Natalie Portman’s husband, Benjamin Millepied, the “Black Swan” choreographer who helped turn Natalie Portman into an obsessed, paranoid ballerina for film and later married the actress, has been named director of the Opera Ballet of Paris Thursday.
Millepied, 35, is a former principal dancer with New York City Ballet who left in 2011 to start his own dance company in Los Angeles, LA Dance Project. He will join the Parisian company in October 2014, when the current dance director, Brigitte Lefevre, retires.
Portman and Millepied, who have a son, met while filming “Black Swan,” Darren Aronofsky’s psychological thriller that stars Portman as a ballet dancer. Portman won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in the film.
Millepied is known for his innovative work outside of classical ballet, and his latest project in Los Angeles has its roots in contemporary dance. In the world of ballet, the appointment of Millepied – who has no formal connection with the Paris Opera Ballet – is considered a coup.
“I will keep the things that seem strong and solid to me and I have the chance to rethink some other things,” Millepied told the Figaro newspaper in an interview on Thursday.
The Paris Opera Ballet, founded at the time of Louis XIV, is the oldest ballet company in the world and known for its respect, bordering on reverence, for the traditional repertoire.
“It’s unusual for someone to come from outside to run the company,” said Wendy Perron, editor-in-chief of Dance Magazine in New York. “He has to find his own way between the contemporary innovations and the traditions there.”
Among its former directors was Rudolf Nureyev, who held the position from 1983 to 1989, then left for three years to play the lead in a traveling version of the Broadway musical “The King and I.”
Millepied, French but largely trained in the United States, choreographed “Amoveo” in 2006 and “Triade” in 2008, two contemporary pieces.
Taking on the role of director “will change him insofar as he will have to think of a large company which must seduce the general French public. I think it will change him in the sense of responsibility he has with so many dancers and such a large audience,” Perron said.
As for how Millepied’s leadership might change such an institution renowned for its style and sophistication, Perron said she hopes it will be for the best. But she warned: “I think it’s going to be difficult for him to deal with the hierarchy that’s there.”