There’s a lot to take in from the Cats movie trailer, which was released on Thursday evening. But amidst the Taylor Swift moment, potentially creepy CGI cat faces, and cat-level notes that Jennifer Hudson hits, it’s hard to miss Francesca Hayward, the ballet dancer who plays Victoria the White Cat. Hayward has some of the few speaking lines in the trailer, but in the musical, Victoria is mainly a dance role, which is fitting given her background. So, who is this newcomer pas de chat-ing across the screen?
Outside of the Jellicle world, Hayward is a big deal in dance. (She’s what Who Weekly fans would classify as a ballet "them" and a Hollywood "who.") She trained at the prestigious Royal Ballet School in London from a young age, and was invited to join the company in 2010. Now, she's a a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet, which is the highest rank in the company.
Hayward was born in Kenya near Nairobi, and is mixed-race; her father is British and her mom is Kenyan. As the first mixed-race dancer to be promoted to principal with the Royal Ballet, she's often been compared to Misty Copeland, the first Black woman to be promoted to principal with American Ballet Theatre, the premiere ballet company in the United States. "It's only when people ask me what it's like to be a mixed-race dancer that I realize that I am," she told Pointe Magazine in 2016. "I've never been made to feel different, or like I shouldn't be doing it."
Although Cats is her first foray into acting, Hayward has spoken about her love of drama and expressing herself in story ballets. "I imagine myself as the character, and I can always tell when I'm not quite there yet," Hayward told Pointe Magazine in 2016. "It's like painting something: You have to layer it up, to build it. If it doesn't feel natural to me, there's nothing worse." It’s clear from the trailer that here feline movements come very naturally.
Say what you will about the plot of Cats or the look of the movie, but it's refreshing to see ballet dancers represented on screen. Hayward isn't the only A-list dancer involved in the production; it's choreographed by Tony award-winning choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, and also features Robbie Fairchild, former New York City Ballet principal, who plays Munkustrap.
Cats premieres in December. So, if you're not down with the creepy cat-humans in the Heaviside Layer, you can always go see The Nutcracker to catch some more human dance.