• Yumi La Blanca

Resilience, passion and hope - My little tribute to Steven McRae and his film project

Even for a comparatively novice ballet fan like me, Steven McRae isn’t just a principal dancer at the Royal Ballet. He is the one who guided me to the brilliant world of ballet appreciation, not simply because he was in many shows which I happened to see at the Royal Opera House, but also because he has always been such a memorable dancer among others.


Some of the most famous highlights of his artistic career include the role of the Mad Hatter in Christopher Wheeldon’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ (2011), the role of the Creature in Liam Scarlett’s ‘Frankenstein’ (2016), and his participation as Skimbleshanks in the film version of the musical ‘Cats’ (2019). To me, he’s strongly related to my personal watching history of many Royal Ballet productions.


Steven McRae as the Mad Hatter


My late discovery


When I started to visit the Royal Opera House around 2009-2010, my choice of dates were mainly for Carlos Acosta, Alina Cojocaru and Miyako Yoshida. It was probably in a mixed bill programme or something in which I first witnessed the talent of Steven McRae (so I was quite late), who showed incredible flexibility compared to other male dancers. I later remembered that I’d heard of his name before as a prize winner at the Prix de Lausanne in 2003.


He continued to impress me in many other productions, for example his portrayal of the Prince in ‘Cinderella’ (2010), dancing with the legendary Miyako Yoshida just before her farewell from the Royal Ballet. Since then, I’ve watched him in numerous principal roles, including ‘La Fille Mal Gardée’ with Roberta Marquez (2012), ‘Don Quixote’ with Iana Salenko and Sarah Lamb as Kitri respectively (2015). In every show I’ve seen him, he always shone with intriguing technique and artistry.


With Akane Takada


To me personally, Steven McRae has a strong connection to my favourite ballerina at the Royal Ballet, Akane Takada. Although I don’t know exactly when their partnership started, the year 2017 is probably a special year, when they starred in Frederick Ashton’s ‘The Dream’ which was shown in the cinema relay as well as on DVD, followed by the online streaming in 2021.


Akane Takada and Steven McRae in ‘The Dreams’


Despite their wonderful chemistry and artistic sparks, however, it wasn’t an easy journey for both of them, mainly because of injuries. In 2018 I was looking forward to seeing the two in several productions, but most of the shows ended up with cast changes of Steven due to his injury: ‘Giselle’ in January, ‘Manon’ in April, ‘Swan Lake’ in June… Although the substitute dancers did wonderful jobs respectively, I always felt a lack of the presence of Steven, who was the original cast for the shows, who was supposed to dance with Akane.


In October in the same year, I could finally see their chemistry blooming on stage in ‘Mayerling’, a full-length ballet by Kenneth MacMillan, in which Akane freshly portrayed Mary Vetsera alongside Steven’s superb interpretation of Rudolf. The blissful experience continued in ‘La Bayadère’ in November, in which Steven’s Solor and Akane’s Nikiya still, to me personally, remain the best even after seeing other great dancers in the same roles. Throughout her artistic journey, Akane has proved her special talent to rejuvenate frequently-danced characters in her own lyrical style, with deep emotion and poetic quality as well as highly-polished technique. To me as her fan, dancing with Steven, who is not only a great dancer himself but also a supportive partner, has strongly helped her to progress as a blessed dancer and such a unique artist.


Resilience


In 2019, I kept buying tickets to see the two, but Steven was again replaced by other dancers for the cinema relay of ‘Don Quixote’ in February and Akane’s debut as Juliet in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in April. He made a come-back as Des Grieux in ‘Manon’ in October, however… this was when he snapped his Achilles tendon while dancing in front of a full auditorium. It happened before the date I had a ticket for.


Due to the seriousness of the injury at the height of his career, some people believed that he wouldn’t be able to dance again - but I wanted to believe the opposite, thinking that it should be him, not others, who can decide whether he will dance again or not. Many ballet fans were relieved when, after so many ups and downs, he managed to come back on stage in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in October 2021, thanks to the tremendous support from his family, coaches, colleagues, not to mention the exquisite Sarah Lamb who danced his beautiful Juliet.


Stephane Carrel, a French documentary film-maker, was inspired by this special artist and started to create a film entitled ‘A Resilient Man’. The film will tell the story of Steven as a dedicated dancer, a caring father as well as an exceptional athlete who didn’t give up under such difficult circumstances. It will not only inspire dancers and dance fans alike but also encourage injured dancers and athletes who have gone through similar journeys. I hope you can join me and many others to support this exciting project.


Personally I’m also looking forward to seeing him and Akane together again in ‘Swan Lake’, scheduled in May, wishing injury-free for both of them :)


‘A Resilient Man’ - film trailer


Support the project of ‘A Resilient Man’:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/a-resilient-man-film/a-resilient-man