miliosr

The Millepied Era at the Paris Opera Ballet

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In the "It's never too soon to start discussing Benjamin Millepied's tenure as head of the Paris Opera Ballet" department, I've created this thread for just that purpose.

In the very long profile that appeared in the August 5th, 2013 issue of The New Yorker, Millepied mentioned some of his plans for the 2015-16 season (his first as programmer):

  • Opening the season with an existing production of Giselle preceded by experimental French choreographer Boris Charmatz presenting a work in the Garnier's public spaces,
  • Programming an evening of silent ballets by William Forsythe, Emanuel Gat and Jerome Robbins,
  • Introducing works by George Balanchine and Robbins, and
  • Commissioning new works by Justin Peck, Crystal Pite, Alexei Ratmansky and Christopher Wheeldon.

We'll see how much of this actually comes to a pass in 2015-16!

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Ooooh, she says, rubbing her mental hands together -- big fun topic.

Just looking at the above list, I would say that it's likely he manages to pull all of those projects off. Aside from the fact that he's certainly got the connections and the facilities available, none of them seem too far outside the current state of programming (as I'm aware of it, several thousand miles away!) In general, new directors can often leverage new projects -- they've got a certain amount of good will from the community, and an institutional buy-in from the people who hired them (who have a vested interest in seeing their choice succeed)

The interesting part comes afterwards, when some of these projects turn out really well, and others aren't as successful, or as popular. I'd be more sanguine about these short-term predictions than I would be about longer projects, or goals (like his desire for a more diverse school and company) that require institutional change or long-term investment.

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An evening of silent ballets? The orchestra's union isn't going to like that.

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I don't know -- has the POB performed with recorded music in the past (not because they didn't have an orchestra, but because the choreography was set to a recording)?

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Millepied would do well not to jettison certain choreographers associated with the POB (i.e. Bejart, Lifar and Petit) in favor of what looks like, to the casual observer, a replication of his own career experiences in New York. In other words, he may get himself into trouble if it looks like he's trying to create the New York City Ballet on the Seine.

He has done one smart thing already and that was to hire Aurelie Dupont as Ballet Mistress. She commands great respect within the POB and she is strong in an area where he himself has admitted he is weak -- in the full-length classics.

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I don't know -- has the POB performed with recorded music in the past (not because they didn't have an orchestra, but because the choreography was set to a recording)?

I was thinking the same thing. From the orchestra's point of view, no music wouldn't be different from pre-recorded music.

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Miliosr, don't you think his Balanchine repertoire connections were part of his appeal to whomever chose him?

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I'm glad to hear that he seems interested in diversifying the racial makeup of POB. I'm happy that this is important to someone who runs a major company.

I read that he's interested in developing new choreographers. I assumed that meant people other than Peck, Wheeldon and Ratmansky. That's why I don't fear that he will try to turn POB into City Ballet on the Seine.

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Miliosr, don't you think his Balanchine repertoire connections were part of his appeal to whomever chose him?

I would imagine so. But I think his connection to Robbins is also a significant factor.

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He has done one smart thing already and that was to hire Aurelie Dupont as Ballet Mistress. She commands great respect within the POB and she is strong in an area where he himself has admitted he is weak -- in the full-length classics.

Whether Laurent Hilaire was dismissed for new blood or because they didn't get along nobody knows, but I'm reluctant to see Aurelie Dupont's promotion as smart. I realise it may be legal to dismiss managers for new faces in the US but unless the Paris Opera is exempt because of its status as a public institution, I doubt it would hold up in the French courts. I'd expect similar for any disagreements, especially for a no. 3 of a department (the administrator being the real no. 2), and the Paris Opera's track record for ignoring the labour law over the past few years is insulting enough.

Politics aside, Millepied said recently there would still be Nureyev's productions and to keep technical standards up, Balanchine and Robbins (Millepied's connection to them is irrelevant, their trusts are already very involved in the POB), but his focus was very much on the contemporary repoirtoire. A shame if the company does become a French City Ballet - much of the POB's heritage is already collecting dust. Nicolas Le Riche also said in an interview a couple of weeks ago he was leaving at the right time because the project of the house was changing and it wasn't his idea of what dance is, so I'm expecting a noticable shift in repoirtoire.

I'm glad Millepied is interested in developing in-house talent. I would hope that isn't just synonymous with young talent though and extends to include Jean-Guillaume Bart, massively underutilised by the company, and Florence Clerc. Clerc seems like a strong producer but has never been commissioned to reproduce something, but then this is an incredibly talented coach whose lack of promotion to at the very least assistant ballet master has never made much sense...

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I don't know -- has the POB performed with recorded music in the past (not because they didn't have an orchestra, but because the choreography was set to a recording)?

I was thinking the same thing. From the orchestra's point of view, no music wouldn't be different from pre-recorded music.

In any case, the Paris Opera Orchestra has to play for both ballet and opera and in fact, POB has often to hire other orchestras because the in house orchestra is too busy: sometimes two operas and two ballets run at the same times.

Right now, Notre Dame de Paris is played by Orchestre national d'Ile de France, for instance. Besides when it comes to more intimate or specialised music, POB hire other orchestras as well: L'Ochestre de chambre de Paris last decembert for Mozart Le Parc, Balthasar-Neumann Ensemble for Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice, etc.

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Whether Laurent Hilaire was dismissed for new blood or because they didn't get along nobody knows

(...)

Nicolas Le Riche also said in an interview a couple of weeks ago he was leaving at the right time because the project of the house was changing and it wasn't his idea of what dance is,

Aren't you answering your own own question?

In an interview that Le Riche gave on the occasion of his Farewell gala at Palais Garnier, Le Riche was almost explicit that he didn't get along with Millepied and he didn't share his vision "of what dance is". He also sounded a harsh assessment of the current situation of ballet in France and of the lowered standards in the troupe of the Opéra with an obvious implication that both were the legacy of Mme Brigitte Lefèvre's era.

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Paris Opera does perform to recorded music in some modern repertoire, my experience was in Emanuelle Gat's "HARK !".

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He also sounded a harsh assessment of the current situation of ballet in France and of the lowered standards in the troupe of the Opéra with an obvious implication that both were the legacy of Mme Brigitte Lefèvre's era.

can you give your source I seem to miss that one ?

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The long and unusually interesting interview taken by Maria Sidelnikova for Russian newspaper Kommersant.

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Miliosr, don't you think his Balanchine repertoire connections were part of his appeal to whomever chose him?

I think that was part of it -- but only a part (and not even the major part.) I see his hiring as having everything to do with installing a glamorous head at the POB who could draw significant amounts of private funding. Given the parlous state of the French economy, finding other funding sources for the company is a priority. And who better to do it than the handsome Millepied and his movie star wife? That he makes dances and has connections throughout the international dance world to various living choreographers and successor trusts (Balanchine, Cunningham, Robbins) just adds to the appeal.

That being said, if he tries to jettison the various historical tendencies (Legitimist, Nureyevist, Lefevrist) within the POB in favor of imposing a New York-centric vision on it, I think he will fail. The person Millepied should look to as a cautionary tale is Mikhail Baryshnikov, who tried -- and failed -- to change ABT too radically in the 80s from what it had been historically. I guess what I'm saying is that moderation would be the best path for him as he moves forward with his plans for 2015-16.

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NYCB has a tradition of running a lot of rep simultaneously rather than a week of this two weeks of that... But they train for their repertoire and it is more similar perhaps than the breadth of the POB repertoire. Living in the US, it is harder for me to see enough POB on video to have a sense of what repertoire is at risk. Could you give examples? Is it the Lifar work? Lacotte? Is there older rep? (except for the Lacotte Sylphide, isn't the older rep a come-back from Russia?) . Is it the style that is at risk? Wouldn't the school protect that? What is Legitimist?

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The person Millepied should look to as a cautionary tale is Mikhail Baryshnikov, who tried -- and failed -- to change ABT too radically in the 80s from what it had been historically. I guess what I'm saying is that moderation would be the best path for him as he moves forward with his plans for 2015-16.

With Baryshnikov, his experimentation was a disaster for ABT's bottom line. Millepied doesn't have to worry quite so much about that because of signficant government funding for the POB.

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I'm glad Millepied is interested in developing in-house talent. I would hope that isn't just synonymous with young talent though and extends to include Jean-Guillaume Bart, massively underutilised by the company, and Florence Clerc. Clerc seems like a strong producer but has never been commissioned to reproduce something, but then this is an incredibly talented coach whose lack of promotion to at the very least assistant ballet master has never made much sense...

I don't follow the company closely right now, but I'm old enough to remember the incredible hullabaloo when Nureyev came in and promoted a group of very young dances, Le Riche among them, and then continued to feature them, both at home and on tour with his own "and Friends" performances.

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NYCB has a tradition of running a lot of rep simultaneously rather than a week of this two weeks of that... But they train for their repertoire and it is more similar perhaps than the breadth of the POB repertoire. Living in the US, it is harder for me to see enough POB on video to have a sense of what repertoire is at risk. Could you give examples? Is it the Lifar work? Lacotte? Is there older rep? (except for the Lacotte Sylphide, isn't the older rep a come-back from Russia?) . Is it the style that is at risk? Wouldn't the school protect that? What is Legitimist?

All good questions -- could someone here please lay out a short report for those of us that aren't as caught up with recent developments?!

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What I refer to as the “Legitimist” tendency in the POB, is that effort to maintain that very particular French style, which is distinct from any other ballet style. The school is the primary guardian of the style (and its underlying training base) and, in that sense, it is a traditionalist bulwark against so-called “innovators” who want the POB to adopt the current “international” style or to become more modern/postmodern/contemporary dance in style.

This is a very strong tendency at the POB and it manifests itself in positive and negative ways. The positive tendency can be seen in how the training (technical and stylistic) manifests itself perfectly in Giselle or Lifar’s Suite en Blanc (both seen on display in the United States in 2012) or Balanchine’s Palais de Cristal (which Balanchine made specifically for the POB dancers.) The negative tendency can be seen as a deep suspicion of, and hostility to, any innovation at all (frequently to the point of reaction.) (Whether the Lacotte reconstructions fall into the first category or the second I’ll leave up to Ballet Talkers to decide.)

In recent interviews with Ballet Review, the etoiles Karl Paquette and Dorothee Gilbert both remarked that the training at the school doesn’t really lend itself to the Nureyev productions of the classics (or, by implication, to the hyper-modern programming of Madame Lefevre.) If Millepied tries to impose yet another tendency on the dancers (that tendency being a New York City Ballet-postmodernist New York-L.A. Dance Project one), then he will have added a fourth development to an already muddled and contradictory picture. If he tries to supplant the Legitimist and Nureyevist tendencies entirely with his own vision of dance, I think he will be in for a world of hurt. (I don’t see anything in his background that is incompatible with Lefevre’s modern/postmodern/contemporary programming aesthetic.)

All of this is speculation on my part. One thing that is certain is that he won’t be the one controlling the school. So, whatever his plans are, he will still have to contend with the school as an independent entity under Elisabeth Platel. (And she said as much in The New Yorker profile, when she fired an icy shot across the bow by saying that the institution/tradition is bigger than all of us.)

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Good for Platel... for all we know, the Millepied era might be brief... the school should not change direction whichever way the latest breeze blows... I applaud the French for trying to keep alive their style... one of the side effects of the modern global village is that regional influence and development are much diminished. (Sometimes I actually wish choreographers and companies were more isolated!)

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(Sometimes I actually wish choreographers and companies were more isolated!)

I've had that thought as well, as much for the developmental process of choreographers as anything else. I think sometimes the pressure to be the next big sensation makes it hard for a young choreographer to teach him/herself the lessons that they need to learn.

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If Abbagnato wants to be successful running the Opera di Roma it might behoove her to learn to be more diplomatic. She's lucky Lefevre promoted her as a parting gift IMO.

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