Le Directeur: Millepied To Run Paris Opéra Ballet

January 23, 2013

It’s official: Benjamin Millepied is the new designated director of the Paris Opéra Ballet. Millepied will begin his post in fall 2014, when current director Brigitte Lefèvre retires.

It’s a puzzling appointment. He’s clearly a celebrity, bolstered by his marriage to Natalie Portman. He has organized various pick-up troupes in the past—Danses Concertantes, Benjamin Millepied and Company, and most recently, L.A. Dance Project (which he will leave when he moves to Paris). For LADP, his choice to reconstruct Cunningham’s Winterbranch with its jarring, apocalyptic lighting, paired with the poignant beauty of Forsythe’s Quintett, was inspired. He has an eye for great dancers, as evidenced by our January cover subject, Frances Chiaverini. He is clearly interested in expanding dance’s audience, shown by his film projects, site-specific performances, and collaborations with young artists in other fields like composer Nico Muhly and designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte. But he is a company outsider: while the 35-year-old choreographer is French and has made two pieces for POB, he did not dance with the company or train at the affiliated school.

Born in Bordeaux, Millepied’s first ballet teacher was his mother. He was accepted to the Conservatoire National in Lyon at age 13 for modern dance, switching later to ballet. He soon came to the School of American Ballet and originated a role in Robbins’ 2 and 3 Part Inventions at his graduating workshop performance. He spent sixteen years at NYCB, nine as a principal, dancing and making dances, and considered Robbins (who himself was strongly affiliated with POB) a mentor. While Millepied’s Robbins and Balanchine repertoire with NYCB was extensive, he has not danced the Romantic classics. His choreography can be divisive: I adored his recent Two Hearts for NYCB, with stunning performances from leads Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle, and thought his free-wheeling Three Movements was a great vehicle for Pacific Northwest Ballet. However, he told Roslyn Sulcas at The New York Times that his own choreography would not be a priority in his new post. Instead he’s interested in developing choreographers from within the company, a welcome venture.

POB has always embraced the avant-gardeCunningham, Forsythe, Trisha Brown, and Pina Bausch are all part of the company’s active repertoire. But so are Don Quixote, La Sylphide, and Giselle. Does Millepied have the chops to run this storied company of 150 dancers, with centuries of history, a singular style, and a regimented system of ranks and promotions? We will see.