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“We provide the cultural life of Australia. It is the humanity of life.” - David McAllister

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Sydney Eisteddfod recently had the pleasure of catching up with Australian Ballet Artistic Director and 2019 Ballet Scholarship Guest Adjudicator, David McAllister!  

The final, on the 25 August 2019 is to be held at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall and tickets are selling fast!  

“It is always a great pleasure to be invited” says David, who has only ever missed one event in all his 18 years as an artistic director of Australian Ballet. “It is always great to see the talented dancers that are coming through.”  

When choosing this year’s winner, David comments that it is as much about potential as it is about what you see on the day. “You can almost predict their trajectory and where you think their career may go. It is about excellence on the day but also future potential.”  

He reminds the entrants that the most important thing is just to be involved and to perform.  “Your career between the ages of 15- 25 can change direction and shape.” Whilst opportunities like performing in the Sydney Eisteddfod Festival are important stepping-stones, it is not always the winners of these competitions that go on to have the biggest and longest careers.  

Sydney Eisteddfod to young ballet dancers is an opportunity to get out on stage which was always a highlight of my career as a dancer and even as a student. You get to put into action all the things you do every do endlessly to perfect your art.”    

David’s advice to the finalists is, “if you are going out there to win, you’re missing half the learning opportunity.” The take-away that David offers for these finalists is to build a community, meet your peers and make connections.  

David is impressed by the calibre of dancers that Australia produces. “I think this is because we have teachers who are operating at such a high level. There is a wealth of talent here in Australia.” David exclaims. David sees that more recently; dancers have a greater awareness of their opportunities.  

“You have people looking further afield than Australia to train and have a career. Which is a bit of a double-edged sword. I wish more of our dancers saw the value in staying in Australia because I think the training in Australia is equally as good as anywhere else in the world. And sometimes even better.”   

David says of his involvement with Sydney Eisteddfod and the Ballet Final that it is a great way for him to connect with the broader ballet community. “At the Australian Ballet, my focus is very much the dancers in front of me and it is always good to see the wider net. It is also about tradition, Maina Gielgud (AO), the previous artistic director, also judged the finals and I thought it was important that I kept that tradition alive.”    

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David McAllister with 2018 Ballet Scholarship winners Joshua Green and Matisse Lewis, adjudicators Margaret Illmann and Damian Smith and with other guest adjudicator Li Cunxin (left to right)

When considering the future of ballet in Australia, David hopes that we can do away with some of the more archaic traditions such as taking kids out of school. “Clever dancers are good dancers. And a socialised dancer is a much better artist all-round.”   

He is pleased, however with the strides that the industry has taken in the consideration of the dancers’ physical and mental well-being. “Teachers are more aware of giving dancers a positive experience in the classroom.”  

For those of our finalists wanting to know what it takes to not only become but remain a principle dancer for such a long time as David did, David says, "focus on yourself and don’t worry too much about looking at what everyone else is doing...and don’t obsess!”   

 “Be true to yourself and find your uniqueness.”  

David goes on to add that, It is not always about being a principle dancer, it is about putting your best self out there. This will give you the most personally satisfying career.”  

 As David prepares for his retirement from the Australian Ballet after 38 years in 2020, he reflects on the impact the Company has made on his own life and career.  

“I have felt so lucky to have been part of a company which was my own inspiration as a child. It is one of the best jobs you could ever have. I have learnt from my experiences that a career in the arts is a privilege and something that we should always be aware of how lucky we are. But equally, it is important to remember what we do is important.”   

“We provide the cultural life of Australia. It is the humanity of life.”  

He is proud to be passing on an organisation that is stronger and as vitally creative as it was when he took over. “Even through tough times, we have managed to come out the other end with an exciting group of dancers and a great resource for the next director to take on and build upon. 

His hopes for his own retirement? “I’m going to take my gap year!” David laughs.   

“The next phase of my career is going to be about doing all the things I haven’t had the time or the opportunity to pursue.” David is excited to be able to look at his own personal creativity and facilitating other people to do great work.  

“I know the future of the Australian Ballet will be fantastic. It is an amazing institution and it supports the building of Australia’s cultural life.”  

David advises his successor to be true to their own vision for the company. “Don’t get bogged down in the day-to-day pull between ambition and resources. Always be ambitious, dream big and have fun because it really is the best job you could ever have!”   

Sydney Eisteddfod looks forward to welcoming David McAllister and all our other adjudicators and guest judges at the Sydney Eisteddfod Ballet Scholarship Final on 25 August, 2.30pm at Sydney Opera House Concert Hall. 

To secure your tickets, click the link below.  

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