Big News from Europe: Cherkaoui & Millepied

February 4, 2015

Some major moves are being made over in Europe this week. 


First, we’ve learned that Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui will be taking over Royal Ballet of Flanders. He’s one of contemporary dance’s “It” choreographers right now, collaborating with everyone from Akram Khan to Shaolin monks. Some think his appointment might be something of a consolation prize for Brussels’ Theatre Royal de la Monnaie‘s recent decision to cut all support for dance, since it had co-produced much of his recent work. Either way, his directorship will be huge for RBF, which fired its previous artistic director (who had never been a dancer) in August. The company had built up a sterling reputation under Kathryn Bennetts, who, among other successes during her tenure from 2005 to 2012, landed RBF the exclusive rights to perform William Forsythe’s wacky and wonderful full-length Impressing the Czar. But after a very public battle against the Belgian government’s plans to cut funding and merge the ballet company with the Flemish Opera, she quit, and the troupe has been in limbo ever since. Cherkaoui could be just the ticket to bring the company back to its former glory. He says he hopes for collaborations with his own contemporary company, Eastman. 


The second piece of major news came from another director juggling two companies: Benjamin Millepied. Ballet nerds (including myself) have been eagerly guessing what he’d do with the first season that he’ll program for the Paris Opéra Ballet. Thankfully, he did not disappoint. The highlights:


-William Forsythe will join the company as associate choreographer, and will be part of the new Paris Opéra Academy to train young choreographers, stage directors and musicians. Three choreographers from inside the company and two outsiders will be offered two-year residencies to hone their craft.


-The 2015/16 season will include world premieres from Justin Peck, Wayne McGregor, Jérôme Bel, Millepied and Forsythe (the first major work he’s made for a company other than his own since 1999). Bonus: A new evening-length will come from Alexei Ratmansky in 2016/17.


-There will also be company premieres of works by George Balanchine, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Christopher Wheeldon, Jerome Robbins, Maguy Marin, Boris Charmatz and Ratmansky next season.


-Millepied plans to work more closely with the Opéra’s general director, Stéphane Lissner, than past ballet directors. The two plan on working together on major collaborations, including a new digital platform (which I’m assuming means we can expect more videos like this).  


-Their other splashy collaboration will be a December Tchaikovsky celebration, presenting a double bill of Tchaikovsky’s lyric opera Iolanta and a new Nutcracker choreographed with five different sections by Liam Scarlett, Édouard Lock, Arthur Pita, Millepied and, yes, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. 


It’s an ambitious lineup (with lots of Americans), but it looks incredibly promising. Well done, Mr. Millepied. Maybe the French will finally have to stop calling him “Mr. Portman.”