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    Francesca Hayward 2021

    Francesca Hayward

    Principal, The Royal Ballet

    Interviewed by David Bain
    The Royal Ballet Upper School, Wed 08th Dec, 2021 


    Following David’s welcome, Frankie began by telling us about this season, saying it still felt jumbled in her mind. Although Romeo and Juliet came first it seemed in her mind as if it was second to The Dante Project. She was excited to be doing opening night with Cesar Corrales but she was working all day, every day, with Wayne McGregor in the studio while wanting to be part of the Company rehearsal. She hadn’t seen it from out front or even processed the fact that she was being Juliet as they’d not seen the ballet as a whole and only had one stage rehearsal before opening night and it was all a bit overwhelming. So, she was completely absorbed with Wayne which focussed her mind and she’s still playing catch-up as everything has a knock-on effect. Except for Matthew Ball, Frankie was the only dancer in all three parts of Dante, so it was very tiring and demanding.  Then it was a question of getting through Giselle and they hadn’t even started Nutcracker. It’s literally been taking one step at a time and trying to stay calm. Last night was her first Nutcracker – a bit of a shock!

    Speaking of Dante, Frankie said she was in the original cast of Inferno in Los Angeles in 2019. She was Francesca and Matt her wicked lover and they were endlessly swept up in a whirlwind of lust where they couldn’t touch each other which was their punishment, the wind driving them apart. It was very tiring, but in the pas de deux you’re meant to look exhausted so Frankie could show how she really felt! It’s two years since Wayne choreographed Act I, and Acts II and III were started before lock-down when the Company was also working with Chris Wheeldon on his ‘Like Water for Chocolate’. Wayne’s brain is like a computer and when he’s working there’s always a dramaturg in the room, Usma Hameed, who was with them for Woolf Works,and she told them about their characters, in case they’d not read all the Divine Comedy!Frankie found an audio book which brought it to life and was quite entertaining and dramatic. She listened to it every morning on the way to work and got so involved in it, making strange faces on the street. At the beginning of Part II and III Wayne didn’t explain anything - he is creating and you are the instrument and use brain and body. There are complicated ways to achieve what he wants. He creates so quickly and when he says go from the start you can’t remember how it began. He starts creating material and only later tells you who you are and what you need to portray. Eventually it slots together miraculously just in time for opening night. In classical ballet you recognise steps but Wayne’s are different. Amanda Eyles, the Benesh notator, is incredible. Steps evolve over time and although they are the same they look different after ten rehearsals but she can tell you what they were like from the first time. Jenny Tattersall is learning steps, getting them in her body so she can work on them without Wayne. The music is often recorded and is nothing like the music he will use for the actual work. Sometimes it can be the film music from Batman for example. For Part II they used the Syrian monks’ music which is extraordinary. The music changes the way you do the movement. Part III was a very abstract work, with Wayne creating lots of material so everyone had 20 minutes each and he would then take ten seconds out of it and piece it together mathematically down to the last second. Asked when Dante would appear next, Frankie said it’s not in the schedule but it was very expensive so will surely come back.

    When you get a part like that do you start reading the text straight away?  This time Frankie was behind with her homework, playing catch-up, and didn’t have time to read the Divine Comedy but she did have a good sense of it from listening to the audiobook. With Chris Wheeldon’s Like Water for Chocolatethey started on it a long time ago but most is yet to come so she couldn’t begin to be in the studio unless she understood the character. As they create themes, she needs understand the character to help inform the work. If Chris suggests a move, she feels it’s her responsibility to say the character wouldn’t behave that way. With Juliet there are so many different interpretations, and she accesses as much as possible so she knows where the boundaries are and how much freedom she can have. When did she rehearse Inferno? She’d have liked to split herself in three to be able to rehearse in three places at the same time but had to squeeze it in. Amanda Eyles was reteaching the original cast and teaching a whole new cast while Wayne was creating in another studio. In performance do you ever blank and how do you improvise? Frankie has gone on stage thinking she doesn’t know a role too well but she can only recall a couple of times having a panic moment and wondering what happens next. At that time, you have to switch off and let your body and muscles kick in and it just happens because if you’ve done the steps once you rarely forget as that’s the way their brains work. Frankie panics at the theatre in case actors forget their lines. She recounted one of the only times she fell over on stage was in a Wayne piece when she was running backwards and fell flat with her legs in the air but styled it out. Wayne was watching in the wings and asked if she normally did that bit there as he wasn’t sure if it was his choreography but thought it was part of it!

    David mentioned that from the Slips it wasn’t possible to see Inferno well as it was so dark and side lit. Johanna Adams (Senior Ballet Stage Manager) had said the same from the wings. As a dancer are you aware how dark it is? Absolutely, said, Frankie. With Wayne’s work there’s a special set of lights and it’s as if all the lights in a room are switched on and then a torch shining in your eyes sideways, and, at the same time you’re being asked to do the balancing you’d done in the studio. You feel as if you’re falling and it’s scary when you can’t see how close people are or where the floor is and you feel dizzy and strange. Having done it in LA they knew what to expect so it’s manageable but once they started stage rehearsals in the Opera House it took time for the staff to find the right balance between what looks right and what the dancers feel happy with. Initially she couldn’t see Matt but finally they worked it out. This happens not just in Wayne’s work - .in Swan LakeFrankie found the lighting particularly terrifying again with the feeling of a torch in your eyes and is hoping that might change this time. Also, in Part III, they added dry ice half way through the run without telling the dancers so when Frankie went on stage to do a little duet where she was meant to touch palms with Akane Takada, she couldn’t see, put her hand out and it was Natalia Osipova!

    Romeo and Juliet. It was the first thing she and Cesar did on the Main Stage in 2019. Kevin called her when she was working on Cats and suggested she dance with ‘the new boy’. David asked if it makes a difference dancing with someone when you’re in a relationship. The answer was yes, but people assume because you get on as people it will work as a partnership but for many reasons apart from height you’re not necessarily compatible as dancers though it’s hard to define the reason. When she first danced with Cesar the thing she loved most was his 100% commitment to the character - she likes a spontaneous reaction to what’s happening, a partner who is present and in the moment. She didn’t know him well at that time but the more they have done it becomes more difficult as you understand what they are really thinking when they’re saying something else! They’ve had some ‘moments’ and ‘conversations’ and terrible rehearsals and great rehearsals but it’s lovely to trust someone so much in every aspect of life. They don’t practise at home - they talk about ballet and because they’re not dancing together at the moment it’s nice to come home and share their different experiences. She can’t imagine being with someone who wouldn’t understand the life style of a dancer and everything that goes with it psychologically, mentally and physically. For example, after last night’s Nutcracker when he wasn’t there (she doesn’t like Cesar to watch her dancing), she was able to go home and tell him all about it. He knows that after a show you’re full of adrenalin and she was chatting madly and it’s lovely that he understands how she feels. He performed it on Monday and will again on Thursday so he can do the same afterwards. They never criticise each other’s performance though if either needed advice they might, for example, practise a pas de deux step.

    Sugar Plum. Sometimes it feels as if the whole Company has done so many rehearsals and performances and as a principal it’s as if you’re dropped into the middle of it from a spaceship. The others have all done Act I and are quite relaxed while you are the new people who everyone is watching which can give you quite a strange feeling in the opening section. It took time to ease into the stage and they’d not had time to rehearse with the group though during a matinee she had watched from the wings a bit of the interaction with Drosselmeyer where she welcomes him to her kingdom (which Frankie’s never been in). She did ease into it as the show went on but however much rehearsal you do nothing really prepares you for a performance. Sometimes with Nutcrackeryou get so tired you feel you are swimming under water and everything’s a hazy blur. She had all those feelings last night but the thing that makes it worthwhile and keeps her going is the music because you have all the feelings you want as a ballerina and it’s worth all the hard work. Frankie admitted to usually being late, so has a schedule on stage day and started her hair and make-up at 6.30 and was ready when the show began at 7.30, during Act I she put on pointe shoes and tutu and did her warm-up in the studio to be ready for Act II. This contrasts with Anna Rose O’Sullivan, our recent guest, who gets ready and watches Act I from the wings.

    Giselle. Frankie first did it two or three years ago and danced with Alexander Campbell for her debut though it should have been Marcelino Sambé who was badly injured. The highlight was a rehearsal of the mad scene with Peter Wright and she cherishes that memory. They were only meant to have one performance and that changes the feeling of the show. You want it to go so well and be proud of it as a whole. In the end at the last minute they also did the General which was lovely as it felt as if they had two performances. Looking back Frankie has great memories of the whole experience. Sometimes you see other ballerinas who have done a ballet for years and wonder how you can match that but you do a performance and think back and feel proud. It may not be perfect but, having really enjoyed the process with the coach and partner and what she’s brought to the role with no disasters on stage, it all feels right. Frankie couldn’t recall who she first saw dance Giselle but remembered a long time ago before she ever performed the role she was meant to do a gala with Herman Cornejo now with ABT. He asked if she would do Act II pas de deux for a gala in Germany and he came over and they worked on it together. Alessandra Ferri coached her at that time and she told Frankie that in that moment you are saying a prayer for him and Frankie loves that thought and keeps it with her now. Peter Wright always wants you to really be the character. For her debut of Sugar Plum Fairy he got up and demonstrated parts of it and he wasSugar Plum as he believed in it so much. He wants your Giselle to be a real peasant girl, her spirit and soul, and he talked through all the thoughts you’d have at the time, according to the actions.

    What’s coming up? She’ll enjoy Christmas having got through her Nutcrackers before the holiday so can enjoy the mince-pies without worrying that Sugar Plum is just around the corner! For years Frankie always had her debuts on the Christmas Eve matinee which meant her grandma had to change her plans of preparing the family dinner. She’ll not be in the next run of Romeo and Juliet so it’ll be straight into the marathon of Swan Lake. Last time she had one stage rehearsal which was disastrous because of the lighting, so Kevin squeezed in another for her as she was panicking. In a way she was relieved when she didn’t have to perform as she wasn’t really ready for it. Now she will be extra prepared with a new partner, William Bracewell. Then there’s a triple bill in which she’ll dance Rhapsody and then it’s Like Water for Chocolate in which she is Tita, the main role. The next part of her home work is to watch the film and re-read the book before Chris comes back.

    Modelling. Frankie said she’s always loved fashion. Now she is invited to photo shoots, mostly editorials which are unpaid but gives you the chance to meet photographers and stylists. She doesn’t really want to be in the fashion world but loves to be an observer hovering on the edge and getting an insider’s view, also working with brands and gaining an inside view on that. It’s quite refreshing to do something different. They are amazed at how patient and disciplined dancers are and how they all turn up completely prepared which comes from their ballet training.

    Andrew Lloyd Webber hadn’t made his comments on the film of Cats last time Frankie came to talk to us. She said they worked so hard on it and whatever anyone else thought Frankie has had so many positive comments from families and little girls who write and say they dress up as the White Cat and dance which is a positive thing. It was a massive journey and the bond you make with those you work with is amazing. Recently she met again Robbie Fairchild, en route to Australia, and a few of the other cast members who are working in different areas so Frankie loves to hear what they have been up to as well as coming back to shared memories. She has no more films on the horizon at present.

    Beginning of 2019/20 season. Her first performances were Manon. She has danced with Ed Watson, Federico Bonelli and Alex in that role. She was feeling so much gratitude that that was the role she knew the best of her rep though it’s a role normally for older ballerinas but she did it ‘out of order’ as Juliet came after Manon. When you do something for the first time your approach is one way and the second time can seem harder as you want it to match up to the first while bringing something more to it, and when you come back to it a third time with confidence, in a good way, you find different areas which make it fresher. Does the interpretation vary according to your partner?  Yes. Frankie said she loves dancing with Alex. Everyone has different chemistry together and you’re also reacting with all the other characters who play a part in how you are going to respond. She was very happy with the cast as everyone knew their characters enough to be very in the moment. How knowing is Frankie’s Manon? She’s quite knowing. With Juliet it’s harder to find the right level of naivety as she is young with a fresh teenage quality but has to be intelligent. With all these characters on paper they can look quite stupid so she likes to give them more backbone and intelligence to make their actions more realistic. Is it easier to do the MacMillan acting roles rather than some of the classics? One thing that made her most nervous was the fourth movement of Symphony in Cwhich was just Frankie doing some ballet. With a character you’re thinking of their thoughts and not just doing a pirouette.  Aurora is the hardest to make intelligent, especially in the awakening scene when you wake up, see someone and you say OK when your parents say you’re getting married to him! Last time with Sleeping Beauty she tried to think of her as a character and the same with the Sugar Plum Fairy. Before summer break last year when they were doing rehearsals for Sleeping Beauty Act III Lesley suggested as an experiment she use a practice skirt for Aurora, as for Juliet or Manon, rather than a tutu which can make you feel more exposed and tense. Frankie thought it worked as wearing a skirt made her feel more relaxed.

    She doesn’t remember much about the Cunningham programme in the Linbury but next was Concerto/Enigma. Frankie did the first movement of Concerto and was quite nervous as stamina-wise it’s incredibly difficult and you know your lungs will hurt at the end so it feels as if you’re being thrown to your death! You’re in position as the curtain goes up and start to doubt you know the steps. She and Cesar had a few rehearsals but switched off and let instinct kick in. She was trying to do the steps just behind Cesar to check they were right and afterwards he said he was trying to do the same thing! Luckily they got through it without any mistakes. Frankie was Dorabella in Enigma., a lovely sweet ballet, Ashton at its best, wearing a full fringe, which made her look like her Aunty Frances.  Reverting to Sleeping BeautyFrankie said with a complete performance it is tough yet almost like a rest and you can be calm and although your legs are tired you know you’ll get through it. When you come at it fresh the energy is different and it can feel a bit daunting and still difficult to get through.

    Coppelia.  Frankie was in bed with a kidney infection and unable to move two weeks before but was determined not to miss her first opening night. The doctor said she should rest but she watched the DVD in bed to understand the steps, and when she turned up Lesley got her through it as usual. In those situations, her family and Lesley know the back story and are more nervous and help take the stress off her. Frankie feels incredibly lucky to have Lesley as her coach. Last night when she wished her good luck before Sugar Plum, Frankie recalled Lesley being the reason she started dancing and was the first Sugar Plum she ever saw on video so it felt a lovely moment and was quite emotional. She is so supportive and it is very special when you find the right coach and they are the most important person in your career. Everyone likes a different approach. Lesley works on technical details but she and Frankie are similar dancers and are led by the music, don’t like counts unless really necessary, and she doesn’t want to be overwhelmed by different thoughts on one step. She’s very patient and if Frankie can’t do something they experiment with different thoughts until they find the one that fits. She remembered for her debut in Sleeping Beauty she had a virus and felt really ill during the show but Lesley was in the wings, and every time Frankie left the stage she took her hand, led her to her next entrance and gently pushed her on. In the interval she comes back and lifts you up, puts your mind at ease and gives you courage to get back out there and give your best and she’s always there at the end of the show. She’s her Fairy Godmother!  She’s not sure how they started working together - probably on something like Rhapsody.She’s also working with Ed on Manon – and it seemed right that they would work together on the ballets where they could.  She’s also now being coached by Ed and last night he was in the wings, Lesley out front and Alex by her side.

    Lesley and Jonnie Cope used to coach as a team. Frankie said he is very much missed. She remembered her first Romeo and Juliet partnered with Matthew Golding and she was learning the bedroom pas de deux which you don’t usually see as a student as they normally concentrate on the balcony pas de deux. She came into the studio without a clue and was waiting to be taught the steps. Jonnie, who is a most incredible partner, held her arms out, her leg would go into the right position, he put her over his shoulder and made another position and they somehow achieved the whole thing without her knowing a step. David mentioned a great visit to the school when Jay Jolley and Jonnie were coaching students in Act II Swan Lake and Jonnie was Odette to Jay’s Siegfried.

    Coppelia. It was a whirlwind experience trying to learn it in time. In Act III you can’t see when you come through the door of the church and have to listen and she relies on Alex to tell her when to go on. As a character it’s great fun, and feels free, but she tries not to play it the same twice. Finding the right level is important as she isn’t really a peasant, but somewhere in between, and more than anything you have to show what relationship she has with the young man. Their relationship is a bit similar to that of Lise and Colas - best friends as well as boy- friend and girl-friend. The steps are demanding, with a lot of jumping in the first act, particularly if the conductor is taking it quickly. The Scottish dance is so fast that you have to go onto auto pilot. She had a great time on stage with her friends in the role of friends, her best friends Hannah and Sophie are always nearby. She does ask them to come up and talk to her at any time because they won’t ruin the moment. It’s important because as a principal you don’t rehearse with everyone else and you don’t want to look as if you’ve never seen them before, the same with the peasants in Giselle when she wants to feel they see each other every day.

    Onegin. She was busy doing something else and had to come in at the last minute and learn it with Matt Ball. Reid Anderson worked with them and she loves being on stage with Natalia and has so much admiration for her acting and commitment in every moment of the ballet. In Month in the Country Frankie was Vera to her Natalia Petrovna and when she has a tantrum and cries into her lap, Natalia was wonderful and picked up her face and whispered to her in Russian. You can tell the story with her and don’t feel you need to hold back. She was injured for the second show and Marianela Nunez stepped in, but the wonderful thing was Frankie got to dance with Roberto Bolle. She also danced with Reece Clark who is 6’ 5” to her 5’ 2” and your jumping with arms behind your back and they got the giggles the whole way through.

    Dances at a Gathering. She’s done it twice. A lovely non-narrative, narrative ballet and the music gets you through it but the overriding thing is they just love to dance with friends. It was ironic that it was the last show they did before lock-down and weirdly they all took a selfie with Kevin as it was a sad reminder of the last time they were all together.

    Lock-down came a week before what should have been her debut in Swan Lakeso she was in her pyjamas when she should have been doing fouettés! While acknowledging the seriousness of the situation, Frankie loved the time of lock-down on a selfish level which enabled her to embrace being a normal person and not feel guilty about it. Normally you feel you are never doing enough but she could sit and watch TV and eat. There’d be a week’s notice before going back to the studio so she really enjoyed it. They started with Zoom classes, but her place was too small for both she and Cesar to do grands battements, besides having a wonky floor, which wasn’t good as they didn’t want to be lop-sided from training badly.  Frankie said she’s an all or nothing person and felt deflated being ‘in-between’ after weeks of logging onto Zoom. It meant she watched more ballet, as normally you don’t have a lot of time and look for something different. It was like going back to the mindset of being a student when you haven’t tasted what it’s like to perform. Lockdown came and went and came back. After the first lockdown there was one show which was live streamed and Kevin asked her and Cesar to do Morgen,Wayne’s piece, for which they only had a few days’ notice. They were thrilled to be back in the Opera House and they fitted the criteria in that they didn’t need to come on the tube as they live close by and were a bubble. There was no audience and hardly anyone on stage because of the rules. But to look out at the empty auditorium and have the singer singing with them to that wonderful music was very emotional.  After that they did bits of things and she especially enjoyed the Crystal Pite, for whom she has a lot of admiration, even if she was only on |Zoom but you miss telling a story from start to finish and although it’s better than nothing, it’s quite difficult to turn up for the short bits and get the same sense of satisfaction. Solo Echo is coming back though Frankie isn’t involved because of Swan Lake - it’s hard to do something which is so demanding on your body in such a different way. When they began rehearsing for Crystal Pite they wore socks and knee pads every day, and their warm-up was running from side to side across the studio and sliding and improvising for 20 minutes. It’s something you need to commit to 100%.  The last time, Frankie was doing Golden Hour in the same bill which was hard so this time other people can have their moment to experience it.

    She joined the Company in the 2010/2011 season, and Frankie said the last time she’d been in this room was for her graduation ceremony. She got a job before Christmas in her graduate year. She’d done angels in Nutcracker in her first year and snowflakes in her second year. She was with the company more than at school in her second year and particularly in the third year when she was replacing Lizzie Harrod who had a terrible back injury for most of her rep. She remembered doing her French ‘A’ level classes and during class someone would knock on the door and say the whole company is waiting for you to do Symphony in C. She’d never learned it but they’d say OK, grab a tutu! Aged 17 preparing to do the second movement with the six small girls in white tutus, the Ashton Studio was packed and everyone was waiting for her as someone just got injured and everyone was watching her put on her pointe shoes. She’d never been taught the steps but had skimmed through the video the day before and she was told to copy the girl opposite! At the end Pat Neary, who is famously very scary, said ‘not bad, not bad’ and the whole room started cheering. When she should have been doing her French ‘A’ level exam she was on tour with the Royal Ballet in Japan. They couldn’t find someone to adjudicate so they estimated her grade from her course work which helped. Yasmine Naghdi, who’s half Belgian and used to speaking French, and Giacomo, now with Stuttgart Ballet, who’s Italian were the other two in her class Giacomo said out of all their practice papers it was the hardest one they’d done, and he got a ‘B’ and Frankie got ‘A’!

    Challenges of filming Romeo and Juliet. They went to Budapest and should have had two or three weeks but because of budget constraints shot it in one week. It had to be the most organised procedure, with Billy Trevitt and Michael Nunn, the directors, coming over. There were different rooms in which the story played out so they had done the measurements beforehand, and mapped it out with tape here, because for example the door was in a different place from normal and the parents entered from a different place, so they were able to rehearse it here and just had to tweak when they got there. They had to make things look more realistic as the filming was so much closer. There were challenges with the music - how do you run across a massive room and up the stairs which aren’t normally there? Then there were more practical things: one floor was like an ice rink and you couldn’t even walk on it safely but if you pour Coke on the floor it becomes sticky so many cans of Coca Cola were poured on the floor. They had to be so lucky with the weather. The film crew, who were Hungarian, included a weather man who would say stop when the clouds would come over and the sun go in, then he’d say ‘one minute’ and the clouds would move and filming would start again. What Frankie loved about the experience was having all the different rooms which made the story come more alive and it was very emotional, particularly in the crypt, as they all had a place in the story. Michael and Billy encouraged them to make a noise as it made it more realistic and particularly in the scene of Tybalt’s death they had the rain machine on and didn’t tell the costume department that they’d all get wet, and encouraged everyone to scream and make noise and it was a real, raw and emotional moment. She was watching on the side as she and Will were going to do the balcony scene afterwards and standing near the girls who were in hysterical floods of tears and listening to the noise of with Kristen McNally wailing, an Oscar-worthy performance, was a raw, real moment. Frankie and Will had to carry on filming but everyone said the atmosphere on the coach afterwards was very strange as the process had completely drained them. Frankie had great respect for Will who had to snap out of that and go straight into the balcony pas de deux and he worked very hard to pull himself out of that dark place.

    In Swan Lake how do you transition from white to black swan? Frankie approaches it as two different people. Her favourite moment in the black swan pas de deux is when she sees the vision of the white swan at the window and she bourées in the corner and for Frankie she’s aiming to play it without thinking of the white swan, but at that moment of magic she can really be the white swan and deceive him and then go back to being wicked. It’s that flash of recognition as the white swan before returning to being a minx.

    Judi Dench had played Juliet but Frankie didn’t chat with her about it during Cats but did with Ian McKellan as he had performed a lot as Romeo. He said that after MacMillan’s ballet was seen it changed the way actors played the final scene when Romeo wakes up and that was pinched from MacMillan.

    Nutcracker. How much of the ballet is in your body when you revisit it?  You have watched it a lot with other people so you know the majority of it and when there are moments of doubt those are more about the little details. The steps match the music amazingly and with Romeo and Juliet Frankie can’t watch another’s choreography because she can’t imagine the music used in any other way than with MacMillan’s choreography. Music and movement go together, and she’d never forget those steps. Now being coached with Ed they are trying little things differently but the essence is still the same.

    David said it was always a pleasure to talk to Frankie and have her at our events, and thanked her for giving us a great evening and for her support of the Ballet Association.

    Report written by Liz Bouttell and edited by Francesca Hayward and David Bain.

    © The Ballet Association 2021