No one who knows Benjamin Millepied expected him to last long at Paris Opéra Ballet—not even Benjamin Millepied. But few would have predicted he'd be gone quite so quickly.
After Paris Match first reported rumors yesterday that Millepied was stepping down as artistic director, the company held a press conference today confirming the news, and announced Aurélie Dupont as his successor starting this July. According to The New York Times, Millepied will return to Los Angeles with his wife, Natalie Portman, to focus on his own choreography and expand L.A. Dance Project.
Millepied choreographing on Aurélie Dupont last year. Photo by Agathe Poupeney, Courtesy POB
Since taking the post in November 2014, Millepied introduced a slew of bold innovations to the historic company with an attitude that some might call chutzpah, and others might call arrogance. He created a short-lived choreographic academy (currently on hiatus), he named William Forsythe associate choreographer (Forsythe tells the Times he will not be staying after his one-year contract finishes), he developed an online platform of dance-based short films called "3e Scène" or "3rd Stage" (which will remain online, but will become more focused on music and opera). He brought in top choreographers like Justin Peck and Wayne McGregor to create new ballets, overhauled the company's healthcare system and shook up the hierarchical casting structure by giving younger dancers lead roles.
As Millepied told Dance Magazine contributor Laura Cappelle in our May 2015 issue, "My time here is also a chance to do something different for a while.... At some point I won’t be here anymore—I’m sure they’ll get to do other ballets again."
It seems that Millepied's temperament is more suited to creating and innovating than managing the day-to-day administrative duties of running a ballet company of 154 dancers. Cappelle gave a live tweet of the press conference today, and shares that Stephane Lissner, the director who hired Millepied, said, "For a few weeks in December, we discussed with Benjamin his ability to direct the company while choreographing. It's his decision. An artist needs time to create." Millepied will choreograph on the company next season (the full details of which will be announced next week). "I have no regrets over appointing Millepied. He leaves too soon, but others leave too late," added Lissner.
For her part, Aurélie Dupont, who's been a face of the company for decades as one of its most beloved étoiles, seems happily surprised by her new appointment. "I have so much passion for this company. I've been here for 32 years. I want to continue, and continue what Benjamin has done," she said, though she added, "It's a classical company which does contemporary work, and it will never be the reverse with me," which seems to be a comment on the fact that Millepied has programmed only two classical ballets for next season.
Dupont has no ambitions as a choreographer, and simply seems committed to doing what's right for the company. "I'll do my best, I promise! I told myself: You can do it—it's your home," she said. "It's a love story with Paris Opéra Ballet. You lose your soul when you join it. It takes time to change things, and I will take my time."