Royal Ballet dancers Yasmine Naghdi and Beatriz Stix-Brunell recently got together for a different kind of performance: no decadent costumes, sets, stage makeup or lighting. Instead, the principal and first soloist danced choreography by principal character artist Kristen McNally in a stark studio.
The movement is crystal clear, and at the beginning, Naghdi and Stix-Brunell duck and weave around each other with near vacant stares. Do they even know they have a partner? And how should they interact? The situation raises a much larger question: How often do we see a female duet in ballet?
Last fall, Yasmine Naghdi's debut as Juliet was an instant sensation in London. Hers was a raw, touchingly youthful account of the role. With effortless technique and musicality, she allowed Kenneth MacMillan's steps to sing. Of Persian and Belgian descent, the British first soloist, who joined The Royal Ballet in 2010, is now establishing herself as a lyrical ballerina to be reckoned with, and a proud representative of the British school.
Company: The Royal Ballet
Hometown: London, England
Training: The Royal Ballet School (White Lodge and Upper School)
Accolades: 2009 Young British Dancer of the Year
Breakout moment: Naghdi's first principal role was Olga, Tatiana's carefree sister, in John Cranko's Onegin in 2013. When she reprised it in 2015 with Natalia Osipova as Tatiana, director Kevin O'Hare noticed how much she'd grown, and deemed her ready to dance Juliet. “She really brought Olga to life," he says. “It's easy to get lost alongside Tatiana, but they were equals."
MacMillan heroine: With Matthew Ball, another young British talent, as her Romeo, Naghdi proved a natural as Juliet. “We were both starting from scratch, and I think that helped our bond," says Naghdi. “I like to think of acting more as being, because if you force it, the audience can see that. With Juliet, I felt like I was living onstage as her."
Generation change: Along with Ball, Francesca Hayward and a few others, Naghdi is part of an outstanding UK–trained generation that is challenging the notion that British dancers are too timid. Onstage, she draws the eye with her calm self-possession. “We're quiet fighters—not brash, but quietly working on what we need to do, and then when it's time, really showing what we can do," Naghdi says.
Queen of the Brits: In addition to the MacMillan and Frederick Ashton repertoire, Naghdi is thriving in works by The Royal Ballet's trio of in-house choreographers: Wayne McGregor, Christopher Wheeldon and Liam Scarlett. “To work with these three face-to-face, you feel like you're making history."
What she's working on: “I'm more of an adagio dancer, so I've had to work on my petite batterie."
What Kevin O'Hare is saying: “She is nicely ambitious—she knows what she wants, and she's a sponge in the studio. She's not going to waste an opportunity."
A trained ear: Naghdi also sings, plays the piano and composes her own music. “It helps with breathing, musicality and to understand musical scores and phrasing. I don't like to count—if there is an opportunity to just trust the music, I will."