Opera ballet

Why Benjamin Millepied leaves the Paris Opera: “He tried to do too much”

In just over a year as director, Benjamin Millepied has shaken up the Paris Opera Ballet, in a way for the better. He brought Pilates and Gyrotonic classes to help reduce injuries. He featured dancers from the corps de ballet in his new works (even if that meant discarding the stars).

With his Oscar-winning wife, actress Natalie Portman, adding to his glamor quotient, Millepied has raised the company’s global profile. Fundraising skyrocketed.

He is now leaving after announcing on Thursday that he was quitting his job at one of the world’s most prestigious ballet companies to return to a small Los Angeles start-up called LA Dance Project. His announcement comes at a delicate time, halfway through his second season, and on the eve of unveiling his brand new ballet. It starts on Friday.

Millepied’s successes may have been too much, too soon.

“He tried to do too much at once, on every level,” said Laura Cappelle, a Paris-based journalist who covers the Paris Opera Ballet for the Financial Times, Dance Magazine and others. publications. She has spent a decade observing the company and says the perception in some reports that the Paris Opera is old-fashioned and resistant to change is wrong.

When Millepied arrived, “the company was quite happy with the idea of ​​change. They wanted change,” she said. “But the way he brought it was the wrong way.”

Millepied, who was director of New York City Ballet for 10 years, complained in interviews that his dancers weren’t good enough, and he lamented the company’s strict system of promoting dancers only. after grueling contests. He brought new choreography, but ignored the works of choreographers important to the company’s heritage and beloved by the French, such as Serge Lifar, Roland Petit and Maurice Béjart. For every positive change he brought, it seemed, there was a negative.

“He had publicly criticized the company since his arrival,” Cappelle said, “and he did so in the middle of the ‘La Bayadère’ race. The dancers were very upset by this.Referring to the ballerinas of the technically difficult “vision” stage of “La Bayadère”, he told Le Figaro in December: “Being a dancer is about expressing yourself, not looking like a pattern wallpaper!”

Millepied is French and trained as a child in Lyon, but he was never part of the Paris Opera system. He did not study at his school, nor dance with the company. He left France as a teenager for the School of American Ballet in New York, then spent his career at the New York City Ballet. He met Portman when they were both starring in the movie “Black Swan,” which he also choreographed.

I think he remained an outsider to the company instead of fitting in and taking responsibility for the company,” Cappelle said.

“I don’t think he had the patience and perseverance to go all the way.”

The situation is in some ways similar to the Royal Ballet’s appointment of Australian dancer Ross Stretton as director in 2001. He too preferred new works to heritage pieces, and it proved a controversial and short-lived choice. who left after a year. He was replaced by former ballerina Monica Mason. Similarly, Aurélie Dupont, former premiere of the Paris Opera, will succeed Millepied, in a clear message of continuity.