David McAllister awarded the Royal Academy Dance’s internationally Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award

At a gala lunch in Sydney on 28 April David McAllister, the former artistic director of The Australian Ballet, was awarded the highest honour from the Royal Academy of Ballet, given in recognition of outstanding service to the art of dance.

Past recipients of the award include Sir Frederick Ashton, Dame Marie Rambert DBE, Rudolf Nureyev, Dame Gillian Lynne DBE, Sir Peter Wright CBE, Sir Matthew Bourne OBE, Maina Gielgud AO and Carlos Acosta CBE. 

The award administered by the Royal Academy of Dance was presented by Dame Darcey Bussell DBE the President of the Royal Academy of Dance, from her home in London and, at the lunch, from Audrey Nicholls OAM FRAD.

Before the award David McAllister’s This Is Your Life was hosted by Elizabeth Toohey, the ballet mistress of The Australian Ballet and long-term dance partner and close personal friend of David.

She surprised David with guests, either in person or by video who spoke of their memories of David, his family, his friends and colleagues at The Australian Ballet, among them David’s father, Don McAllister, Dianne Morris, David’s sister, Wesley Enoch, David’s partner and those who supported him through his many years at The Australian Ballet School and The Australian Ballet among them Graeme Murphy, Janet Vernon, Maina Gielgud, Ian McRae, Richard Evans and Darren Spowart.

The QE II Coronation Award was read by Audrey Nicholls OAM FRAD

“Today we honour David McAllister with the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award – the highest honour of the Royal  Academy of Dance – in recognition of David’s dedication to The Australian Ballet for 40 years. It is also for his wider  contributions to the world of ballet, including the Royal Academy of Dance, where, in 2005, he was elected Vice President.  

David’s dance life was one of determination and triumph and, throughout his years as a student and dancer, he was  determined to fight for the next step. That determination, his talent and his strong stage presence, kept him moving  up the company’s ladder until he achieved the highest rank, that of principal artist.  

Following that extraordinary step, the The Australian Ballet’s board offered David the most important position, that  of artistic director. Remaining in the role for 20 years he became the longest serving artistic director of the company.  

David’s success wasn’t only based on drive and talent, but also his personality.  

As audiences, dancers, friends and colleagues know, David’s sense of humour, his warmth, honesty, and what he once  described as “my deep love of pleasing people”, summed up his personality.  

David’s dance career began when in 1981 he was offered a place at The Australian Ballet School. He soon joined the  company where he danced for 18 years.  

Some of you here today may remember his final performance, when he danced in the Sydney Opera House in the  role of Albrecht, with Miranda Coney as Giselle.  

In his recent memoir David wrote that he expected a rush of emotion and maybe a flood of tears but for him there  was “just a huge feeling of joy and gratitude.”  

The joy of ballet came early in his life and, as he wrote in his recent memoir, dancing and performing came as naturally  to him as breathing. Growing up with his four siblings in Perth, he danced around the living room, tap danced on a  septic tank, watched himself dancing in a mirror, and finally told his parents he had to learn ballet.  

Aged 7 David had a lightbulb moment when, watching TV, he saw Rudolf Nureyev dancing excerpts from Don Quixote.  There was no going back – his long journey in ballet began. David joined The Australian Ballet in 1983, the same year  Maina Gielgud became the company’s artistic director. In her early days in the company, she told him that she “couldn’t  see him as a prince”. But it wasn’t long before she changed her mind and sent David with Elizabeth Toohey to Moscow  to compete in the Fifth International Ballet Competition where they danced a spectacular piece, Grand Tarantella.  David won a bronze medal and Lizzie a special award for artistic merit.  

The medal triggered a new road for David who was invited to return to the USSR as a guest artist and made numerous  appearances with the Bolshoi Ballet, the Kirov Ballet and the Georgian State Ballet. He was also a guest artist with The  National Ballet of Canada, Birmingham Royal Ballet and Singapore Dance Theatre and, in 1992, danced in a Royal Gala  performance of CoppĂ©lia in the presence of Diana, Princess of Wales.  

By the late 1990s he had a plan for life after ballet. David remembered how Gielgud had told him she could imagine him  as a ballet company director, and in 2000 he completed a Graduate Diploma in Arts and Entertainment Management  at Deakin University. 

Early in his tenure as artistic director, David commissioned Graeme Murphy to choreograph a new Swan Lake that  became the company’s international calling card. Throughout the rest of his time at the helm, David’s repertoire  encompassed Ballets Russes with a series of ballets that described the evolution of ballet in Australia. He secured  works by overseas choreographers, among them Christopher Wheeldon, Wayne McGregor, Alexei Ratmansky, Sir  Peter Wright and John Neumeier.  

David staged the Australian Ballet’s fortieth and fiftieth anniversaries, directed a lavish new Sleeping Beauty, established  Storytime Ballet, made for children and conceived Bodytorque, an ongoing series that gave the company’s dancers time  to choreograph their own new works. During his directorship, David was awarded an AM – Member of the Order  of Australia – for services to ballet.  

David’s brave decision to step down and leave the company he loved triggered tears from his colleagues, teachers and  dancers as they said goodbye to their leader in the worst of times. Instead of a glorious farewell to celebrate his years  at the company, 2020 became the year of lockdowns. Today, however, we can celebrate David and his legacy knowing  that his connection with ballet will continue”.  


 Liz Toohey and David McAlister photo © Chris Pavlich

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