New Zealand dancer among two new 'stars' of Paris Opera Ballet

The Paris Opera Ballet named New Zealand's Hannah O'Neill and France's Marc Moreau on Thursday as their two new star dancers, the former a rare non-French dancer in the world's oldest ballet company.

O'Neill, 30, is the one of a handful of foreigners to reach the highest "etoile" status at the elite and world-renowned company, which has only in recent years opened up their ranks to non-French dancers.

Unlike the Royal Ballet in London or the New York City-based American Ballet Theatre, the vast majority of the 154 dancers at the 354-year-old Paris Opera Ballet are locals.

It was not until 2012 that a dancer from Latin America -- Argentina's Ludmila Pagliero -- became an etoile, and not until 2021 that South Korea's Sae Eun Park became the first Asian awarded the honour.

As is customary, the promotion of O'Neill and Moreau was announced without warning at the end of a performance -- in this case, George Balanchine's "Ballet Imperial" at the Opera Garnier.

O'Neill is the daughter of a New Zealand rugby player and Japanese mother who is passionate about ballet. Her teacher was Marilyn Rowe, who worked with Rudolf Nureyev, a former director of the Paris Opera Ballet.

She has won some of the biggest prizes in international dance, including the Prix de Lausanne and Youth American Grand Prix, before joining the Paris Opera at 18.

Moreau, 36, joined at 17 and became a "premier danseur" in 2019.