Martinez began his ballet studies in Cartagena with Pilar Molina. Between 1984 and 1987 he studied at the Center de Danse international Rosella Hightower. In that last year he won the Prix de Lausanne (Prize of Lausanne) and entered to Paris Opera Ballet. In 1988 he was personally chosen by Rudolf Nureyev to join the Dance Corps, he was appointed First Dancer in 1992 and in 1997 Star Dancer. In 1992 he won the Gold Medal at the Varna International Competition, being the first and only Spaniard to achieve this distinction.
Throughout his career he received other important awards such as the Prix de l’Arop (Audience Award, 1991), Prix Carpeaux (1992), Italian Critics Award (Dance & Dance) for the Best Couple of the year, with Agnés Letestu and the ‘Benois de la Danza’ Award for Les Enfants du Paradis (2009).
He has been recognized by the French Ministry of Culture as Commander of the the French Order of Arts and Letters and the Japanese magazine Shinshokan Dance Magazine recognizes him as one of the best dancers in the world.
Within the repertoire of José Carlos Martínez, great classical ballets such as Swan Lake, Giselle, Don Quixote, La Bayadère, Sleeping Beauty and neoclassical and modern ballets of Ashton, Balanchine, MacMillan, Graham and Taylor among others stand out.
He has also worked with most of the great choreographers of the 20th century: Maurice Béjart, John Neumeier, Mats Ek, William Forsythe, Jiri Kylian, Pina Bauch or Roland Petit. Some of them have created ballets for him. Martinez has danced as a guest artist with infinite companies such as the National Ballet of China, the Bolshoi in Moscow, the English National Ballet or the Ballet de la Scala in Milan and has traveled the world dancing in Star Galas in America, Europe and Asia.
As a choreographer he has premiered several pieces for the Paris Opera School, the Paris Opera Ballet, the Shanghai Ballet and the National Dance Company of which he was Artistic Director from 2011 to 2019. His latest production is a version of The Corsair for the Ballet of the Rome Opera, released in March 2020.