Tokyo-born Ballerina Hannah O’Neill Rises to Etoile in Paris Opera Ballet

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Hannah O’Neill poses for a photo.

The Paris Opera Ballet recently announced that Hannah O’Neill had been made etoile, thereby rising to the top echelon of the world-famous ballet company.

The Tokyo-born O’Neill, 30, is the first Japanese dancer to reach the principal-level rank in the company. Of the company’s 150 or so members, only 17 have the title of etoile.

The Paris Opera Ballet is the world’s oldest ballet company. Its depth of tradition and art are regarded as on par with the Bolshoi Ballet and the Mariinsky Ballet, both Russian. The French company has a strict five-tier hierarchy, which sparks fierce competition among members vying for promotion.

After officially joining the company in 2013, O’Neill steadily climbed the ladder, relying on her innate aura and solid technique. In 2016, she won the Prix Benois de la Danse, one of the world’s most prestigious ballet awards, raising expectations that she would soon be made etoile.

O’Neill’s mother is Japanese, and her father is a former rugby player from New Zealand. She started taking ballet lessons at Kishibe Ballet Studio in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, when she was 3. Even after moving to New Zealand at the age of 8, she would return to the Shibuya studio during long school breaks to keep learning ballet’s basics.

“She was such a diligent worker,” said Mitsuyo Kishibe, O’Neill’s mentor. “I was just waiting for her to be made an etoile. I’m really happy.”

“I never imagined this would happen, so it hasn’t sunk in yet that I’m now an etoile,” O’Neill said. “I look forward to performing an even wider range of roles on stage in the future.”