A graduate of The Australian Ballet School, Perth-born David McAllister began his training with Evelyn Hodgkinson and joined The Australian Ballet in 1983. He was promoted to senior artist in 1986 and to principal artist in January 1989.
During his time with the company, he danced many principal roles, including those in The Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote, Coppélia, Manon, La Sylphide, John Cranko's Onegin and Romeo and Juliet, and Jiří Kylián's Stepping Stones; in 1985 he won Bronze at the Fifth International Ballet Competition in Moscow.
Throughout his career, David made numerous guest appearances worldwide, dancing with Bolshoi Ballet, the Kirov Ballet, the Georgian State Ballet, The National Ballet of Canada, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Singapore Dance Theatre and, in 1992, as part of a Royal Gala performance in London in the presence of the Princess of Wales. In 2000, he completed a Graduate Diploma in Arts and Entertainment Management and in 2001, took his final bow as a dancer after a performance of Albrecht in Giselle at the Sydney Opera House, partnering Miranda Coney. In July of that year, David became artistic director of The Australian Ballet. He was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia in the 2004 Australia Day Honours List.
Over the next two decades, on his way to becoming The Australian Ballet's longest-serving artistic director, David invigorated the company's repertoire with a series of new commissions from the world's foremost choreographers, including Alexei Ratmansky, Graeme Murphy and Wayne McGregor. He appointed two new resident choreographers, Tim Harbour and Alice Topp, and, through co-productions with leading international companies, secured major works such as Christopher Wheeldon's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland© and Yuri Possokhov's Anna Karenina. As a director/choreographer, he gifted the company with a lavish and widely acclaimed new production of The Sleeping Beauty, funded largely through donations from philanthropic supporters, and three works in the Storytime Ballet series, made especially for young children.
In 2019, David announced that the 2020 season would be his last with the company.