David McAllister was in his mid-forties when he came out, first to himself, then to his father. At the time he was known as one of Australia’s most accomplished ballet dancers and the artistic director of The Australian Ballet, living in a progressive city, in possibly one of the most gay-friendly professional environment there is. Unpacking this contradiction is at the heart of what makes Soar – A Life Freed By Dance so compelling.
It’s the story of a Perth catholic boy who discovers the wonders of ballet and is bullied for it; who grows up to be a magnificent performer in despite not having a traditional dancer’s body. McAllister climbed the ranks of the Australian Ballet to become one of its shining stars, touring the world and dancing with the great principals and choreographers of the late twentieth century. Eventually he would become the organization’s artistic director for another twenty years, stepping down in the middle of the Covid pandemic.
The writing is chronological, straightforward, unadorned. It’s an extraordinary life described as an ordinary one, more concerned with communicating the joy and value of ballet than with introspection or ego, a testament to discipline and determination in the pursuit of artistic excellence.
It’s fascinating to read the memoir of someone who lacks self-awareness or even insights into what makes others tick. McAllister is very honest about his constant surprise at the turn of events, his inability to predict the behaviours of those he knows best (including that of his very accepting father when he finally comes out), and his tendency to push challenging feelings aside for lengths of time – even if it means internalizing homophobia - to focus on his dancing.
Contrast that with National Service, say, which chronicles Richard Eyre’s decade at the head of London’s National Theatre, laden with insights and armed with the ambition to push the reader to think differently at every turn...
At the same time, the utter lack of cynicism is disarmingly refreshing. McAllister is an optimistic and joyful guide, sparking and satisfying the reader’s curiosity about Australian ballet with infectious enthusiasm that will leave you yearning for season tickets.
Soar - A Life Freed By Dance is published by Thames & Hudson.