Yasmine Naghdi on starring in ‘Swan Lake’

We go behind the scenes with the Royal Ballet’s new principal

Yasmine Naghdi as Giselle, 2018. Photograph: Helen Maybanks/courtesy of the Royal Opera House 

The Royal Ballet is ringing the changes with a brand new production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake – the first in 30 years. Choreographer Liam Scarlett’s naturalistic approach is fully in tune with the 21st century, evoking a renewed realism with pared-down sets designed by John Macfarlane.

The performance opens with Odette, a princess who is transformed into the Swan Queen by the evil sorcerer Von Rothbart. She is destined to be a swan forever until Prince Siegfried enters her life and the two fall helplessly in love, with unforeseen consequences.

For the audience, it is everything that Swan Lake should be and more, from the all-encompassing moonlit scenes set in nature or the palace to the exquisite detail of the costumes, not to mention the exuberance of the performers, who push themselves to the limit with athletic skill and precision. This production is strikingly tight, with neither a scene nor a move wasted, and succeeds in immersing the audience in a hidden, magical world. Swan Lake is a tale of enchantments, nature and – like a certain wedding – love.

Here, the Royal Ballet’s new principal Yasmine Naghdi talks to T&C about working with Scarlett and taking on the role of a lifetime as Odette/Odile…

Yasmine Naghdi. Photograph: Helen Maybanks/courtesy of the ROH

You’re a London girl, promoted at the end of last season to principal, about to make your debut as Odette/Odile in Covent Garden. Does it get any better?  

Indeed, it all sounds picture-perfect but many years of hard work have gone into becoming principal . You don’t get there without putting in a lot of hard work and immense concentrated efforts; talent on its own is not enough. Odette/Odile is a role I have dreamed of since my childhood and I am very much looking forward to dancing it on the Covent Garden stage this month. To be involved in the re-staging of this iconic 19th-century classical ballet is a great honour and I will always cherish it.

Has your preparation differed in any particular way?

Preparing to dance a title role in a ballet varies on each occasion, depending on the coaches and the available studio and stage rehearsal time. In this case, there are six casts and I will be the only one making my debut. Since this is a new production, the demands seem greater: there is never enough available rehearsal time so, besides practising with my wonderful coach Olga Evreinoff, I have worked a lot in the ballet studio with my dance partner and on my own using the visualisation technique.

What can we expect from this production?

In addition to the new stunning set designs, the corps de ballet dancers will wear tutus instead of the long dresses worn in the previous production. Some of the group dances have also been re-choreographed.

Artists of the Royal Ballet in ‘Swan Lake’. Photograph: Bill Cooper/courtesy of the ROH

What are the challenges of the role?

Swan Lake is a long ballet lasting about three hours, with two intervals, and there are many challenges to dancing Odette/Odile. Playing both characters requires you to convey the essence of Odette (she is noble, pure and innocent) and Odile (she is evil, fearless and deceitful). Not only is it a highly technical role but it also demands great stamina. Towards the end of Act 3, when you get to the point of exhaustion, Odile has to perform 32 fouettes – not an easy feat.

What was it like working with Liam Scarlett?

It is very special indeed to work with Liam, the more so since we have the same training background at the Royal Ballet School. In 2010, having just joined the Company, I danced in his beautiful Asphodel Meadows, his first creation for The Royal Ballet. I also danced Justine in his Frankenstein.

How important is your rapport with the male lead?

It goes without saying that chemistry with my onstage partner is always very important. I will be dancing with Nehemiah Kish, an American dancer and principal at the Royal Ballet. It is the first time we are dancing together; he is a very caring and patient partner and it has been a pleasure to work with him so far. 

If you could go back in time, which production of Swan Lake would you like to have seen?

I would love to have seen the production staged by Konstantin Sergeyev for The Mariinsky Ballet with Ulyana Lopatkina dancing Odette/Odile, as well as seeing Svetlana Zakharova’s Odette/Odile.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

Towards the end of July I’ll be dancing in Lagrasse in the south of France. I will be flying twice to Japan, once to teach in Tokyo for a week, and by the end of August I will return to Tokyo to perform there. As soon as our season starts again in October, I’ll be preparing to dance my debut as Gamzatti in Natalia Makarova’s production of La Bayadère. This stunning 19th-century classical ballet brings the mysterious world of exotic Indian temple dancers and noble warriors to life.

Swan Lake is at the Royal Opera House from 17 May to 21 June, with Yasmine Naghdi performing on 28 May and 6 and 11 June. 

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