Talk about a meteoric rise. It’s only been a couple of years since he choreographed Black Swan, the film that raised his profile to global proportions. A year since he quit dancing and started his own company, LA Dance Projects. And now this: the Paris Opera Ballet has announced that he will follow Brigitte Lefevre in the position of Director of the Ballet in 2014. To lead the oldest ballet company in the world: it is an enormous vote of confidence in this young man, in his mid thirties. A difficult decision for Laurent Hilaire, Lefevre’s heir apparent and a brilliant former étoile formed by Nureyev, to swallow. (And for Manuel Legris, a nother top candidate, for that matter.) Millepied has proved that he certainly has the intelligence, the tough-mindedness, and the drive, all pre-requisites for the job. And perhaps the taste as well: his repertory choices for LA Dance Projects have been smart and interesting, with an eye to modern dance and to the very best of contemporary ballet. The  decision to perform William Forsythe’s Quintett was particularly canny. As was the decision to have Forsythe himself come and coach the dancers. His personal charisma and connections are certainly part of the package. (The POB will get Natalie Portman as part of the package; the whole family will move to Paris.) He has an eye for dancers and knows how to show them off in his own works. As yet, it must be said, he hasn’t revealed himself to be more than a stylish choreographer. It is possible that he realizes his own limitations—he told the Times that he will not prioritize his own choreography as director of the POB. The fact that he is a choreographer at all is a huge plus for the company—the last choreographer director there, according to Le Figaro, was Serge Lifar, though Nureyev also re-staged many of the classics. Whether Millepied’s lack of familiarity with many of the ballets in the company’s repertory will be a liability is also an open question. Also: Will he be able to handle the dense layers of  a large, French, institution? On the other hand, perhaps he will be able to identify a new generation of French ballet choreographers, an area in which the company has been rather at a loss. Millepied told Roslyn Sulcas of the Times that he wants to put the focus back on ballet; in recent years the company has been known more for its forays into contemporary dance, as if it had lost confidence in the future of ballet. Millepied is a provocative choice, but an intriguing one.

Here is Roslyn Sulcas’s piece in the Times on the decision.

And here’s a fawning profile in Le Figaro. A little excerpt:

“Despite all this, Benjamin Millepied has proven himself to be indispensable! In this world that is increasingly deaf to the unique language of dance, he has decided to dedicate his life to this art….His youth—he is 36—changes nothing; he has always been precocious. His marriage last summer to Natalie Portman, the most brilliant of American actresses, whom he met on the set of Black Swan, did not shake his determination.”
I should think not! It’s a rather romanticized view, but a bit of enthusiasm will be needed to make this transition work.

And a more balanced take, from Libération.  The article mentions that Millepied will make a new Daphnis et Chloé for the company in 2014, and that Portman is looking forward to taking on more European projects.

I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on the decision… Comment below!

5 Comments

  1. I am not so familiar with his work, i do think it’s an important choice to have such a young man in an so prestigious position. And maybe ‘strizza l’occhio’ to the celebrity status he owns. I applaud such choice though as in Italy the word young is associated mostly (or only?) with unemployed…

  2. If stereotypes were true, I’d expect some squawking from other French institutions about an American being named to head one of them. (Assuming that Millepied _is_ American; his work at least has been done here.) Another transatlantic dilution of French culture and all that. Fawning from Le Figaro may be premature, but it’s better than sniping.

  3. He’s French, though almost all of his training (and career) has taken place stateside. He has been careful (and smartly so) to keep up his French persona and presence. In many ways, it’s his intelligence that impresses most. He may not be a great choreographer, but he has his wits about him, big time. There’s sure to be resistance, and justified, I think. People like Laurent Hilaire have given their lives to the company, they know the institutional history, the style, etc, etc. and they were great, great dancers. Imagine the reverse. He will have to work very hard to earn the full respect (and devotion) of the company. That’s the flip side of his speedy rise.

  4. Copying here what I wrote on the New York Times site (with a few additions): I don’t know what to think. My initial reaction was not very positive, primarily because I hate the superficial reason he probably got the job: his marriage to Ms. Portman and the Hollywood connection. I have since tweeted with a few people in the dance world who have spoken positively of him as a person, and of his taste. We shall see.

    One thing’s for sure: he will have a tough time. The POB is a huge bureaucracy and, as the NYT article states, one that has burned many good people in the past. (The wonderful Ms. Verdy, in particular.) Outsiders are often not welcome, though it does help that Millepied is at least French. When I read his comments, his plans seem reasonable–a focus on new, but balletic choreography and developing talent. It’s just…I don’t know. I find it hard to get over the unfair reason he got the job. And I know I would be furious if I were one of the people who had helped support his LA company. Maybe someone good will step in, but in LA the movie connection is probably even more important than it is in Paris.

    I hope it works out, though, because I love the company and it has such a legacy.

  5. Have we actually had any indication that Laurent Hilaire finds this a difficult choice to swallow though, or are you speculating? From interviews in the past he has expressed his desire to coach and has continously declined invititations to take up the role of director elsewhere, just because he at that moment in time was happy coaching. Further being associate director of the dance does not equal deputy in the English sense per se, he’s chief ballet master. There wre responsibilities that have always come with that role, Patrice Bart was the predecessor. One would assume Monsieur Millepied intends for Laurent to remain in this role though? Many questions.

    As for the new director, well, I wish him luck. American contemporary neoclassical ballet has never been particularly well-received in Paris (case in point, Ratmansky), and the problem with collaborating with the opera more often is the major increase in tocket prices. Of course it remains to be seen whether he will be able to fit in – the former opera director of La Scala caused enough problems with the ballet dancers there (wonder if the ministry realised that?) and i am sure picking outsider Benjamin Millepied over a far more prestigous and connected dancer (benois de la dans, respected by the Russian companies and the wider Paris theatres, for example) will not come without friction amongst the entire company. One can already imagine the strikes when Millepied’s programming begins. We’ll see though!

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