosexuality was convoluted. Fortuitously, his first erotic encounter, at 19, was with the sensitive Coe, yet he sustained affairs with women before embracing his orientation. The subtle courtship by his life partner, theatre and festival director Wesley Enoch, is one of Soar’s most moving highlights.
McAllister achieved many exceptional things as a dancer and director, but his directorial record became uneven, marred by disappointing works, and unrealised new concepts. He regrets “…not pushing back on the organisation and the board in the name of taking a few risks…But happenstance is at the heart of the creative process, and that is often something that boards struggle to get their heads around.”
McAllister leaves behind him a company more popular, culturally diverse, including two Indigenous dancers, a group of emerging choreographers, and a host of gifted colleagues to read this book and his generous praise of them.