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Monday, January 5, 2015

"The Millepied Revolution" at Paris Opera Ballet

Philippe Noisette recently interviewed Benjamin Millepied about his vision for Paris Opera Ballet. This is  a translation.

The choreographer is a breath of fresh air for the Opera. Benjamin Millepied intends to  reinvigorate classical ballet. He will unveil his first season as director of dance in February.

Since taking over in November, Benjamin Millepied is to be seen on all fronts: he had his first annual Paris Opera Ballet "Concours" as director of dance. This is a POB institution that does not please everyone. To date, it is the only way for a dancer to move up to the position of principal dancer.  

Meanwhile, Benjamin Millepied oversaw the major ballets of the end of this year, "The Nutcracker" and "La source" programmed by Brigitte Lefèvre before her departure. He has not hesitated to give leading roles to such rising talents as Leonora Baulac, Germain Louvet and Hugo Marchand. Above all, Benjamin Millepied prepares seasons in his image: musical, surprising and a bit glamorous. In his office the 2015-2016 season brochure lies in wait. On the wall a few photos and a drawing signed "Aleph" (his son with Natalie Portman). But Millepied also has his detractors and knows to be on the lookout for attacks. He remains focused on his difficult task: making the Paris Opera Ballet the finest in the world.

You have just experienced your first annual "Concours" as the director of the ballet. Your impressions?

With the Concours a dancer can perform a variation that they should perhaps not normally dance. At the same time I tend to think that a performer must be judged in the studio and on stage. There is a competition aspect in the Concours that is probably no longer needed. Paris Opera Ballet is the only company which has such a competition for advancement up to the level of Premier Danseur. You have to wonder why other institutions in the world of dance do not choose this system.

What do you find the most shocking about this competition? 

Think about it: these young dancers will work five weeks with a coach, get up early, stay late. And everything hinges on a variation of a few minutes. It's tough. And the very idea of a ranking is objectionable for a dancer. We are talking about art, not sport.

Do you see yourself abandoning it?
I am questioning its existence, but it is not in my power to eliminate it. But I think many things surrounding the Concours must be restructured around many things. Beyond this competition, it is important to have a reflection on the body of the dancer, on his or her health.

Indeed, this is one of your "projects"?
One of my first decisions here was to change the floors to be better shock absorbers: the audience does not see it, but it is hugely important for performers. We will also tighten up the number of classes in the morning to see how each dancer works. I teach class myself  once a week, as well. I also want to look at the details, such as the lunch break: it usually happens at 4 pm and lasts thirty minutes. This is not healthy. And I will hire  physiotherapists. This is not a whim from my American years but a real need for the dancer of our time. To think ahead about the muscular work of the back or feet is to prepare the dancer,  to avoid repeated injuries.

You are also a choreographer. What do you look for in an interpreter?
A true individuality, musicality too. Someone who is not afraid to express themselves. I try to pay attention to everyone here. There are not different companies at the Opera at eaach rank: there is one Paris Opera Ballet.

In just over a month the public will discover your debut as a programmer.
This season is special to me with a "celebration of dance today"  spirit. And with the desire to present classical ballet through the prism of new choreographers and musicians. That is the role of the Paris Opera Ballet. We must use this potential and support to get there. I can not wait for Christopher Wheeldon, who triumphed with "An American in Paris" at the Châtelet this winter, or Justin Peck to be with us. We still dance Nureyev. But we can consider the role of the corps de ballet differently. Ditto for George Balanchine. My vision of this great master I danced at the New York City Ballet is not necessarily the same as that practiced here.

And Millepied the choreographer?
I will create a piece for Ballet: but for once in my career I can start thinking about it, to start working on it seven months ahead of time! And I do not despair of one day creating a simple pas de deux for the POB dancers, something like a variation. Pure dance.
The role of a director-choreographer is to make its stars shine.

You intend to surprise?
I am trying to bring to the Paris Opera Ballet creators who have different visual universes. They come from the cinema or from music. We must be the strongest.

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