miliosr

The Millepied Era at the Paris Opera Ballet

140 posts in this topic

If he were interested, I could introduce him to some New Yorkers who were convinced that all dancing in pointe shoes looked clumsy and awkward...until they saw the Paris Opera Ballet.

Oh, the way they use their feet! Are any other company's so exquisitely and uniformly pliant? Not to get rhapsodic, but those plush, velvety dégagés, those supple relevés! And it's not just the women -- the men's are that way too. I confess that I can hardly look at anything else when I see a stageful of POB dancers. (I find the way they use their feet to be the most musical thing about their dancing, which is perhaps a problem ... but still, those feet are just gorgeous to watch.)

Share this post


Link to post

I wonder if the key word in Macaulay's statement is "influential". Is the POB style influential outside of France?

In any event, without getting into a discussion about which companies have a recognizable style and which don't, the challenge for Millepied is how to connect the French take on technique (and its corollary style) to repertory. Just bringing in more Balanchine and Robbins doesn't really solve the problem any more than Nureyev bringing in his idiosyncratic takes on the classics did.

Share this post


Link to post

When I was first interested in ballet, in the mid-70s, that was the list, as well. Paris was omitted -- although that was before POB's resurgence.

Whatever Macaulay may have had in mind, the above is distinctly my memory as well even if individual dancers won praise (as they did). I also remember some really stinging criticisms of POB--as a company not to be taken seriously--by Richard Buckle from the same era or somewhat earlier. Fair or unfair, accurate or inaccurate, the company did not have the same kind of cachet when I was younger as it seems to have now.

About the time Bessy's influence at the school first started making a clear impact is when I first started hearing things were changing--with the change attributed by my interlocutor to Bessy more than to any director The current reverence for the company and the high respect people feel for it almost still takes me by surprise....

Share this post


Link to post

Is the POB style influential outside of France? Well, I think the Ruusians have been trying to emulate it for years now, not particularly successfully... Sylve Guillem seems to be what they've been going for to the point where the old Russian style is not much in evidence... Look at the Bolshoi! It may be doing much the same rep it did in the 20th century, but the look is so different.

Share this post


Link to post

During a very short-lived revival of Ivan the Terrible at the POB, French radio did an interview with Yuri Grigorovich, during which he was asked about Nureyev's impact on ballet. This would have been around the 10th anniversary of his death. Grigorovich was very dismissive of Nureyev and claimed that all the greatness of the POB, about which he was exceedingly complimentary, could be put down to Claude Bessy and the school. (I wondered whether Grigorovich had considered the possibility that he, too, had not been the source of the Bolshoi's enduring greatness.) I have difficulty imagining how one teacher, no matter how gifted, could produce miracles from nothing. Clearly, Bessy is a great teacher and administrator, but she was not working in a vacuum. Someone had trained her and her colleagues.

I do remember reading old Anglo-American criticisms of POB men in particular, who were mocked for things that were considered "unmanly" at the time, such as high arabesques and three-quarter pointe, now standard practice everywhere, obviously. Or did the dismissive attitude toward the POB have more to do with its repertoire than its dancers? Were the ballets too incompatible with those same Anglo-American sensibilities? They were not incompatible with all British critics. If you go back to the handy old Ballet Goer's Guide (1981), you'll find that Mary Clarke and Clement Crisp heaped a lot of praise on Serge Lifar and the POB of his period. Perhaps those who first came to know the company in the 1960s and '70s didn't think much of it, but relatively speaking that was a brief period for a company as old as the POB. Admirers of all the companies Macaulay mentioned have ripped out their hair in despair at some point.

We could ask whether the Bolshoi style, aside from Don Quixote, is influential outside of Russia. Does the Bournonville style "travel"? We sure would like it to, but more often than not we complain about its absence in productions of La Sylphide, the only Bournonville ballet performed outside Denmark with any regularity. So should we dismiss its "influence" as too limited? Balanchine evoked the French style in some of his ballets, so clearly it was not without "influence."

Share this post


Link to post

Perhaps their more mainstream fame is why a lot of people credit Claude Bessy and Rudolf Nureyev, rather than the team. Giants like Laurent Hilaire and Sylvie Guillem were remarkably adaptive whilst remaining distinctly French, and both have emphasised how important it was for them to learn from other companies. Ghyslaine Thesmar was - and still is - very much Laurent Hilaire's mentor, and whilst Hilaire and Manuel Legris are the face of the Nureyev generation, Charles Jude was always Rudolf Nureyev's closest protegee.

If I remember correctly, Claude Bessy took a fairly experimental approach to training students. A lot of them learned Graham and I seem to recall reading Bessy even offered classes in martial arts to learn the attack so often missing from the POB school. I suppose, ultimately, Bessy placed a lot of emphasis on the standards of other schools, but as Laurent Hilaire and Agnes Letestu have said, mime and acting wasn't something the school - or the company - prepared them for. Hilaire claimed it was Rudolf Nureyev who brought that over, or at least, the mime the English and Russian audiences were used to.

As for Macaulay, he has written in the past the POB today confuses classical dance with academic technique, and this is certainly echoed in Paris. Criticism of the company amongst in-house balletomones always seems to surround one or more of three areas: 1) the loss of the French style, 2) the lack of interpretation or stage presence, and 3) the weak technique. A French friend recently quipped, "If the ONP has a style, it's defined by Brigitte Lefevre's disdain for the technical and artistic standards required of a major company." Is that opinion widely held internationally though? I'm not so sure.

Share this post


Link to post

I know this is the POB thread, but RB style? Yes it did have one, now it doesn't. A Paris based friend watched the RB and said she would never complain about POB again. The British style died when the contempt for Frederick Ashton was born.

Share this post


Link to post

I would agree with you, Mashinka, about the English style a.k.a. the Ashtonian style having gone missing at the Royal Ballet. It says a lot that Ed Watson (who I like but don't consider much of a classical dancer) is one of the leading lights at the Royal. But perhaps the old style has reconstituted itself in Florida (of all places)?

For our French correspondents -- who, in your opinion, are (a) the current exemplars of the French style at the POB, and (b) also have a strong technique?

Share this post


Link to post

I don't know enough about the history of the curriculum at the POB school to know if Bessy was an agent of change or presided over a group effort, but as far as the reputation of the company itself is concerned, I think it was Nureyev who brought a new level of international attention to the institution, both in their life at home and on tour (especially in those "N and Friends" projects) The school produced Guillem, Platel, Le Riche, etc, but remember the excitement when Nureyev reached down (past the standard structure) to elevate that cohort? At the time some people were very concerned about the intersection of the traditional process at the POB and Nureyev's more glamorous celebrity -- in the end, I think they were all served.

Share this post


Link to post

... I'd also say that the RDB style has changed quite a bit in the last ten, twenty years. I've seen photos of recent performances that look very ... different.

I know this is the POB thread, but RB style? Yes it did have one, now it doesn't. A Paris based friend watched the RB and said she would never complain about POB again. The British style died when the contempt for Frederick Ashton was born.

When one reads Macaulay's whole review, it is clear he is at least somewhat sensitive to these changes at the RDB and the RB, though he is really focused on making his point about NYCB...

Share this post


Link to post

I first saw the POB in the mid seventies. The dancers were technically very strong, but the problem seemed to be that there was a lack of discipline, no strong direction and (perhaps) the general administrator wasn't that interested in dance. Also, there were a great many restrictive practices which made it a very difficult place to work. So the company atrtacted little attention outside France. This changed to some extent when Rolf Lieberman took over direction of the theatre. He was interested in both opera and ballet and was a good friend of Balanchine (Chaconne has its origins in dances which Mr B did for a production of Orpheus given in Hamburg when Lieberman was director there). So a great deal of Balanchine was added to the rep, including several pieces from the Stravinsky Festival which Balanchine rehearsed himself. Likewise a number of ballets from the Ravel Festival came into the rep (Lieberman helped with negotiations with the Ravel Estate I believe). It was also during the Lieberman era that Cunningham created Un Jour ou Deux for the company. A really interesting piece and the dancers were wonderful.

Verdy had two difficult years, but did bring MacMillan's Song of the Earth into the repertory. Then came Hightower, who among other things managed to increase the number of performances and I actually heard her say "I'll keep them so busy they won't have time to plot". Things were a great deal less str5essful for the direction (there was one strike and a postponed premiere but that was because the stage was infested with bugs because of real straw bales used as part of the decor for Heinz Spoerli's Fille Mal Gardee). Then in 1983 came Nureyev who found a galaxy of talent at all levels. Claude Bessy took over the direction of the school in 1973 so dancers like Piollet, Pontois, Loudieres, Thesmar, Bonnefous, Guizerix, Denard and Jude, at the top of the company when he took over, were all products of the old school - and wonderful dancers they were. (Platel actually trained at the Paris Conservatoire).

My impression is that Nureyev didn't try to influence style but always gave opportunities to young dancers (often despite custom and tradition) and opened up the repertory still more trying to stretch both technique and interpretation. (There's a story about him at the Royal Ballet working furiously to master a sequence of steps. Michael Somes saw him and said "It would be easier and would give the same effect if you did ............................" To which came the reply "How will I improve if I don't set myself something to do that I can't do".

It's a long time since I saw POB so I don't know what the company is like now - I've heard ominous reports, But I have no personal knowledge.

As to the Royal Ballet, they have some wonderful dancers but the Ashton style "What used to be known as the English style is in fact the Ashton style" as someone wrote, really went when MacMillan took over. The level of the men was with a few exceptions pretty weak, and he was heard to complain that the company danced Petipa like they danced Ashton.

Share this post


Link to post

... This changed to some extent when Rolf Lieberman took over direction of the theatre. He was interested in both opera and ballet and was a good friend of Balanchine (Chaconne has its origins in dances which Mr B did for a production of Orpheus given in Hamburg when Lieberman was director there). So a great deal of Balanchine was added to the rep, including several pieces from the Stravinsky Festival which Balanchine rehearsed himself. Likewise a number of ballets from the Ravel Festival came into the rep (Lieberman helped with negotiations with the Ravel Estate I believe). It was also during the Lieberman era that Cunningham created Un Jour ou Deux for the company. A really interesting piece and the dancers were wonderful.

Verdy had two difficult years, but did bring MacMillan's Song of the Earth into the repertory. Then came Hightower, who among other things managed to increase the number of performances and I actually heard her say "I'll keep them so busy they won't have time to plot". Things were a great deal less str5essful for the direction (there was one strike and a postponed premiere but that was because the stage was infested with bugs because of real straw bales used as part of the decor for Heinz Spoerli's Fille Mal Gardee). Then in 1983 came Nureyev who found a galaxy of talent at all levels. Claude Bessy took over the direction of the school in 1973 so dancers like Piollet, Pontois, Loudieres, Thesmar, Bonnefous, Guizerix, Denard and Jude, at the top of the company when he took over, were all products of the old school - and wonderful dancers they were. (Platel actually trained at the Paris Conservatoire).

Thanks so much for the timeline -- I really appreciate the details.

My impression is that Nureyev didn't try to influence style but always gave opportunities to young dancers (often despite custom and tradition) and opened up the repertory still more trying to stretch both technique and interpretation.

And yes, I think that, and the general excitement that followed him wherever he went, was his true accomplishment in Paris.

Share this post


Link to post

At the BAM site, there's a video -- http://www.bam.org/video -- of Deborah Jowitt conducting an artist talk with Benjamin Millepied. The relevant parts about the Paris Opera Ballet occur between 28:00-39:00 and again between 47:00-54:00. Millepied covered the following:

  • Discusses his approach to the institution -- its history, his place within it as a choreographer, and balancing ballets of the past vs. ballets of our time.
  • Talks a little bit about bucking the hierarchy to cast corps dancers in central roles.
  • Talks about the importance of music and developing musicality, and how he was dissatisfied with some of the piano playing he heard in company class.
  • Envisions himself as an artistic director who is also teaching company class.
  • Discusses his disappointment with companies that performed tributes to the Ballet Russe upon its 100th anniversary. (I wasn't clear if he was disappointed in companies performing tired revivals of the old Ballet Russe repertory or in commissioning new works to the old Ballet Russe scores instead of commissioning new scores.)
  • Was quite critical of the Paris Opera dancers for being "not ambitious" in terms of some dancers just hanging around until they're 42 when they can collect their pensions. I get the sense he may start putting pressure on the dead weight to leave. (This is the part of the conversation with which I wish Deborah Jowitt had done a better job asking follow-up questions. Namely, how can you get rid of the dead weight when you cannot fire the dancers?)
  • Mentions how the performers on stage and the audience itself are not reflective of what Paris actually looks like.

There's more but I'll leave it at that for now. Millepied was interesting and well-spoken but Jowitt didn't seem particularly well-informed about the Paris Opera Ballet.

P.S. Millepied did say he will announce the 2015-16 season in February.

Share this post


Link to post

Millepied in Vogue:

http://www.vogue.com/2298381/natalia-vodianova-ballet-november-cover/

Not much new under the sun in this interview other than that the 2015-16 season will feature, "seven newly commissioned ballets."

Can work up much enthusiasm for the same old overextended names being thrown about: Wheeldon, Ratmansky and Peck

I wish there was a better photo of the etoiles than the one Vogue used.

Share this post


Link to post

Millepied in Vogue:

http://www.vogue.com/2298381/natalia-vodianova-ballet-november-cover/

....

Can work up much enthusiasm for the same old overextended names being thrown about: Wheeldon, Ratmansky and Peck

Peck is very "hot" right now, but "old [and] overextended?"--he has only been prominent for about a year...In many ways, he and his audience are still figuring out what kind of choreographer he is going to be...

Share this post


Link to post

I stand by my assessment of Justin Peck. In the short span of less than eight weeks, New York has seen the Pacific Northwest Ballet perform one of his pieces at the Joyce and the LA Dance Project perform another at BAM. This in addition to his very busy activities at the New York City Ballet. I question whether he's taking on too much.

As for him, "still figuring out what kind of choreographer he is going to be," that ship sailed when he accepted the Resident Choreographer position at City Ballet and started accepting major commissions from A-list dance companies. He's in the big leagues now and he has to accept that critics won't cut him any slack.

But my bigger point is this: I'm dreading the prospect that Millepied will bring the POB's repertory into line with the prevailing international standard. The names he's thrown around include Balanchine, Forsythe, Peck, Ratmansky, Robbins and Wheeldon. They're all wonderful . . . but you can see them anywhere. Even ABT, for its Fall season, will be featuring pieces by Ratmansky, Wheeldon and that other hot young choreographer, Liam Scarlett. I like POB precisely because their repertory consists of things that are hard to see anywhere else: the defile and Lifar's Suite en Blanc and Bejart's Bolero and Balanchine's Palais de Cristal and Cunningham's Un jour ou deux and the Lacotte reconstructions and the Nureyev takes on the classics. I would hate to see any of that disappear. And if Millepied wants to bring in fresh choreographers, I would prefer it if he used French choreographers who have a tie to the company style -- the former etoile Jean-Guillaume Bart and the sujet Nicolas Paul and the quadrille Samuel Murez.

But I'll have to wait until February to find out what's in store. Worried!!!!!

Share this post


Link to post

And if Millepied wants to bring in fresh choreographers, I would prefer it if he used French choreographers who have a tie to the company style -- the former etoile Jean-Guillaume Bart and the sujet Nicolas Paul and the quadrille Samuel Murez.

But I'll have to wait until February to find out what's in store. Worried!!!!!

Change is not without stress. ;)

I agree that it would be best if Millepied focused on home grown choreographic talent rather than simply add a bunch of Wheeldon, Ratmansky, Forsythe ballets to the repetoire. It is precisely the big, state funded companies that have the opportunity to create a specific style and approach. Small companies simply don't have that option (unless one happens to hire an unknown genius choreographer - still waiting for that to happen); they have to appeal to a broad range to survive.

Share this post


Link to post

A few outside commissions doesn't make Peck overextended....yet. He has said that he doesn't want to follow the Wheeldon/Ratmansky model of doing ballets for lots of different companies. And, as Violette Verdy said, you don't say no to the Opera. :)

miliosr writes:

I'm dreading the prospect that Millepied will bring the POB's repertory into line with the prevailing international standard.

I agree. I hope he comes up with other ideas beyond commissioning ballets from the usual suspects.

Share this post


Link to post

A few outside commissions doesn't make Peck overextended....yet. He has said that he doesn't want to follow the Wheeldon/Ratmansky model of doing ballets for lots of different companies. And, as Violette Verdy said, you don't say no to the Opera. smile.png

miliosr writes:

I'm dreading the prospect that Millepied will bring the POB's repertory into line with the prevailing international standard.

I agree. I hope he comes up with other ideas beyond commissioning ballets from the usual suspects.

There's overextended, yes, but you learn to make dances by making dances, and at this point, Peck is still learning.

Share this post


Link to post

Yes, not anything particularly new, but I was struck by this comment, about the development of young choreographers.

"I want dancers who are interested in choreography to learn the way musical composition is taught, to be exposed to the mechanics of different kinds of choreographic styles, learn about lighting, get rehearsal time to experiment,” he said."

There aren't too many opportunities for nascent ballet choreographers to really learn the fundamentals of dance-making -- I'd be impressed if he could facilitate something at the POB.

Share this post


Link to post

Choreographic workshops are a regular feature within some ballet companies. I don't know whether Millepied is thinking of something on a larger scale.
http://www.operaballet.nl/en/doublebill/2014-2015/show/new-moves-2015

Although they tend to be modern dance environments, courses like these are common within the dance departments of post-secondary institutions, requiring students to perform, tech and, like it or not, choreograph pieces as part of their training.

Share this post


Link to post

Some of these choreographic "workshops" have been performed once in a while at POB in Amphithéâtre Bastille.

A lot of dancers are choreagraphing for side shows but I don't think all dancers are able to do that (it needs some talent, no?) and are interesting to do it (that's not their job anyway)... As to be interesting by the music and the lightining, I think they are all, at least when they have a grade where they are requested to use it, that is a part of their job... Of course, if he is speaking of all 154 dancers, perhaps they are not all at the same level...

Share this post


Link to post

Choreographic workshops are a regular feature within some ballet companies. I don't know whether Millepied is thinking of something on a larger scale.

http://www.operaballet.nl/en/doublebill/2014-2015/show/new-moves-2015

Although they tend to be modern dance environments, courses like these are common within the dance departments of post-secondary institutions, requiring students to perform, tech and, like it or not, choreograph pieces as part of their training.

I don't know enough about the program to be able to say anything specific, but I was pleased to see Millepied's comments about the learning process ("I want dancers who are interested in choreography to learn the way musical composition is taught, to be exposed to the mechanics of different kinds of choreographic styles..."). As you point out, modern dancers are much more likely to get actual instruction in composition, not just a performance date and rehearsal schedule. There are skills that can be taught and composition techniques that can be learned, but those don't always get communicated in the rush to get a piece onstage.

Share this post


Link to post