29 January 2020 08:57

Francesca Hayward: how RAD exams & the Fonteyn helped prepare her for Cats

We were given the opportunity to speak to Francesca Hayward, the star of Tom Hooper’s new movie, Cats, and Genée alumna. Hayward is also a Principal dancer at The Royal Ballet, and one of the leading dancers performing today.

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Hayward plays Victoria in the film – a role that has been expanded upon from the original musical, including a brand new song called ‘Beautiful Ghosts’ penned by Lloyd Webber and Taylor Swift that has recently been nominated for the Best Original Song Golden Globe.

Hayward considers herself very lucky to have been give this role, saying that she’s been “really fortunate to give Victoria more depth and character” in a production that she used to watch on video as a little girl and danced along to.

“Victoria already has an iconic dance solo so we recreated that. We also learnt a lot of other numbers and group numbers with the rest of the cast; I even had to do some tap dancing at one point.”

“It was actually amazing set to be one because there were so many dancers from different backgrounds of dance. We were always sharing with each other and learning from one another – it was pretty special.”

This role brought many new experiences for Hayward – not least doing one on one scenes with Dame Judi Dench in a cast that also includes Idris Elba, Jason Derulo, Sir Ian McKellen, James Corden, Rebel Wilson, Taylor Swift, and Jennifer Hudson in the role of Grizabella. Mostly, though, the rehearsal process of making a film was very different to the process she was used to.

“Doing one scene over and over again for a long amount of time – that’s something in the dance world that we’re not used to. Usually, in rehearsal we have less time and it all builds up to these crucial three hours where you can only do it once on stage. It was quite nice for it to not have to be perfect. I could change my mind sometimes and take a different direction sometimes.”

Hayward enjoyed this change of pace, but noted that while performing on stage as a ballet dancer meant that the performance was entirely in one’s own hands, that wasn’t the case with the medium of cinema.

“You leave the trust up to editors and directors as to how they wanted to create it in the final edit. It’s performing but leaving it out of your hands,” says Hayward, who seems to have taken this potentially daunting change in her stride. She credits her ballet training as an essential part of being able to handle these situations.

“You don’t realise how much ballet training prepares you for so many things and I’m very thankful,” she says. “Ballet training has been essential for this part.”

And the RAD was a big part of that ballet training.

“I remember doing my RAD exams. I took my last ones just before the Genée competition,” says Hayward. Hayward competed in the Genée (now renamed the Fonteyn) in 2010 and was awarded a silver medal and the Audience Choice Award.

“Doing the Genée was an invaluable experience – being on stage under pressure, but in a good way, and having to perform in front of an audience. It’s all made up as part of my training and it definitely has helped me to deal with the pressures of my job today.”

Ahead of the film’s 20 December release, we asked Hayward what she hopes “Cats” can do for dance and those interested in dance:

“’Cats’ inspired me when I was younger and I hope it inspires so many people to dance. Dance is so important to Cats as a musical, so I’m excited that it’s going to be bringing dance and ballet to a bigger audience. Dance is for everyone so if you want to give it a go – don’t hesitate, don’t have any regrets, just go for it.”