The Australian-born principal is part of two new Royal Ballet works coming to Brisbane.

When The Royal Ballet last toured to Australia some 15 years ago, a 17-year old dance student from western Sydney went to see them and was totally enraptured.

“I was a student in Sydney with Hilary Kaplan in 2002 and I remember watching them perform a mixed program of one-act ballets. I was in awe of the dancers and the repertoire, and I knew that The Royal Ballet was where I wanted to go,” recalls Steven McRae, now one of the Company’s star dancers.

The Royal Ballet, The Winter's Tale, Steven McRaeSteven McRae in The Royal Ballet’s The Winter’s Tale. Photo © Johan Persson

With a father who was a drag racer and auto electrician, McRae grew up trackside and loved it – he’s still something of a revhead – but he was driven to succeed in the altogether different world of ballet, having discovered the joy of dancing at age seven when he performed in a group  jazz number in a school concert.

In the same year that the Royal Ballet toured here, McRae won the Gold Medal at the prestigious Adeline Genée International Ballet Competition. In 2003, he joined the Royal Ballet School on a coveted Prix de Lausanne scholarship and graduated into the Company the following year. Rising quickly through the ranks, he has been a principal dancer since 2009.

Over the years, McRae has guested with several leading companies including the Australian Ballet where he danced in The Sleeping Beauty in 2009 and Queensland Ballet where he starred in Romeo and Juliet in 2014.Reviewing the QB production for The Australian, Deborah Jones described his Romeo as “one of the wonders of the stage” saying: “His crystal-clear line, the way he hangs in the air for precious moments in a turn or jeté, his vibrant attack and heady speed are treasures in themselves but given point and purpose by the way these technical gifts create character.”

Australian audiences will have the chance to savour McRae’s prodigious talent when The Royal Ballet performs in Brisbane this month. “Returning home with the Company that has enabled me to follow my dreams will be truly special. The Royal Ballet is where I have developed and grown as an artist. This tour will be a chance for my two worlds to finally meet,” says an excited McRae.

The Company will present two full-length ballets: Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works and Christopher Wheeldon’s The Winter’s Tale. The choice of repertoire says a lot about Kevin O’Hare’s approach to programming. Appointed Director in July 2012, he signalled early on that he wanted to create the classics of the future with a new generation of narrative ballets. Both were commissioned as part of that ambition.

Created in 2012 by Wheeldon, the Royal’s Artistic Associate, The Winter’s Tale was hailed by the UK Telegraph as “a modern classic”. Based on Shakespeare’s late tale of love, jealousy and loss in which a statue of King Leontes’ cruelly used wife Hermione appears to come to life, it features a score by Joby Talbot and a dazzling design by Bob Crowley – “the tree in Act 2 deserves applause all to itself”, says McRae.

Woolf Works is the first full-length work by McGregor, who celebrated a decade as the Company’s Resident Choreographer last year. Inspired by three of Virginia Woolf’s novels – Mrs Dalloway, Orlando and The Waves – it received mixed reviews but won the 2016 Olivier Award for Best New Dance Production. “Wayne McGregor and Christopher Wheeldon are completely different choreographers. The Winter’s Tale and Woolf Works are both unique in their own ways and will give an insight into the exciting new works that the Company is producing,” says McRae.

In The Winter’s Tale, McRae plays Prince Florizel, who falls in love with Perdita, a shepherdess, later revealed to be the daughter of King Leontes and Hermione. In Woolf Works, he features in the second section, based on Woolf’s time-travelling, gender-bending Orlando. “The music [by Max Richter] is a mix of strings with electronica. The set is bare and features the most stunning lasers. The dance is fast and intense, reflecting themes of speed and shifting time. It’s exhilarating to dance,” he says.

McRae is married to Elizabeth Harrod, a soloist with The Royal Ballet, and they have two young children, Audrey, aged two-and-a-half, and eight-month-old Frederick, who will be coming to Australia with them. “It is a great opportunity for [them] to spend time with their Aussie family. Australia will also be part of their lives,” he says.

“My wonderful wife will be performing with the Company as she is scheduled to return to the stage in London before we travel to Australia. She is Superwoman.”

The Royal Ballet performs Woolf Works from June 29 – July 2 and The Winter’s Tale from July 5 – 9 at QPAC, Brisbane.