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Subject: "Successor can expect scrutiny" Archived thread - Read only
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Conferences What's Happening Topic #1779
Reading Topic #1779
Trog Woolley

17-06-01, 12:01 PM (GMT)
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"Successor can expect scrutiny"
   Here is an article that I OCR'ed from "The Australian" - 15/06/01

DAVID McAllister goes into the artistic director's chair at the Australian Ballet untried but not unprepared. On March 24 he quit the life of a dancer. He was still at his farewell party at midnight. Twelve hours later he left the country on a two-month study tour that took in 12 dance companies in seven countries.

He told The Australian on his return that he "went away a dancer" and came back "not exactly an artistic director yet" but as someone with the sense of a new role in life. He was even noticeably fuller in the face, a legacy of leaving the barre.

He also returned having bagged two new male principal dancers, an acknowledgment of one of the key problems he has to face - the strengthening of senior ranks, particularly male, in the AB. Until recently Ross Stretton was satisfied with having 40 (now 37) of his 65 dancers in the corps de ballet.

On several occasions in the recent Sydney triple bill season the AB could not put one male principal stage - there are only two of them and both were injured. In mid 1999 there were four male principals (including long-timers McAllister and Steven Heathcote). Li Cunxin retired; then, at I the end of 1999, Damien Welch left, ultimately to join Nederlands Dans Theater.

It wasn't until late in 2000 that Stretton promoted Matthew Trent; his fellow senior artist Geon van der Wyst left at that time for a principal's position at National Ballet of Canada, believing that, at the age of 29, he did not have time to wait. He has been received enthusiastically in Toronto.

The issue isn't just a numbers one, although there is a distinct paucity of men in the middle rank of soloist - two men to six women. There have been recent instances of talented junior men being cast in roles for which they were clearly underprepared, and critics have commented on the apparent lack of attention to detail and emotional values in the classics.

McAllister will have to rebuild confidence in a delicate system where hierarchy is intensely important and has to walk a tightrope to do so.

A number of dancers have worked exceptionally well but have had valid promotions long withheld. Nevertheless, McAllister has said he will make no promotions of dancers this year, which shows sensible restraint given he has so recently been those dancers' peer.

The AB's goal is to have a group of 12 principals within two years (there are only five at present; seven when Nigel Burley and Campbell McKenzie return next month). It would appear to be McAllister's goal to identify the rest from within present ranks, which should please dancers.

He indicated a change in approach to the style audiences might expect from principals when he told The Australian the highest rank "should be for dancers who are exceptional in what they do - there can be dancers who are principals who don't do everything. I don't think that devalues the role."

The new director takes over a familiar company, but one facing an interesting challenge next year. The AB has funding for 72 dancers, expressly so it can, from time to time, split the company and perform in two places simultaneously, thus increasing its coverage of the country.

That will obviously increase the opportunities for dancers and staff - and increase the workload and pressure on management. So, too, will McAllister's desire to reinstate the dancers' exchange program and to bring in more guest artists, and the AB's wish to build choreographic workshops into the company's program rather than adding them on when a gap in the traffic emerges.

McAllister has a big reservoir of goodwill to draw on, but perhaps his biggest challenge is that he hasn't cut his teeth in the blissful shade of a small regional dance company.

When he makes his inevitable missteps, the nation will be watching and judging.

Deborah Jones is The Australian's Sydney dance critic

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