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Two Views of Benjamin Millepied

By Susan Yung and Wendy Perron

Benjamin Millepied

Danses Concertantes
The Joyce, NYC
December 9–14, 2008
Reviewed by Susan Yung


Photo by Yaniv Schulman.

Isabella Boylston and

Cory Stearns in

Millepied's Without.


Benjamin Millepied’s choreography has made interesting strides since his company was last at The Joyce in 2006. His ensemble, called Danses Concertantes, consists of excellent dancers mostly from ABT, where he was commissioned to create a major ballet last year. Somewhat ironically, Millepied has been a principal at New York City Ballet since 2001, where he was finally asked to create a work in the near future.


This year’s program consisted of two suites, both to live solo piano. 28 Variations on a Theme by Paganini is set to music by Brahms, played live by Natasha Paremski. Maria Riccetto and Alexandre Hammoudi were the central pair, delineating Millepied’s fluid movement phrases, seamless direction shifts, and playful exits. He loops steps together, not unlike a complicated row of crocheting, mixing a kinetic doodle in with a virtuosic leap. Blaine Hoven and Sarah Lane were particularly fun to watch. Millepied borrowed from NYCB the somewhat traditional costumes—long, pale-tinted tulle skirts and knicker-style tights.


The second work, Without, suffered slightly by resembling the first ballet’s multi-part format. Pedja Muzijevic played the Chopin score, moving from prelude to nocturne, totaling 15 short pieces. But Millepied has clearly learned from these master composers; each selection of this parceled structure is long enough to set a tone or a movement motif, and then it’s over. Grey fabric panels line the three upstage walls; openings provide readily accessible entrance/exit spots. And when backlit, the stage takes on a completely different feel, one ripe with possibilities rather than closed off and strictly internal. Marc Happel designed the jewel toned surplice bodice dresses and modern t-shirts; Brad Fields designed the lighting.


Millepied is not upending ballet, but he is creating his own interpretation of it—respecting its traditions, tweaking it subtly, recombining moves in not radical, but extremely clever, ways. It helps to have 13 dancers who can handle anything he gives them. And it will be interesting to see him working with his peers at NYCB, given his familiarity with them and their technical skills.

 

Benjamin Millepied

Danses Concertantes

The Joyce, NYC
December 9–14, 2008
Reviewed by Wendy Perron

 

During his 13 years at New York City Ballet, Benjamin Millepied has learned a lot from dancing in Jerome Robbins’ ballets. He’s learned how to make the dancers look like a community, how to wedge bold moments of romance into group patterns, how to do upside-down and horizontal lifts, and how to match Chopin’s moments of simplicity with simplicity. He’s even added a little spice of his own, with occasionally startling partner-work. His company Danses Concertantes, which includes mostly dancers from American Ballet Theatre, displayed all these elements in two well-crafted pieces, one fairly good and the other very good.

 

28 Variations of a Theme by Paganini, originally made for the School of American Ballet’s workshop in 2005, is too big and classical for the stage at The Joyce. It looked like an expanded version of either Robbins’ In the Night or Feld’s Intermezzo—two unforgettable mood pieces. Five couples, with the women in knee-length romantic tutus, are too close to avoid hearing clattering pointe shoes and thudding landings. Nevertheless, the piece has a fine arc from a chivalrous beginning to a spirited ending. A big bonus was the radiant Sarah Lane, almost bursting with joy, whether dancing with her partner Blaine Hoven, or flitting through a butterfly solo, landing in fifth position only long enough for a breathtaking breath. Choreographically, the best parts were given to Maria Riccetto and Alexandre Hammoudi (Isabella Boylston and Cory Stearns in the first cast). She ever-so-slowly took chainé steps and eventually swirled into place before him. Together they created a lovely delicate duet to a slow section of the Brahms music (played live by Natasha Paremski).


More consistently successful was the world premiere, Without. Again five couples, again a live pianist, this time Pedja Muzijevic playing Chopin. But the flowing, solid-color dresses and more adventurous partnering gave the piece its currency—and an intimacy more fitting for The Joyce. The moment Céline Casson parts the curtains and rushes in, we’re off to a great start. These are very human duets, where lovers tug at each other tenderly. The lead couples Boylston and Stearns, wearing red, are caught in a knot of melancholy. They start at opposite corners, come together with daring slides and lifts, and then walk back to their separate corners. There seems to be a reason why they cannot stay together.

 

At the end of the piece, Boylston is the only woman left without her partner (suddenly you remember the title is Without) and the others crowd around to protect her—or help her grieve. There are so many sweet or sad moments that I’d like to see it again.

 

Millepied is definitely a choreographic talent, though not yet a super strong voice.