The Herald continues its profiles of 10 under-30-year-old finalists in the running as the paper's New Zealander of the Year

Most New Zealanders have probably never heard the name Hannah O'Neill.

The 20-year-old is one of the brightest young stars in the ballet world, who also happens to be a Kiwi.

Born in Japan to a Kiwi father, Chris, and Japanese mother, Sumie, Ms O'Neill moved to New Zealand when she was 8. She attended Parnell District School and Epsom Girls' Grammar before her talent took her across the Tasman to the Australian Ballet School in Melbourne as a 15-year-old.

Now, a month shy of her 21st birthday, she has a lifetime contract with the world's pre-eminent academy, the Paris Opera Ballet company.


Despite spending only seven years of her life living in New Zealand, Ms O'Neill proudly calls herself a Kiwi.

"I am a Kiwi deep down from the heart," she told the Herald from her Paris apartment, after a gruelling 14-hour day of rehearsals and a performance of The Sleeping Beauty.

"To be able to say I am a New Zealander here in Paris and living my dream and making it come true I am very, very flattered.

"I was a very proud New Zealander not that long ago because I went to the France versus All Blacks game here and even though I was outnumbered by French people, I was dressed in black by myself in my crowd and very proud of my All Blacks team."

She was engaged as a seasonal contract dancer in Paris in 2011, an honour afforded to just three people each year. In July she got her lifetime contract and is among about 2 per cent of performers who are not French.

"I get my athleticism from my father because he was a rugby player, he played professionally in Japan."

While growing up in New Zealand, where Ms O'Neill returns each winter to visit her parents and younger brothers Ben, 19, and Shimon, 18, she danced at the Mt Eden Ballet Academy before being offered an Australian scholarship. Across the ditch, she won the 2009 Prix de Lausanne - considered the ballet Olympics - and took out the Youth America Grand Prix in New York in 2010.

She graduated as dux from the Australian school before being snapped up by the French academy, where she has quickly risen.


"I started dancing when I was 3 in Tokyo and to me, ballet was always the Paris Opera Ballet and it was a dream of mine to be a dancer here.

"For me, now ... it really starts. I am pretty sure I will be staying here for the next 22 years. The retirement age is 42 here ... but it's just the start for me. My aim is to be an etoiles (principal ballerina) at the Paris Opera."

Other under-30 finalists so far

Steven Adams
Ella Yelich-O'Connor (Lorde)
Ben Uffindell
Lydia Ko
Kieran Read
Dr Sudhvir Singh
Fletcher Swan, Josh Jarvis, Jayden Rutten