Lillian DiPiazza Transitions From Dancing in PA to Paris

December 5, 2022
female dancer wearing red dress leaping across street
Lillian DiPiazza. Photo by Michael Higgins.

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, Lillian DiPiazza had just started a three-month contract with the Paris Opéra Ballet, taking a temporary leave from her spot as a principal dancer with Pennsylvania Ballet (now Philadelphia Ballet). But as the quarantine prolonged her stay, DiPiazza, who had been with PA Ballet since joining the second company in 2008, began to consider making Paris a more permanent move. “The more I danced here, the more I really got into the style, the classes and the magic of the opera house,” she says. “Everyone was adjusting to so much change with the pandemic that it empowered me to go for it.” DiPiazza was offered a permanent contract this past summer after dancing in the concours d’entrée, an annual competition at POB.

Outside of the ballet, DiPiazza is enjoying immersing herself in French culture—with her Yorkie, Bailey, who made the move with her from the U.S. “There are so many artistic things here, and it’s a really nice day-to-day of getting my fruits and veggies at the local marché or going to the boulangerie,” says DiPiazza, who shares that she’s even introduced some American traditions to her friends, like Thanksgiving dinner, which she hosted at her apartment. “It’s exciting to really­ make Paris my home.”

Going for It:

“When I was in the U.S., I never thought, Oh, my dream is to dance at the Paris Opéra, because it didn’t even seem possible. Now that I’m here to stay until the end of my career if I want, it’s pretty crazy and surreal, and it’s still sinking in.”

Learning a New Language:

“When I arrived, I didn’t speak any French, and I had only visited Paris twice before. In the beginning, it was difficult picking up on corrections and the pace of things. And even things that seem so easy, like getting a phone number and opening a bank account, took some time to figure out. At this point, I can understand French quite well, but speaking it is still challenging.”

Her Palais Garnier Debut:

“My first performance on the Opéra Garnier stage was Études, and there’s this moment where the dancers go in a diagonal down the stage, one by one, doing grands jetés. With the raked stage, you really can just fly, and the feeling of being in this iconic opera house with so much history and culture—it’s really special to dance there.”

Performing Under Pressure:

“When I was in the beginning of my career at the Pennsylvania Ballet, I was thrown into Ballo della Regina at the last-minute after one of the principal dancers went out with an injury. I knew the choreography, but you need a lot of stamina for this piece, and it’s really precise, quick footwork. I remember Merrill Ashley saying, ‘Let’s go to the studios for a quick rehearsal—we won’t even walk there, we’ll take a taxi because we have to save your legs.'”

Her Favorite Role:

“Dancing Juliet in Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo And Juliet was one of my favorite moments because it’s just kind of the dream role. I love the storytelling element; you have the full journey with that ballet, and it’s really powerful to dance. It’s difficult, but it’s not one of those super technical ballets, so you can really just go for it and feel free.”

Her Pre-Performance Routine:

“It changes depending on the schedule or what my body is needing, but for sure I need a snack and I need to lay down and rest a little bit. And then I have a small warm-up routine of exercises to stretch and lengthen everything out.”

Starting Over:

“It’s really challenging to be back in the corps, because you’re also covering roles so you’re not just learning one spot, you have to learn all 24 spots. They do a lot of Nureyev versions of the full-lengths at Paris Opéra, so learning different choreography to a ballet you already know can be a challenge, too.”