Last year The Telegraph’s Ellie Pithers described her as “The Royal Ballet’s diminutive star-in-waiting“. A year later, Francesca Hayward is their newest (and youngest) Principal dancer. Here she speaks about the challenges of preparing for her “first big classical, tutu role” and why The Nutcracker holds a special place in her heart.
What were your first thoughts when you found out you would be debuting as the Sugar Plum Fairy this season?
I was ecstatic when I found out! I knew that The Sugar Plum Fairy would be my first big classical, tutu role so I immediately thought about how much of a challenge it would be but couldn’t wait to start tackling it.
Why are you looking forward to performing the role?
I can’t wait to experience what it must feel like to dance this role. I know it’s going to be exhausting but I know it will be one of those roles that gives you so much more back.
How do you hope to make your Sugar Plum fairy stand out among the others? What do you hope to bring to the role?
I think that The Sugar Plum Fairy should have a few different qualities – regality, warmth and charm and a loving and joyful relationship with her Sugar Plum Prince. I hope I can bring across some of these things, if not this time then maybe in years to come if I am still lucky enough to be dancing this role.
What makes The Nutcracker special for you?
The Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker is the first ballet I ever saw when I was two years old (on a video in my living room) so every time I am cast as a new role in it (Partychild , Snowflake, Maid, Mirliton, Clara, Rose Fairy) I feel so happy. To now have the opportunity to dance the principal role is a huge personal accomplishment. Everything about the role is iconic for me – the costume, the wig, the choreography and the music. I can’t believe it will be me dancing this!
How long did it take for you to learn the initial choreography and what were some challenges it posed?
I have rehearsed for about a month. Learning the steps didn’t take too long but working on each one in fine detail has been an ongoing process.
Who is your partner for the role? Why is it important to develop a rapport offstage with them?
I am dancing with Alexander Campbell which I’m very happy about as he is a great partner. He has also danced this before so he has been very helpful. I like how calm he is when he is dancing and also how musical he is. It makes things a lot easier!
Who have been your coaches for the role and have you had any memorable moments?
Peter Wright (this production’s choreographer) came to my first few rehearsals which was wonderful. He has such an incredible eye for detail and invaluable advice on not just how to do the steps technically but how to be the character and perform them.
I have worked with Lesley Collier everyday too. Lesley was the first Sugar Plum Fairy I ever watched (on said video when I was two years old!) and I am still in awe of her. Anthony Dowell was her partner in the recording and Anthony came in to coach us too! To have them there watching me dance The Sugar Plum Pas de Deux and not the other way round was a very surreal moment.
What is your favourite part of the role’s choreography and why?
It’s very hard to choose just one part but possibly the end of the Pas de Deux as it is so famous and it is such a satisfying moment to dance with the music.
What brand of pointe shoes do you wear and do you do anything to them to prepare them for a performance?
I wear Bob Martin Bloch’s. I always darn the tops, pour a small amount of shellac into the tip to make them last for as long as possible. I also cut out some of the shank with a Stanley knife for a better line of my foot and I bash them on concrete to make them less noisy!
What should audiences look out for in particular when they come to see The Nutcracker? What is your favourite moment?
I think that the story is the most important part of The Nutcracker so I would like to think that the audience are completely carried away with it from start to finish. I can’t pick out a particular moment. I love it all.
What are your ‘words to live by’?
Life’s too short so just go for it.
Blue. (Although I’m starting to like pink which is worrying as I have never liked it before!)
Pasta (anything with Parmesan though!)
Elephants. They are incredibly intelligent and emotional animals.