Yasmine Naghdi was born on 25 March 1992 in London.
Everyone I meet says, ‘Where are you from?’, and I say, ‘I’m from London’, and they say, ‘No, where are you really from?’.
Well, she has an exotic name and a somewhat exotic look but, although she also has an exciting mix of blood running through her veins, she is a true Londoner.
I was born in London and have lived here all my life, so I really consider myself British.
In fact, Yasmine is one of the new Great British Hopes at the Royal Ballet. She came up through the Royal Ballet School and last year became a soloist with the company. For several years, Principal dancers from outside the UK have dominated the billing, with Latin countries especially well represented (Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Italy and Cuba) as well as a smattering of American, Australian, Russian, Danish and Rumanian talent on the Company roster. There have been the Leannes and Deborahs and Darceys, but recently Ed Watson and Lauren Cuthbertson must have been feeling quite lonely up there. Although Xander Parish was one who got away (pre-O’Hare days), a year ago, Judith Mackrell in The Guardian wrote an article entitled Francesca Hayward: the next great British ballerina? (and Gramilano featured Francesca here), and now there are two other young Brits being tipped for the top: Yasmine, who will make her début as Juliet on 3 October, and her partner for that performance, 21-year-old Matthew Ball.
When I interviewed Royal Ballet Director Kevin O’Hare a couple of weeks’ ago, he commented,
It does seem to come in waves, but the school really has been producing some great talent and, since I’ve been Director, I’ve had a hard time NOT taking people on.
Yasmine’s family didn’t boast any dancers, unlike that of her current Romeo:
My dad is the Managing Director of an eco-engineering company manufacturing electric cars and he likes to think he’ll save our planet from further pollution one day! Mum is an Art Historian. She has a PhD in Art History and Ancient Civilisations, and also studied Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology. For many years she worked at Sotheby’s here in London as an art expert and auctioneer.
However, like many families who want to restore peace and quiet at home, they took their hyperactive child somewhere to let off steam.
I started out with gymnastics, which I enjoyed for a while, but then I got a little bit bored. I had some friends who took ballet class so my parents thought that maybe that could be the answer, and as soon as I started, I never looked back.
There is, however, a remote family link with ballet, and a fascinating one too, which Yasmine discovered just recently.
There were two sisters who were both Grand Sujet at the Paris Opera during the time when Carlotta Zambelli and Olga Spessivtseva were étoiles. I have family photos of both of them and, funnily, they share a very close resemblance to my maternal grandfather.
Yasmine grew up surrounded by art and music.
I clearly remember mum taking me to New Bond Street as a kid and placing me on the auctioneer’s rostrum. She handed me the hammer and told me to always hit the gavel hard! She used to take my younger sister and I to every possible art exhibition and museum, she drove us to school every morning whilst listening to Classic FM and she was forever testing our knowledge of musical instruments and composers.
From a very young age, I was exposed to the arts and classical music but not to ballet. However, whenever the family were around, I would do my little performance in the drawing room, which everyone seemed to love.
Yasmine joined the Royal Ballet School’s Junior Associate programme, which is for 8 to 10-year-olds, and that allowed her to get the feel for the School’s system of training while continuing to study with her local teacher. In 2003 Christopher Carr and Wendy Ellis chose her to be a Spring Fairy’s page in Cinderella – her first taste of the Royal Opera House stage – and little Yasmine suddenly found herself rubbing shoulders with her idols.
Cinderella was played by Alina, Marianela, Tamara… so I got to see all these wonderful dancers which was so inspiring as a child. They are still inspiring me now.
Marianela, with her precise technique and pure strength, is incredible and her versatility really is an eye opening. She is not a typecast ballerina, she can dance so many roles! Dancers like Zenaida Yanowsky are incredibly artistic, and you can learn a lot from the way they act, the way they portray emotion, and their character. We now have Natalia Osipova who is a real firecracker and she brings such excitement and fire to the stage. We are so spoilt with all our principals; you can watch these incredible dancers and take what you want from each of them.
The idea of auditioning for full-time training with the Royal Ballet School at White Lodge, though, hadn’t crossed her mind.
Jacqui Dumont, then Principal of the Associate Programme, came up to my mum and asked her why I hadn’t auditioned for White Lodge? My mother said she didn’t know if I was good enough.
Yasmine auditioned and was offered a place. Straight after her audition she was also told that she’d be dancing as a ‘baby swan’ in Swan Lake with the Company.
I was oblivious as to what lay ahead. It may sound a little strange, but it seemed that everything just came to me and only later did I realise the hard work necessary to continue. But I loved the determination needed and the passion that comes with it all. When I got accepted to White Lodge I thought, Wow they believe in me so I’m really going to work hard!