Hannah O’Neill, New Zealand
The moment she’ll never forget was seeing a video of the ballet “Cinderella” starring Rudolf Nureyev, the legendary Russian dancer who led the Paris Opera ballet troupe, and star Paris dancers Sylvie Guillem and Charles Jude.
“From that moment on, for me, Paris Opera was ballet,” said Hannah O’Neill, now a first dancer, one step away from “etoile”.
Born in Tokyo, the daughter of an ex-rugby player from New Zealand and a Japanese mother, the 26-year-old inherited a strong physique and love of dance.
She later moved to Auckland and trained under Marilyn Rowe, who had worked with Nureyev.
At 14, she suffered a setback by failing the external competition for a place at the Paris school.
Instead, she joined the Australian Ballet School in Melbourne and won the Prix de Lausanne and Youth America Grand Prix.
But she never gave up on her dream and was accepted by the Paris Opera at 18, arriving in the city without a word of French.
“I tried to copy as much as possible. I am quite good at mimicking. It was quite handy,” she laughed.
She, too, had to adapt to the French technique. “The footwork is accentuated, everything is more sophisticated and so stylish.”
And she got her big break when Benjamin Millepied, head of dance from 2015 to 2016 who called for more diversity in the company, gave her the title role in “Swan Lake”.
“I moved up every year,” she said. “I completely consider myself as a French dancer in terms of style.
“It is the way I want to move, the way I want to dance. I feel I found my place.”
PICTURES BY JOEL SAGET, SELECTED BY THE AFP AGENCY’S CHIEF EDITORS AS ONE OF THE BEST STORY OF THE WEEK