Travelling across the stage in devilish Ashton combinations, Francesca Hayward is fast and fleet, her dainty lines bending with expressive ease. As Vera in A Month in the Country last fall, she held her own opposite Natalia Osipova with rare self-possession, reveling in the minute musicality of the choreography. Since joining The Royal Ballet in 2011, the young soloist has asserted her presence, and is making history as the first ballerina of African descent on the fast track to leading classical roles in London.
Company: The Royal Ballet
Hometown: Nairobi, Kenya
Training: Le Serve School of Ballet and Theatre Dance, The Royal Ballet School
Accolades: 2010 Young British Dancer of the Year, 2010 Genée International Ballet Competition silver medal and audience choice award
Breakout moment: When Hayward was cast in the title role of MacMillan's Manon last year, she instantly went from anonymity to the status of British ballerina in the making. In her first full-length ballet, she earned praise for her effortlessly believable portrayal and poise.
Biggest challenge: Last season she danced Sir Frederick Ashton's Rhapsody, a daunting technical obstacle course. Her single performance convinced director Kevin O'Hare she deserved a promotion to soloist. “I feel like I achieved something massive with that ballet," Hayward says. “I thought that if I could do this, I could do anything."
Keeping to style: Hayward is one of a handful of dancers equally at home in Ashton and MacMillan works. As a dancer trained at The Royal Ballet School from the age of 10, she is proud to uphold the English style. “To me, it is very sacred work."
What Kevin O'Hare is saying: “She has that rare mixture of lovely technique and musicality, and when somebody really dances with the music, you can see it. I've had my eye on her since I took over in 2012. She has everything in place to succeed."
What she's working on: At 5' 2'', Hayward is constantly working to dance big and project long lines. “I'm a tiny dancer, but I don't want to dance small. To me it's a huge compliment when people see me offstage and are surprised to find out I'm smaller than they thought."
Photo: Hayward as Clara in The Nutcracker; Tristram Kenton, Courtesy ROH