It's the casting news we didn't know we needed until we heard it. Ever since it was announced that Wayne McGregor would be choreographing the new film adaptation of CATS, we've been anxiously waiting to hear whether any recognizable names from the dance world would be joining the A-list cast (which, in case you missed it, already includes Jennifer Hudson, Sir Ian McKellan, Taylor Swift and James Corden). But never in our wildest dreams did we think that a Royal Ballet principal would be the first dancer to sign on.
Francesca Hayward, the petite, passionate English ballerina who was promoted to principal in 2016, will be taking on an unspecified lead role, though speculation is already swirling that she'll be portraying Victoria. Excuse us while we happy dance our way to the Jellicle Ball, because we cannot think of a more perfect piece of casting.
In her fast-tracked career at The Royal Ballet, Hayward has showcased sterling technique alongside a keen instinct for embodying characters, as at home in the disparate styles of Sirs Frederick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan as she is in works by McGregor (The Royal's resident choreographer). And while we don't yet know what McGregor is doing with the choreography, Gillian Lynne's iconic original material for Victoria, aka the white cat, is all about ballet.
Of course, Hayward wouldn't be the first ballerina from a major company to tackle the role in recent years: New York City Ballet soloist Georgina Pazcoguin took a leave of absence to play Victoria in the Andy Blankenbuehler–choreographed Broadway revival in 2016.
NYCB's Georgina Pazcoguin portrayed Victoria in the 2016 Broadway revival—could this be Hayward's role? Photo by Matthew Murphy, Courtesy CATS on Broadway
Unfortunately, this does mean that Hayward will be missing parts of The Royal Ballet's fall and winter seasons for filming, which begins this month. But London's temporary loss is most definitely our gain. We do have to wonder whether any other Royal Ballet dancers might get tapped by McGregor to appear in the ensemble. (Can we petition for an Edward Watson cameo?)
Regardless, we can't wait to see Hayward slay on screen. December 2019 can't come fast enough.
UPDATE: The Royal Ballet amended their announcement on Nov. 8 to share the news that fellow principal Steven McRae would be joining Hayward in CATS. He will also be taking a brief leave of absence from the company for filming and is expected to return for spring performances of Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet.
Deadline is reporting that McRae will be playing Skimbleshanks, though neither he, nor any other official source, have confirmed. Let the speculation commence!
UPDATE: Gramilano is now reporting that Royal Ballet soloist Olivia Cowley (and total fashionista) will also be joining her colleagues on set. The Royal Ballet has since confirmed that she will appear in an as yet unspecified role.