Soar: A life freed by dance (David McAllister, Thames & Hudson)
As both a star principal dancer and tenured artistic director, David McAllister is a reliable chronicler of Australia’s recent ballet history. In his memoir Soar, McAllister records his early years in Perth discovering dance, and his time at the Australian Ballet School in Melbourne before he finally came to lead and later helm the Australian Ballet. The book relays this impressive and fascinating career, including glamorous stints abroad, and pairs it with insightful commentary on the industry and its players. Countless injuries, many tour en l’air and some heartaches punctuate McAllister’s career coups. Against this history, McAllister reckons with his own body and appearance (a life dedicated to physical self-discipline before being finally betrayed by injuries) and his complicated sexuality (being queer and coming out after 40). This kind of self-exposure is a welcome contrast to the fantasy and artifice, he reminds us, of the ballet stage. The strongest parts of this memoir are those in which McAllister maps his personal relationships and entanglements, both on- and off-stage. ‘Partnerships in ballet, a bit like in life, are mercurial things,’ he writes. It’s this incautious and refreshing openness, especially about his sexuality, that makes McCallister’s memoir rewarding reading. Soar is a book for those with a curiosity about ballet’s backstage, served with a side of self-reckoning.
Nathan Smith is a freelance writer in Melbourne.