Francesca Hayward groans as she climbs the stairs, half hidden behind the black net tutu she is carrying. She’s tired after a morning’s rehearsal, and her legs are grumbling about the vertiginous climb to the room at the top of the Royal Opera House where we are meeting. If it seems strange that a ballerina should struggle with a staircase, that’s an indication of just how hard she is currently pushing herself. Hayward is a dancer who has reached the top and is determined to explore every view it offers.

She is already familiar to dance lovers as a principal of the Royal Ballet, who this season has been the most devastating Manon since Sylvie Guillem, and a heart-rending Juliet. She has brought poise and radiance to Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty and is about to star as the mischievous heroine in Coppélia, the part that is causing her such aches and pains to learn. “It’s relentless, stepwise,” she says. “She never stops jumping around with all her friends. I want to say, ‘Why don’t you have a rest? Stop showing off!’”

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