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Male Dancers as Celebrities. Benjamin Millepied makes the STYLE sectiof the NY TIMES


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#1 bart

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Posted 06 February 2011 - 10:33 AM

Black Swan seems to be everywhere in the media. Ditto Natalie Portman. And now Benjamin Millepied -- the film's choreographer, Portman's boyfriend, budding film actor, fashion model, man about town -- and (did I forget to mention this?) NY City Ballet principal dancer.[quote]

All of this is chronicled in the NY Times THURSDAY STYLE section this past week. (Thanks, dirac, for listing this on our Links forum.)

Benjamin Millepied Leaping into the Spoltlight

The article got me thinking about Male Ballet Dancers as Celbrities and Household Names. Up to now, there' been Nijinsky, Nureyev, Barysnikov as world-wide "names.". No one is claliming that Mr. Millepied is in their league as a dancer, but he IS a high-level dancer at one of the world's top companies (or, as the Times put it, "a superstar in the insular world of ballet".

Any thoughts on the process? I have lots of questions, but few answers. Can a superstar in the "insular" world of ballet break out into culture-wide recognition. What do you think about the new Millepied image? Deserved/undeserved? Serious/frivolous? Llikely to grow/ likely to dissipate? Good/bad for ballet?

#2 GeorgeB fan

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Posted 06 February 2011 - 11:41 AM

I'm sure others will be able to word it better but I think the days in which the average individual - "Joe and Jane Smith" - who knew the stars from the world of Popular Art as well as the stars from the world of High Arts is pretty much over. Today there's such a huge gap in between the camps, that wasn't there before, say at the time of the huge ballet explosion we experience in the 60's and 70's, I think it would be hard to recapture that. Back then everyone knew who The Beatles were...but many of those same people also knew who Nureyev was as well. In those days Popular Art and High Art went hand-to-hand in terms of presentation to the general public. To use his variety show as an example, Ed Sullivan was a godsend. In one program he could have James Brown in one segment and the next one he could have Edward Villella and Patricia McBride dancing from the New York City Ballet...and in those days it wasn't that great of a shock say as when David Letterman had ballerina Veronika Part on his show a few months back. When she appeared on his show, many of us here was surprise - happily - but still surprise that a ballerina would be on a late-night popular talk show. If it was the 60's or 70's it wouldn't have been that great of a shock...because most likely it would have already happened.

In those days there was a sense of being "culturally aware" of the fine arts that we sadly don't have anymore here in America.

#3 4mrdncr

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Posted 06 February 2011 - 03:06 PM

I agree. I also think Baryshnikov became a 'household name' to some extent in the U.S. because he made the cover (within the same week?)of both TIME and NEWSWEEK--both popular newsmagazines, not 'high art'. (TIME, of course had previously had dancers on its cover, don't ever remember NEWSWEEK doing that.) He also defected when there was still a Cold War, so it was a coup for the west, so they didn't mind promoting the fact. Baryshnikov was also in a Hollywood film that received 11 Academy Award nominations, which helped other popular media notice its impact and its dancers.

Now Benjamin Millepied is linked with a Hollywood star, in a Hollywood film, and the Hollywood media frenzy has started to feed. It has no relation to 'high art' at all.

#4 Simon G

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Posted 06 February 2011 - 03:12 PM

I think the biggest distinction here is that those male dance superstars of the past were known for their dancing and the dance was the means which propelled them to stardom along with the period in time both politically and artistically in which they lived and created.

The soon to be Mr. Portman-Millepied is in that rather ephemeral cateogory, one which is more traditionally associated with women, of showgirl marrying a more famous/powerful/socially accomplished star and piggybacking up the slippery greased showbiz pole on the lustre of their superstar spouse.

Not that I'm for one second intimating or suggesting that theirs is nothing less than a love match, two hearts beating as one, a meeting of minds, souls, dreams, intellects, shopping trips for Tiffany baby rattles, hashing out the nitty grittys of a pre nup with showbiz lawyers etc

I think it's a wonderful sign of equality and how much we've evolved as a society that now it's not only women who can tell OK magazine "Reader I alimonied him."

NB: Apologies if this post seems a tad breezy and gushy, I was just caught up in the spirit of that diabetes-inducing saccharine NY Times Article. Maybe my real calling in life is a showbiz gossip columnist?

#5 bart

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Posted 06 February 2011 - 04:41 PM

"Known for their dancing" -- I agree that that is the key difference. An odd aspect of the Times article is that it mentions his career as a dancer only in passing -- and almost as something to be escaped from, Or transcended. A launching pad on the way to better things.

#6 miliosr

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Posted 06 February 2011 - 04:56 PM

Millepied's pop culture fame is a function of his romantic relationship w/ Natalie Portman. So, unless he can "pull a Baryshnikov" and leverage his current celebrity into legitimate pop culture stardom via films or television, his "fame" will live and die by his relationship w/ Portman.

#7 ksk04

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Posted 06 February 2011 - 05:23 PM

Not that I'm for one second intimating or suggesting that theirs is nothing less than a love match, two hearts beating as one, a meeting of minds, souls, dreams, intellects, shopping trips for Tiffany baby rattles, hashing out the nitty grittys of a pre nup with showbiz lawyers etc


:lol:


I just hope it doesn't mean there will be an influx of Millepied ballets shoved down our throats in an effort to ride this brief glimmer of fame to pump the box office receipts.

#8 dirac

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Posted 06 February 2011 - 07:47 PM

Millepied's pop culture fame is a function of his romantic relationship w/ Natalie Portman. So, unless he can "pull a Baryshnikov" and leverage his current celebrity into legitimate pop culture stardom via films or television, his "fame" will live and die by his relationship w/ Portman.


Yes. The quotes around "fame" in this context are definitely appropriate. Millepied isn't famous in any meaningful sense. We here on BT know who he is and readers of the celebrity magazines who take an interest in Natalie Portman know who he is. That's about it, for now.

Bart, I would suggest that many of your questions were more directly applicable back in the days when Baryshnikov was flogging perfume and his own clothes line.

The soon to be Mr. Portman-Millepied is in that rather ephemeral cateogory, one which is more traditionally associated with women, of showgirl marrying a more famous/powerful/socially accomplished star and piggybacking up the slippery greased showbiz pole on the lustre of their superstar spouse.


Sorry, but I think that's an insult to both Millepied and Portman, not to mention those showgirls, whose work was honest and entertained many people. Such speculations are perhaps best left to the gossip columns. I also note that you hearken back to the bad old days when a man whose wife was more famous to the public was in some way emasculated. ("Mr. Portman-Millepied," eh?) Personally, I wish them both the best. They're a most attractive couple. 'Nuff said.

(Portman's not quite a superstar just yet, though.)

#9 dirac

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Posted 06 February 2011 - 07:51 PM

I think the biggest distinction here is that those male dance superstars of the past were known for their dancing and the dance was the means which propelled them to stardom along with the period in time both politically and artistically in which they lived and created.


I agree.

#10 bart

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Posted 07 February 2011 - 07:13 AM

Millepied has something in common with Baryshnikov (and even more so with Peter Martins): a skill and avidity in cultivating wealthy patrons. In certain arfts circles, this is a necessary and much-admired aspect of "celebrity." (Nureyev, it seems to me, was motivated more by high fees and maintaining his independence, until his move to Paris Opera Ballet.)

Though roles and commissions have come to Mr. Millepied with ease, some argue his greatest talent isn't as a choreographer, but as a blue-eyed charmer able to raise money, court donors and attract audiences.

[ ... ]

His fund-raising prowess owes a debt to the enduring legacy of Mr. Robbins. The Jerome Robbins Trust and Foundation, which is led by Christopher Pennington, underwrites much of Mr. Millepied's work and his inner circle of donors include Robbins-era philanthropic titans like Anne Bass and Arlene Cooper.

But credit should also be given to Mr. Millepied's own assiduous cultivation of donors. William H. Wright II, chairman of the New Combinations Fund at the New York City Ballet, a group of 75 donors who dole out $2 million annually for new works, counts Mr. Millepied as a personal friend. Ira Statfeld, the home furnishings guru and a major dance supporter who met Mr. Millepied at a dinner in East Hampton in 2003, said he would "consider Benjamin a member of our family."

Michele Pesner and her husband, Steven, who is the vice chairman of the Joyce Theater, said they have supported Mr. Millepied "from the very beginning." We met Benjamin at a dinner at Jerome Robbins's house in Bridgehampton," Ms. Pesner said. "We became great friends. He doesn't have to ask us to support. We volunteer."

To be fair, charming patrons is an integral part of ballet, a genre that grew out of court cultures of 16th-century France and Italy. By the 19th century, the backstage of the Paris Opera was a "privileged venue for sexual assignation" between dancers and season ticket holders, wrote Judith Lynne Hanna, a dance historian, in her book, "Dance, Sex and Gender."

Ballet still relies on patrons and foundations (ticket sales barely cover expenses), and wooing donors is an inevitable part of the profession. After all, Mr. Martins's ability to hobnob with donors, particularly Ms. Bass, is often cited as a reason he eventually succeeded George Balanchine at the New York City Ballet (particularly in contrast with the famously ill-tempered Mr. Robbins).

But some go further and cattily whisper that Mr. Millepied's charisma makes up for his shortcomings as a choreographer, and is the real reason for his numerous commissions. For instance, when the Pacific Northwest Ballet tapped him to choreograph an original work in 2008, it did so knowing that the work would be underwritten by an endowment from the Joyce Theater, the Stephen and Cathy Weinroth Fund for New Works. It helped attendance, too; his piece "3 Movements" received "both good reviews and a good audience roar," said Peter Boal, the ballet's artistic director. Even at New York City Ballet, where donations are usually given to a general fund, Mr. Millepied's work is a fund-raising magnet. "There are specific donors that sponsor my work," Mr. Millepied said. His pieces are among the most well-attended each season, said Robert Daniels, a company spokesman.

Others wonder whether Mr. Millepied has spread himself too thin across all the world's stages. "We called him Benjamin A Million Gigs," said Wendy Perron, editor in chief of Dance magazine. "He always seemed to be doing something."

"Benjamin a Million Gigs." This is certainly something he shares with Nureyev. (Less, it seems to me, with Baryshnikov.) Maybe it's something that all dancers have to think about as they get a bit older.

#11 puppytreats

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Posted 07 February 2011 - 08:39 AM

Despite the alleged reputation as a "charmer," his treatment of the reporter, as described in that article, indicated an inability to cultivate the press and a lack of respect or charm. For someone in his position, cultivating the press would seem to be almost as important as developing favorable relationships with donors.

Sometimes I think reporters write articles in such a lazy manner that they are worthless. They seem to be written based on press releases, with buzz words from the press releases incorporated into articles. The subject of the article is always described as "beautiful" or "handsome" regardless of looks; no statement is subjected to any analysis; conclusions are drawn without any review of facts; key facts are ignored for the sake of the slant of the article; and facts are not validated. This particular article was a poor rehash of the publicity that preceded the movie release.

#12 puppytreats

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Posted 07 February 2011 - 08:40 AM

I also think politics played a crucial role in the fame of the Russian defectors.

#13 richard53dog

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Posted 07 February 2011 - 10:38 AM


Not that I'm for one second intimating or suggesting that theirs is nothing less than a love match, two hearts beating as one, a meeting of minds, souls, dreams, intellects, shopping trips for Tiffany baby rattles, hashing out the nitty grittys of a pre nup with showbiz lawyers etc


:lol:


I just hope it doesn't mean there will be an influx of Millepied ballets shoved down our throats in an effort to ride this brief glimmer of fame to pump the box office receipts.



Yes, isn't THAT the real worrisome detail? He's a modestly talented dancer and I can't see him ever really having all that glittery a performing career.


But, ugh, as a choreographer, he's in the school of "after Martins" and there is already a parade of shallow, gimicky works. I hope the pace doesn't accelerate.

What's the term for littering, choreopgraphy wise?

#14 melange

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Posted 07 February 2011 - 04:19 PM

Yes, isn't THAT the real worrisome detail? He's a modestly talented dancer and I can't see him ever really having all that glittery a performing career.


But, ugh, as a choreographer, he's in the school of "after Martins" and there is already a parade of shallow, gimicky works. I hope the pace doesn't accelerate.

What's the term for littering, choreopgraphy wise?



I'll go out on a limb here and say that I think Millepied has more than a little talent as a dancer and on those occasions when he's actually dancing he can give a very satisfying performance. By way of example, I thought his performance of Rubies opposite Janie Taylor last winter was, well, a jewel, as was a rendition of Concerto DSCH the year before. I agree in every respect with the above characterization of his choreography, though, and while I admire his zeal in wanting to make ballet, he shouldn't do it. Heaven forfend that he should harbor thoughts of becoming NYCB's artistic director some day, for if this came to pass we'd never be free of his works.

I think the term for littering, choreography-wise is "aporrescation," from the Ancient Greek words ἀπορρίπτω; "to throw away, discard" and ἐσχᾶτιά; loosely, "outlier," the eponymous refuse foisted off on NYCB by Wayne McGregor.


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