Raphaëlle Delaunay, a mixed-race dancer who attended the Paris Opera School of Dance and danced with the company from 1992 to 1997, said Mr Millepied was right to raise the issue.
“I never wanted to add to the controversy over the lack of diversity in our institutions,” she wrote in an email, saying she had been forced to bleach her skin in some roles, ridiculed for having the frizzy hair and being told she was paranoid when she objected. “I abandon this position today to do justice to the reforms carried out by Millepied.” She added: “Bravo! Of course, it is polemic; a polemic that many consider unnecessary because the Opera has ‘welcomed’ diversity. But quoting the few dancers who are of Vietnamese, Moroccan, Algerian or other ethnic origin , she added, “it’s a bit like saying ‘I have a black friend’ against an accusation of racism”.
Mr. Millepied also got into trouble because of his remarks about the quality of the company’s dancing in the classics. In the documentary “Relève”, broadcast in December on the French television channel Canal Plus, he says he does not want the corps de ballet to serve as wallpaper, but to dance as individuals; a widely circulated comment as an example of rudeness to dancers. He also pointed out in the documentary that the Paris Opera Ballet is not the best classical company in the world as the press here commonly asserts.
“When I arrived there was too much of that attitude,” he said on Tuesday, “and my goal was to see top-notch performances. I’m not against people being together and in line, as I keep reading. But we’re not the Rockettes. He added, “In every company there’s a bunch of upset dancers, but that’s not the majority,” he said “I didn’t have a bad reaction at that time.”
Mr. Millepied is not the first director of the Paris Opera Ballet to quickly get into trouble. Roland Petit’s mandate lasted less than six months. John Taras and Claude Bessy made it a year; Violette Verdy and Rosella Hightower three years old; Rudolf Nureyev a stormy six year old. Ariane Dollfus, a journalist who wrote a biography of Nureyev, said Millepied wanted rule changes similar to Nureyev’s. “These dancers have been protected and cocooned since they were children, and Millepied and Nureyev are people who have taken care of them. A dancer at the Paris Opera cannot grasp the idea of being independent.
Mr. Millepied said he hoped to continue to have a close relationship with the company. “There is a beautiful ballet tradition here, with charm, musicality and elegance,” he said. “I really wanted to revive the great tradition of French ballet.”