Star choreographer Benjamin Millepied has announced his resignation from the Paris Opera Ballet, just over a year after arriving with the promise of radically disrupting one of the world’s oldest and greatest dance companies.
In a reportMillepied said he was leaving “solely for personal reasons” and to take more time to devote himself “100% to artistic and creative expression”.
Millepied – who is married to Hollywood star Natalie Portman – took over France’s most prestigious ballet company just over a year ago. He was due to unveil his new season next week, but it was clear all was not well after he castigated the ballet’s hierarchical structure in a French TV documentary.
His shock departure came just a day before the world premiere of his latest ballet work, ironically titled The Night Ends.
Although Millepied, 38, insisted that “the ties that bind me to this fine institution means that I will always be at its side”, his early exit is a blow for both parties.
Millepied and Portman had brought a huge injection of glamor – and sponsorship money – to the venerable Parisian institution.
But Millepied’s impatience for change annoyed some, even as the company’s younger members reveled in the opportunities it opened up to them.
“I was very honored [being ballet director] but what matters to me is to create, to be inspired by dancers, and today this profession, as it exists, is not made for me,” said Millepied during a conference. busy press conference at the Palais Garnier, explaining his decision to resign.
His fairytale comeback in France in 2014 followed a string of international successes after founding the famed LA Dance Project and marrying Portman, whom he met on the set of the movie Black Swan. She went on to win the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of a tortured ballerina.
In a behind-the-scenes documentary aired on Canal+ just before Christmas, the dancer-turned-choreographer, who made a name for himself at New York City Ballet, made no secret of his displeasure with the way the Parisian company was run .
Millepied claimed that ballet was narrow-minded, overly hierarchical, and obsessed with internal competition. It also wasn’t as “excellent” as he claimed, he said, and the performances sometimes felt “wallpaper…and were deadly boring.”
” It’s not funny ? he exclaimed at one point, calling on his dancers to “let go” in classical ballet as they did in contemporary dance pieces.
Despite all of ballet’s flaws, he said his troupe could be “perhaps the best modern dance group in the world”.
Even as it announced its first season in 2014, Millepied told AFP that the ballet was stuck in the past. “It’s not 1830 anymore, [yet] there are things from that time like the hierarchy, the rigid internal competition for promotion.
The very prominent French ballet dancer Aurélie Dupont replaced him as head of the company. The 43-year-old, who began her career at the Opera School of Dance aged 11 and finished it last spring, hinted that under her the company could be more traditional than under Millepied.
“He brought in a lot of contemporary choreographers…and new choreographic experiences,” she said. “I will do my best, I promise. I love dancers, deeply. I want to give the stars the ballets in which they will shine.
She added: “For me, the Paris Opera remains a company of classical dancers open to contemporary dance and it’s not the other way around.”
The director of the Paris Opera, Stéphane Lissner, paid tribute to Millepied, saying: “He brought a lot to ballet. Being a highly sought-after ballet director and choreographer caused her problems… Aurélie will bring many other things [when] she takes up her post in September.
Agence France-Presse contributed to this report