In Melbourne only, the Australian Ballet Company presents Peggy!, a showcase that pays homage to the its founding artistic director and female dance visionary, Dame Peggy van Praagh. In the midst of a short and already successful season, Anna Lozynski spoke with the Company’s current Artistic Director of 9 years, David McAllister AM, a man that epitomises all that is ballet, and continues fostering the future of Australian ballet in his own exceptional way.
Tell us about how the idea to stage Peggy! in 2010 arose?
I wanted to create a specific program that focused on Dame Peggy, not just her legacy, but as an artist and a woman. While the whole year really celebrates her achievement and the vision she had for Australian dance and The Australian Ballet, Peggy! is about her great reputation as a teacher, her passion for developing a national school to feed into the company, her own choreographic ability and her dedication to developing new works and choreographers. It also looks at Dame Peggy as a dancer who created the role of the Russian Ballerina in Gala Performance.
What can the audience expect from this tribute?
A great evening of ballet. This program gives people the opportunity to see how dancers develop from young aspirants to professional dancers in Birthday Celebration, along with some remarkable performances from all levels in The Sleeping Beauty’s ‘Garland Dance’, Giselle, Cinderella and Gala Performance.
Which part of the program have you particularly enjoyed?
Seeing it all come together as I had imagined, has been great. The video footage created by one of our dancers, soloist Matt Donnelly, is superb. It really ties everything together beautifully. Having Dame Peggy’s voice and image there with us in the theatre again has been a delight.
Who would you say most resembles Dame Peggy van Praagh in the present day?
I do not think anyone has filled the Dame’s shoes but there are a number of wonderful people in the dance world that continue to advocate for dance training and the development of new works.
You have been with the Company, in various capacities, since 1983. In your journey with the Company, which moments were critical for securing its future success and presence?
I believe there have been a number of major milestones in The Australian Ballet’s development. The dancers strike in 1981 had a profound impact on the organisation and I think provoked a review of the whole organisation, both artistically and administratively. This has set us on a more sustainable path. The outcome from that review of having joint CEO status for the Artistic Director and Executive Director was one of the most profound. The instituting of resident choreographers and continuing to present the Company on the world stage are two critical elements to the current and ongoing success of the Company. To create unique works for the Company and then take those works to the world keeps a dialogue with the international dance community and builds our reputation. Finally the collaboration with other companies especially Bangarra in Rites was an amazing event in our history and for Australian dance.
How has your approach to the role of Artistic Director changed over the years?
I am constantly challenged and motivated by being the Artistic Director of The Australian Ballet. It is a role that I think is a constant journey of discovery and one that makes you constantly rethink the approach and find new ways to inspire those around you to achieve their creative potential.
What do you view as the challenges for the Company, and ballet as an art form, going forward?
To continue to develop exciting new works and nurture choreographers that use classical ballet as a medium to create them; to continue to develop a dialogue with audiences to the joys and wonder of ballet as an art-form; and to continue to introduce ballet to the widest audience possible.
If Dame Peggy were still alive today, how do you think she would appraise the Company?
I hope Dame Peggy would be pleased. She would see that a number of her original aims have been achieved. I am sure she would push us to do more new work, and be amazed at the development of the dance sector and of the arts community in general. The high level of regard and interest in the Company would make her very proud.
What other key activities is the Company planning to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2012?
Stay tuned as we have a full dance card being prepared!!
Peggy! is now playing. Further details»
Image credits: -
Top right - David McAllister. Photo - James Braund
Bottom right: Peggy van Praagh DBE. Photo - Anthony Armstrong Jones