Benjamin Millepied's L.A. Dance Project is Becoming a Company Like No Other
It's fitting that choreographer Benjamin Millepied named a recent work On the Other Side. After a difficult two-year tenure as artistic director of the Paris Opéra Ballet, he is happily settled in Los Angeles and reemerging with big plans for L.A. Dance Project, the contemporary company he founded there in 2012.
Today, his ambitious vision is redefining what an independent dance company can do: grow into an online dance platform and a lifestyle brand, host a building and performance space, and build an international presence.
A New Home
"Everything starts with a place where you can actually receive patrons," says the former New York City Ballet principal, who turns 40 next month and lives in L.A. with his wife, the actress Natalie Portman, and their two children.
"Once you have that, you have rehearsals, you have showings, you have education programs, you have exhibitions, you have classes," he says. "Suddenly you are reaching more people, and you become a significant part of the community."
LADP's Rachelle Rafailedes and Julie Eichten. Photo by Joe Toreno
Last winter he signed a lease for a new headquarters in a contemporary art gallery in L.A.'s art district. Along with high ceilings, skylights and exposed-brick walls, it offers 3,000 square feet that will include offices, two studios and a 200-seat performance space. The company plans to move in this October.
The building will be more than a home for LADP. "The problem with the performing arts in L.A. is that there is no infrastructure," he says. "Theaters seldom present the talent that is living and working in L.A."
So in keeping with LADP's collaborative ethos, Millepied plans to cultivate cross-genre work by L.A.-based artists and offer residencies and performance opportunities. (He is seeking funding through his extensive, international network of fiscal sponsors.) Audiences can expect affordable ticket prices, food trucks and a relaxed atmosphere.
"Even when this company started, it was about collaborating with many different types of artists on one project," says former NYCB principal Janie Taylor, who has joined LADP as a dancer. Her husband, Sebastien Marcovici, is ballet master. "That's one of the things Benjamin will be able to do more of, being here."
Janie Taylor foam rolling before rehearsal. Photo by Joe Toreno
Building the Brand
Millepied is expanding LADP's digital presence, too, transforming its website into what he describes as a "portal for dance" (similar to his 3e Scène project at POB). One part is a series of workout videos created by Millepied and the dancers, filmed at outdoor locations around L.A. "There's a personal approach to each workout because of the dancer who designed it," he says.
A magazine-style journalism component will evolve over time to encompass current topics, interviews, and essays on dance history. And the existing online store will expand well beyond dancewear. "If we do it right, LADP can also be a lifestyle brand," says Millepied, "where the company can actually make money through licensing of the name."
The company's online store: forladp.com
Creating A Global Presence
In the meantime, the company's already far-reaching endeavors will continue at full speed. This year's schedule includes performances in Dubai, Singapore, Shanghai, New York and beyond, plus an annual residency in Arles, France.
Company rep continues to include classic and commissioned works, like Merce Cunningham's 1964 Winterbranch, William Forsythe's 1993 Quintett and Justin Peck's 2013 Murder Ballades. Millepied's new duet for Taylor and associate artist Carla Körbes, a former Pacific Northwest Ballet principal, premieres next month at The Joyce Theater.
A Cinematic Scope
Millepied loves filmmaking and has created and commissioned dance films that are archived on the LADP website (including Academy Award–winning director Alejandro Iñárritu's 2012 Naran Ja). He is currently in development on his own feature-film debut, and seems to have found a new niche. "Film gathers all the things that I love. It's narration, it's emotion, it's photography, it's lighting—it's all the arts in one," he says. Shooting is planned for 2018.
L.A.'s open-mindedness and contemporary point of view, not to mention its movie industry, suit Millepied and accommodate the scope of his vision. "I want to make an impact in my lifetime," Millepied says. L.A. feels like the right place for him to do that.
"We're being embraced by the community," he says. "I feel like there is more room here to really do something new."
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Curran has been in residence with The Wooden Floor since June, where he's worked with students to build choreography based on their lives and communities:
Their creation will be shown July 20-22 at The Wooden Floor Studio Theatre in Santa Ana, California.
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To celebrate our 90th anniversary, we excavated some of our favorite hidden gems from the DM Archives—images that capture a few of the moments in time we've documented over the decades.
This image was captured during a 1978 New York City Ballet tour that took the company to Copenhagen—home turf for Adam Luders (right), who trained at the Royal Danish Ballet School and briefly danced with the company before joining NYCB as a principal dancer in 1975. Next to Luders is (of course) George Balanchine, in conversation with ballerina Suzanne Farrell. And looking on with a smile? NYCB's current ballet master in chief Peter Martins.
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Shafi works with anyone who wants to take part in the project, filming videos in locations chosen by the dancers and later adding music. The videos are shot on Shafi's iPhone in one take and, other than the starting and ending points, are entirely improvised. The editing afterwards—including the music choice—is minimal. "I don't like to edit too much. It's just what it is," says Shafi. "I usually can do the editing on the train ride home."
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Though a dual career can be fulfilling, simultaneously inhabiting the roles of dancer and choreographer requires focus, organization and a great deal of energy.