Dance: Steven McRae

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You notice him at once. It is not just the bright flame of auburn hair, but the still brighter flame of his temperament shining through his dancing in every ballet in which he appears at the Royal Opera House.

Just 21 years old, Steven McRae has already made a considerable mark in the Royal Ballet, which he joined in 2004, trailing prize-winning clouds of glory from the Prix de Lausanne (the most serious of balletic showcases for aspirant dancers) where he won the gold medal, and the no less valued accolade of the Adeline Genée gold medal given by the Royal Academy of Dance.

But prizes are no more than an endorsement of dance prowess in its rawest form – lots of difficult steps done with youthful energy and sometimes a teeth-
gritted denial of their artistic potential or purpose. Not so with McRae. There is a vitality of spirit, of imagination, that marks his every role.

Born in Sydney, Australia, in December 1985, a pupil at the Royal Ballet School in 2003-4, he joined the Royal Ballet at the end of these studies, and claimed our attention for the first time when he stepped at short notice into one of the three male roles in Symphonic Variations in June 2005. This is one of the Royal Ballet’s sacred texts, Ashton’s declaration about classic dance as he wished to see it shaped by the company in the immediate postwar years.

Luminous, serenely beautiful, it was danced over the years by its new casts with an increasingly tense feeling of frozen awe. Latterly, performances have re-found the pure, even dedicated manner that is right for it. McRae, plunged in at the deep end, and, one might venture, immature, danced with a grace and a musicality that seemed to me entirely right, and nowhere showed either nerves or false confidence. It was a beautiful, shapely, truly Ashtonian inter-
pretation.

And so, easily and with a physical bravura that is never over-confident or self-regarding, McRae has continued, in small corps de ballet roles as in larger assignments – he was a fine Gurn in La Sylphide and choreo-graphers seem eager to create for him, witness his dazzling Spirit of Fire in Christopher Wheeldon’s contribution to Homage to the Queen – Steven McRae makes his already considerable mark.

There is a repertoire calling out for his gifts. I thought him the jauntiest, the most buoyantly charming of danseurs in a duet from Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes which he and Alina Cojocaru whipped through at a gala. There are works in the Royal Ballet’s vaults (a too-little-explored treasury) to which he might bring fresh excitement and interest: I would like to see him as the Barber in Massine’s Mam’zelle Angot, for he has vivid temperament, and dramatic verve in abundance.

The abilities of such a young artist are fascinating in their promise. We have, please heaven, much to look forward to.

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