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Elizabeth Partington: From Kanagawa to the Paris Opera Ballet

Elizabeth Partington was accepted into the Paris Opera Ballet with top scores. This February, she is set to appear in the company's first Japan tour in 4 years.



Elizabeth Partington was promoted to coryphée during her first year at the Paris Opera Ballet. (©Sankei by Tomoko Iizuka)

In July 2023, Elizabeth Partington officially became a member of the Paris Opera Ballet, the world's oldest ballet company. At the age of 12, she made the bold decision to relocate to Paris alone to study at the Paris Opera Ballet School.

Partington was finally accepted into the ballet company after her fifth exam. In November 2023, she was promoted to coryphée, the fourth out of the five ranks of dancers. The Paris Opera Ballet has a reputation for its demanding hierarchy, requiring dancers to undergo a rigorous process to ascend through the ranks.

"Of course, my dream is to attain the highest rank of étoile ['star']. The competitive exam was just one of the steps to reach that goal. To become a dancer whose expressions resonate with the audience, I aspire to work not only on my technique but also on my expressiveness and humanity."

How It Began

Partington's middle name is "Masako," and she was raised in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, by her American father and her Japanese mother. Her father runs an English conversation school in their home. Influenced by her older sister, Partington began studying ballet at the age of three. However, her true passion for ballet emerged in 2013 when she successfully auditioned for a child's role in a performance of Children of Paradise by the Paris Ballet Opera in Japan.

"I think it was fate. I was only eight then, but the wonderful [then étoile dancer] Isabelle Ciaravola recommended I take the company's entrance exam. That's when the Paris Opera Ballet became my goal," she explains.

And Partington never wavered from her goal. This is despite winning an American ballet competition and earning admission to the Royal Ballet School in the United Kingdom. When she was 11, she passed the Paris Opera Ballet School entrance exam as the top candidate. At 12, she moved to Paris alone to commence her studies.

The language barrier made life in France difficult at first. Nevertheless, Partington underwent intense training to enhance the musicality and techniques that defined her dancing. She also worked diligently to acquire the artistry emphasized by the school. As a result, she advanced through the grades without any issues.

"Even the act of walking should be beautiful and elegant. That's the way of the Paris Opera Ballet," explains Elizabeth Partington. (©Sankei by Tomoko Iizuka)

Fifth Time's the Charm

After graduating at the age of 16, she immersed herself in various roles as a contract dancer. All the while, she waited for the opportunity to join the prestigious Paris Opera Ballet. The company only admits a select few individuals each year. These include candidates from the Ballet School, who undergo an internal exam, as well as roughly 300 candidates worldwide who participate in the annual public exam.

"I didn't even pass the initial round in my first year. In the second year, I failed right at the end. In this third year, I took the exam for the fifth time. Opting for the public exam this time, I was thrilled to have all 12 judges select me as the top candidate, officially admitting me to the company. It brought me to tears," says Partington.

When she worked as a contract dancer, she would often not be informed about her participation in the evening show until late afternoon of that very day. Partington reflects, "Saying you weren't available wasn't an option. That's why I rehearsed every role backstage for every show, ensuring I could play any role that might come my way." Her dedication left a lasting impression on the examiners.

As if by fate, Jose Carlos Martinez had just been appointed as the Dance Director of the Paris Opera Ballet before the exam. He was the choreographer of Children of Paradise, the piece that inspired Partington to join the Paris Opera Ballet. He sat in the middle of the examiners.

According to Partington, Martinez is "someone who gives young people a chance. Being Spanish, he affirms diversity among ballet dancers."

Elizabeth Partington shares, "I've never experienced homesickness because being part of the Paris Opera Ballet has always been my dream." (©Sankei by Tomoko Iizuka)

A Swan's Homecoming

Partington is set to perform in Swan Lake in February, marking the first show by the Paris Opera Ballet in Japan in four years. 

Partington says, "The Paris Opera Ballet's performance in Japan a decade ago marked the start of my dream, so this is deeply moving. I want to convey my gratitude and dance in honor of my parents and grandmother, who have consistently believed in my future and supported me." 

This performance will be a homecoming for a swan who has spread her wings toward her dream.

The Paris Opera Ballet will present Swan Lake in Japan from February 8 to 11 and Manon from February 16-18.


(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Tomoko Iizuka


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