Park Sae-eun Becomes 1st Asian Dancer to Reach Paris Opera Ballet's Top Rank

  • By Park Don-kyoo

    June 14, 2021 10:53

    Korean ballerina Park Sae-eun has been promoted to the highest "étoile" rank at the prestigious Paris Opera Ballet.

    It came some five years after she reached the second-highest level, "premier danseur," in 2016.

    Founded in 1669, the Paris Opera Ballet is the oldest ballet company in the world, with foreign members making up just 5 percent of its dancers. It has five ranks for dancers: étoile, premier danseur, sujet, coryphée and quadrille, in descending order.

    Park Sae-eun

    Park is the first Asian to hold the coveted "étoile" title. The announcement came during the curtain call after the troupe’s opening performance of "Romeo and Juliet" at Opera Bastille on June 10.

    In a telephone interview with the Chosun Ilbo, Park said, "It was my long-held dream, and when it became a reality, I went completely blank and tears came down my cheeks. My wish is that my dance continues to touch the hearts of audiences."

    Park started learning ballet when she was in the third grade after watching the Korean National Ballet's performance of "Nutcracker," which featured a family friend. She was a standout student in her teens, winning three of the four major ballet competitions in the world -- the USA International Ballet Competition, the Prix de Lausanne and the Varna International Ballet Competition. The Moscow International Ballet Competition is the only one she missed.

    She became the first Korean to join the Paris Opera Ballet in 2011.

    Unlike the lower ranks, promotion to étoile is not made based on the annual competitive tests but at the discretion of the general director and the board in recognition of outstanding excellence and merit.

    As an étoile, some things, including the retirement age of 42, will not change for Park. "It doesn't change who I am as a dancer, so I will continue to train just as hard. My salary will change, though," she said with a chuckle, "and I will have a private dressing room so that I can calmly prepare for the stage. I hope I don't lose the joy of learning and can touch the hearts of audiences with my performances as long as possible." 

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