FAULT speaks with Steven McRae, Principal Dancer at the Royal Ballet

After receiving a scholarship to study at the Royal Ballet School in 2003, Steven McRae left his native Sydney behind to tread the boards at London’s Royal Opera House, becoming a Principal Dancer with the Royal Ballet in 2009. Recently back from a tour of his homeland with the company, we spoke to Steven about living life en pointe, the drag racing career that could have been, and (apologies in advance) tortured toenails…

So, can you talk us through a typical day in the life of a principal dancer?

My day starts early! My wife and I have 2 beautiful children – Audrey is 2 years old and Frederick is 9 months old. Once the children are set up for the day, I head into the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. I do a vigorous warm up and workout before our official daily ballet class begins at 10.30am. This class is the time to work on a dancer’s technique and prepare for the day ahead.

Rehearsals then begin at midday and go until 6.30pm, which covers the repertoire that we are performing at that time. If there is a performance that night, then the company end rehearsals at 5.30pm to prepare for the 7.30pm show, which will usually run until 10.30pm. Once home, I try to have a moment to rest and recover before the next day.


What is the worst thing about having such a gruelling routine? I’ve heard horror stories about toenails being drilled to relieve the pressure from dancing en pointe!

The drilling of toenails does happen, I’ve had it done myself – however, after witnessing my wife give birth twice, I don’t think I’ll be complaining anytime soon! The hours are something that I struggle with now as my children are everything to me, so I would love to have more time with them.

What first drew you to ballet?

I took my first dance lesson at age 7, and I was hooked straight away. The sense of freedom I felt jumping around and spinning like a top was a sensation I had never felt before.


And your two children, are they showing an early interest in dance too?

It is very early to be thinking about our children dancing, but if they ask us to start lessons we’ll take them just like any other child. Audrey has already shown signs of being very theatrical though!


You recently toured Australia with the Royal Ballet – what was it like to perform back on home ground?

Performing with The Royal Ballet back home in Australia was incredible. I left Australia at the age of 17, still a child really. The Royal Ballet has helped me forge a career and a life that I had never thought possible, so to be back home all these years later combining my two worlds was a very special moment.

Now that the tour is over, what are some of the challenges you’ll have coming up in the new season?

Every season at The Royal Ballet is full of great challenges. The classical ballets, such as Giselle and Swan Lake, are always demanding as they are the ballets that keep the tradition alive. The new ballets take a lot out of you physically, as they require much more rehearsal time and repetition.


Do you have a particular favourite show that you could perform night after night?

I love performing Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s production of Romeo & Juliet. Romeo was the first full length ballet I performed at a very young age, so it’s a role I adore working on. I performed the role of Prince Rudolf in Mayerling last season, and that was a role I fell in love with – the ballet is intense, and the role is physically and emotionally demanding. I can’t wait to get my teeth into it again!


If you hadn’t gone into ballet, what do you think you would you be doing today?

I most certainly would have pursued my love of motorsport! I grew up at a racetrack in Sydney as my father was a Drag Racer. I think I would have gone to the USA to pursue a career with the NHRA. I also have an obsession with space, so perhaps NASA would have been a goal too…


I hear you’re a pretty good tap dancer too – do you have any other hidden talents?

I love tap dancing! I think everybody has hidden talents. I love building things – as a kid I loved LEGO, then I moved on from Lego to flat pack IKEA furniture, but now my children are getting into Lego so I’ll be having fun with those blocks again soon!

And lastly, what is your FAULT?

I have always had an obsession with looking towards the future, which is a great quality to have, but it can prevent you from living in the present. I’ve worked hard to tackle it though so, thankfully, nowadays I feel more like I can just enjoy every moment!

Steven McRae is a Principal Dancer with The Royal Ballet, and can be seen in the upcoming production of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. To find out more visit www.roh.org.uk

Words: Jennifer Parkes

Photography: Steven P. Carnarius