Rite of Spring: The Chosen Ones

Steven McRae and Edward Watson are the two principal dancers who have been chosen to “dance to their deaths” in the current revival of MacMillan’s Rite of Spring. Read below an extract of our interview with the pair, as originally posted on the Royal Opera House blog.

Steven McRae with artists of The Royal Ballet in MacMillan's The Rite of Spring. Photo: Johan Persson / ROH ©

When Kenneth MacMillan choreographed the first British Rite of Spring in 1962 the role of the Chosen Maiden – the virgin who dances herself to death in a sacrificial ritual  – was a then 20-year-old Monica Mason. Shortly thereafter the then Royal Ballet Principal Wayne Eagling became the first male dancer to take on the central role. In this current revival, Monica Mason has brought back the concept of a male ‘Chosen One’, with Edward Watson and Steven McRae – one British, the other Australian, both well-versed in MacMillan’s dramatic universe – set to make their debuts this weekend. We asked both Edward and Steven for some brief thoughts on the ballet:

TBB: Monica Mason has remarked in the past that MacMillan’s choreography for The Rite of Spring is ‘absolutely not feminine’. What do you think male dancers can bring to it?

Edward Watson: The steps aren’t feminine at all. When a woman dances it, I think it shows the strength of the human spirit but when a man dances it, it’s completely the reverse; the same steps show how vulnerable we are.

Steven McRae: I believe the Chosen One is a role that can be brought to life by either a male or a female dancer. The role is very demanding physically and getting through the piece requires a lot of psychological strength. Obviously the physical approach to the role may differ. The choreography has a lot of allegro work, something males are used to performing regularly.

Steven McRae as the Chosen One in MacMillan's The Rite of Spring. Photo: Johan Persson / ROH ©

TBB: How are you approaching the role? What emotions are going through the Chosen One’s head?

Edward: By making sure I know the music well and that I know the stage patterns and so on. I think about the terror and pride going through the Chosen One’s head and about the inevitability of the ritual.

Steven: You will see!

TBB: Who is coaching you? What have preparations been like?

Edward: Monica Mason has been coaching me. I haven’t needed to do any reading or other preparations as it was created for her and she knows it inside out.

Steven: I actually spoke to Wayne Eagling about the role recently at a function in Buckingham Palace; I am loving being coached by Dame Monica Mason. Working with the person the role was created on is the closest thing you can get to working with the creator. I was fortunate to work with Lesley Collier on Rhapsody early in the season, and again that was incredible because you are being exposed to details about the piece and choreography that perhaps other people may not know. (…)

Read the full post in the ROH blog.

We started The Ballet Bag in April 2009 with the mission to prove that ballet is not stuffy, old fashioned and inaccessible; that it is quite the opposite: relevant, fresh and topical. With the aim to Give Ballet a New Spin we try to show it under a different light. When writing our capsule biographies, ballet fact cards, review roundups and commentary on social media, we cross it over with other art forms and cultural references (pop culture, cinema, rock music – ie. other things we love!).


  • [...] The first program dealt with the theme of transformation presenting new and overhauled versions of works originally made for the Ballets Russes: a new Firebird, followed by traditional and modern interpretations of L’Après-midi d’un faune, and MacMillan’s The Rite of Spring. [...]

  • April 1, 2012

    James Grant

    I, of course, have nothing against Wayne Eagling. I feel he could do with some support at the moment.

  • March 30, 2012


    Thanks for linking to these articles James – we read the reference to Eagling as first male “chosen one” in old programme notes for MacMillan’s Rite. However, Simon Rice could well have been the first one… We remember when these articles came out, by which time we had already published our feature. We do know that Wayne did cover the role quite early on and that Steven McRae recently chatted to him about it.

  • March 30, 2012

    James Grant

    Another source suggesting Simon Rice was the first male to play the Chosen One. Nothing about Wayne Eagling.
    Can someone comment on this, please.

  • March 29, 2012

    James Grant

    The Financial Times suggests it was Simon Rice who was the first male Chosen One.
    So, was it Wayne, was it Simon?

  • [...] Edward Watson’s “Chosen One” in MacMillan’s Rite of Spring. His dance to death was piercing. We could see the panic in his eyes and the despair in his steps. [...]

  • June 9, 2011


    Hi Jos,

    Thanks for your comment. We also thought this run with a male chosen one was a very interesting idea and that both Ed & Steven brought very different elements to the role. Having said that, we agree that some of the steps, in particular the jumps, have a much bigger impact and look indeed more sensual & urgent when executed by a woman.

  • June 9, 2011


    Having seen this production, I thought the idea of casting a male dancer as the “chosen one” quite interesting. While the choreography is said here to not be “feminine”, it is clearly designed around a female body, and the movements within it designed around to enhance feelings of vulnerability. The effect that fitting these movements on a male body has is to create a considerable discord between the movement and the character. This is not necessarily destructive to the productoin though, because it reinforces the horror of the events depicted. So, I would, in general say it was an interesting idea (though, if I am honest I prefer this danced by a female lead, since it adds a fluidity and sensuality to the movement that, rightly or wrongly, is lost here).