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José Martinez named Etoile of Paris Opera Ballet

by Patricia Boccadoro

ARIS, 23 June 1997 - Whilst the Socialists swept along to victory in the recent French elections, theirs was not the only triumph that Parisians were celebrating. Backstage at the Palais Garnier, on Saturday May 31st, José Martinez was officially nominated "étoile" after his interpretation of James in "La Sylphide". Dancers, teachers and critics in Paris had beeen increasingly puzzled at the dealy in the nomination of the Spanish-born dancer, but the recent retirement at 40 of étoile Françoise Legrée had, no doubt, given Brigitte Lefèvre the opportunity to announce the long-awaited and much-deserved promotion.

Born in Cartagena, the 27-year-old Martinez' interest in dance began at the age of twelve. "Up until then I thought it was for girls, but I had to take my little sister, Paloma, who was only six, to a Christmas party at her dance school, recalled Martinez. When we arrived the party was in full swing and the teacher invited me to stay. There was so much laughter and music and everyone was dancing. I enjoyed it so much I began lessons myself after the holiday. I didn't think seriously of becoming a dancer until I joined the Rosella Hightower Dance Centre at Cannes".

On arrival in France at fourteen, alone and not speaking a word of the language, Martinez was virtually adopted by his teacher, José Ferran. When he won the competition of Lausanne four years later, it enabled him to enter the Paris Opera school and join the company in 1989.

He was first acclaimed by the public after his performance in Le Tricorne and from then onwards was chosen by such contemporary choreographers as Roland Petit, Mats Ek, Jerome Robbins, Daniel Larrieu, Jean Grand-Maitre, Pierre Lacotte, Béjart and John Neumeier. His romantic good looks also make him an obvious choice for all the great Russian classics including Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, and Nutcracker, restaged and brought into the Paris company's repertoire by Rudolf Nureyev.

Although Martinez admires Nureyev above all others, it was , he says, Anthony Dowell (principal dancer, 1960-1970, artistic director, 1986, Covent Garden) who gave him the confidence he needed in his early days.

"I saw Dowell dance the Sleeping Beauty on a video and it marked me for life," he said. "I was told that I had a similar way of dancing to him which made me feel very flattered and happy. It seemed to give me the assurance I lacked."

Shortly after his nomination, Martinez, who has the cool clean classical elegance of the English school said that he had not had the time to realise the implications of his new status; he had not been forewarned and everything had happened very quickly.

"Before, I had the recognition of my work by the public; now it has been recognised by the Opera," he said. "I was dancing a lot, which was the most important thing, but I was often a replacement for an injured dancer. Now I can be programmed without someone having to hurt themselves first."

It can now be hoped that this will be followed by the obvious nomination of premiere danseuse Agnès Letestu, one of the most talented ballerinas formed by the Paris Opera Ballet since the departure of Dominique Khalfouni in 1980.

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