People

Interview with James Hay

Don’t tell me I have done a good job

The First Soloist at the Royal Ballet prefers to know if he has danced well himself rather than to hear somebody else telling him so. Yet he is well-mannered, amiable and he likes to laugh. ALESSANDRO BIZZOTTO met him and talked with him about self-confidence, new roles and artistry, and found out why today he cares more about pushing the level of his ability.

The corridors of the Royal Opera House are flooded with light. I’ve always found this theatre one of the most luminous ones among the big international opera houses. I continue to think so as James Hay leads me through stairs and hallways on a rainy London morning.

Born in Berkshire, Hay joined the Royal Ballet nearly ten years ago and got promoted to First Soloist in 2015.

„I have more than one hour“ he tells me as we sit on a sofa under what seems like a white neon light. „I have a rehearsal just after 11:00“.

The Royal Ballet production of Mayerling, choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan (1929-1992), to music by Franz Liszt (1811-1886), Credit: Johan Persson / Royal Opera House / ArenaPAL

A recipient of the Young British Dancer of the Year Award and of the Lynn Seymour Award for expressive dance before his graduation, James Hay looks very relaxed and willing to talk about himself. There is no history of ballet in his family, he tells me, and he had not been exposed to dance prior to his first lesson.

Let’s talk about the very first time you entered a studio to take a ballet lesson.

To be honest I can’t really remember. I was about four years old, it was a very long time ago. My sister was originally attending a ballet school and, according to what I’ve been told by my first ballet teacher, I apparently wanted to join in. The teacher was quite worried about having a boy in class, as she had never had one before, and she was a little bit nervous about that… but my mother convinced her and she accepted. „Let’s see how it goes with one lesson“ she said. She kept an eye on me just in case I was a bit naughty, but after the first lesson she was quite surprised. „Wow!“ I was told she said, „this boy has to dance! We haven’t seen anybody in the school like him before“. That’s the way I started, and I am very grateful to her for not saying „No“ to me and my mother that day.

James Hay in ‚The Winter’s Tale‘ with Francesca Hayward © Bill Cooper

When did you start taking professional ballet classes?

At about seven. My teacher advised my mother to bring me to a professional ballet school, if I wanted to do ballet as a career, and she said the best thing for me would be to join the Royal Ballet School. The School has a Junior Associate programme starting at age seven – boys and girls can take classes with The Royal Ballet School …

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