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Report: Millepied Will Quit Paris Ballet

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Arguably the greatest ballet company of all time -- the Ballets Russes -- was led not by a choreographer or an arts administrator (in the contemporary sense) but by an impresario -- Sergei Diaghilev.

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Peter Martins has been cranking out a ballet or two per year for how many years now? And mounting a big festival of some sort or another on a more or less regular basis. And running a school. Etc etc etc.

I'm not a big fan of Martins' ballets and the various festivals and projects have had mixed results, but they require considerable time and attention nonetheless.

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One thing that Millepied never learned from his old boss Peter Martins is that you never, ever say anything negative about your dancers. Peter Martins has given numerous interviews over the years, and you will never see him say anything negative about the NYCB dancers or the company. I'm sure Martins is a very difficult person and is highly critical of dancers in private, but he has never expressed such thoughts in the public media. Millepied seems very arrogant and naive. .

I definitely agree with abatt that you never criticize your dancers in a public forum. Never, ever. Also, IMO, once you have been AD for a number of months you own the company's problems as well as its triumphs. If your dancers don't look good, Benjamin, now that's your fault.

As to the question of whether Millepied would ever succeed Martins in running NYCB, I think (or hope) that's unlikely. When Millepied retired from NYCB not only was there no farewell performance, the company barely made any mention of it at all. If memory serves, they issued a one sentence statement saying he had left the company. To me that sounded a bit like "and don't let the door hit you on your way out".

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I wonder what quality ballets Martins would be turning out if he were not doing all those other things?

There are two pieces of his that seem to get done by other companies, Calcium Light Night (1977) and Fearful Symmetries (1990)... Are there others?

1977 was before he was Artistic Director and in 1990 Jerome Robbins was still part of the picture...

I really do think being free to focus on choreographing instead of on the managing of the company must help some choreographers.

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Luke Jennings has one of the best commentaries on the whole affair in the Observer. I can't get the link to work but this quote from Millepied caught my eye:

"In effect there are two companies, one classical and one contemporary. This is supposed to be a ballet company, but there are dancers who can't dance classically, who haven't been en pointe for years. And they can't be fired."

If Millepied believes this to be true, then why schedule the de Keersmaeker triple bill? Why schedule the Wayne MacGregor and Pina Bausch pieces in the Fall? Wouldn't a more fruitful strategy have been to program more classical pieces -- not maintain Madame Lefevre's old policies?

As for the inability to fire dancers, he knew that going into the job. Paris Opera Ballet dancers are French civil servants. It's just a fact-of-life and, if he had had any patience, he would have seen dancers he didn't like transition out due to age and waited them out. He could have then slowly reshaped the ranks to his liking.

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As for the inability to fire dancers, he knew that going into the job. Paris Opera Ballet dancers are French civil servants. It's just a fact-of-life and, if he had had any patience, he would have seen dancers he didn't like transition out due to age and waited them out. He could have then slowly reshaped the ranks to his liking.

If nothing else, it's blatantly obvious that Millepied does not have any patience. From the start he wanted to uproot a 300-yr old institution overnight.

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I really do think being free to focus on choreographing instead of on the managing of the company must help some choreographers.

That was the downfall of Villella down here.

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From the Jennings article:

In discussions with the dancers, however, he was stunned to be informed that black and minority ethnicity performers should not appear in classical ballet, as it was an “occidental” art form.

Is this true? If it is true it's rather horrifying.

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I've read various things about the POB dancers and race this week but I would caution that all of those comments have come from Millepied. In effect, he's condemned the entire company with what he said and put the dancers in the position of being guilty until they prove themselves innocent. I think Luke Jennings should have gone to the dancers' union for comment rather than just printing Millepied's comments as the Gospel truth.

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You certainly used to be able to fire dancers. After the annual examination, once the public had departed, dancers who had failed to attend class, put on weight, generally failed to come up to the expected standard, appeared before the jury which was asked whether the dancer in question should remain a member of the company or be dismissed. No marking, just yes or no. If the majority voted yes, then the next question was whether it should be at the same rank or a lower. And it's worth bearing in mind that the management, that is to say the artistic director and the ballet staff, have a considerable input into making up the final total of marks which decide whether a dancer should be promoted. Doesn't matter how well he or she performs on the day if they've not worked properly since the last concours the total will be marked down.

As to the "occidental" remark; Former Etoile Charles Jude is half Vietnamese, Kadar Belarbi now running the company in Toulouse is Berber and soloists Eric Vu An and Jean Marie Didiere were both dark skinned. Don't know what the company is like now but in the past it wasn't a problem.

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You certainly used to be able to fire dancers. After the annual examination, once the public had departed, dancers who had failed to attend class, put on weight, generally failed to come up to the expected standard, appeared before the jury which was asked whether the dancer in question should remain a member of the company or be dismissed. No marking, just yes or no. If the majority voted yes, then the next question was whether it should be at the same rank or a lower. And it's worth bearing in mind that the management, that is to say the artistic director and the ballet staff, have a considerable input into making up the final total of marks which decide whether a dancer should be promoted. Doesn't matter how well he or she performs on the day if they've not worked properly since the last concours the total will be marked down.

As to the "occidental" remark; Former Etoile Charles Jude is half Vietnamese, Kadar Belarbi now running the company in Toulouse is Berber and soloists Eric Vu An and Jean Marie Didiere were both dark skinned. Don't know what the company is like now but in the past it wasn't a problem.

Sae Yun Park is Korean,Hannah O'neil is part Japanese and there are 2or3 Asians in the corp de ballet

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Well I know on the surface Dupont seems like a great pick but in the past she herself has been vocal about the training/coaching at the POB school and the company. She and Claude Bessy had some harsh words to say about each other, as Dupont accused the teachers and Bessy of being cruel and demoralizing, and Bessy responded with some choice words of her own. I have no idea if the policies and teaching have changed under Elisabeth Platel.

But my point is Dupont is someone who has been vocal in the past about criticizing certain traditions as well.

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As to the "occidental" remark; Former Etoile Charles Jude is half Vietnamese, Kadar Belarbi now running the company in Toulouse is Berber and soloists Eric Vu An and Jean Marie Didiere were both dark skinned. Don't know what the company is like now but in the past it wasn't a problem.

Myriam Ould-Braham is half-Algerian, Alice Renavand is half-Vietnamese, Mathias Heymann is half-Moroccan. Like Millepied, Ould-Braham and Heymann spent parts of their childhood living in Africa. Millepied is not the only cosmopolitan working in the company.

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From the Jennings article:

"In discussions with the dancers, however, he was stunned to be informed that black and minority ethnicity performers should not appear in classical ballet, as it was an “occidental” art form."

Is this true? If it is true it's rather horrifying.

Myriam Ould-Braham is half-Algerian, Alice Renavand is half-Vietnamese, Mathias Heymann is half-Moroccan. Like Millepied, Ould-Braham and Heymann spent parts of their childhood living in Africa. Millepied is not the only cosmopolitan working in the company.

The ancestry of the dancers does not seem to be the issue here, it is that Millepied was "informed that black and minority ethnicity performers should not appear in classical ballet". The big question would be: who, exactly? Presumably someone with real clout - at least that is the implication. But who made the statement?

I suppose this relates to the quote that Dirac found: 'Purists were also unhappy when he rechristened in the name of political correctness the original "dance of the little negroes" in the 19th century ballet La Bayadère "the dance of the children" and forbade the young dancers to black up their faces.'

There are always going to be audience members who resist new developments, and it doesn't have to have anything to do with touchy issues like race.

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The ancestry of the dancers does not seem to be the issue here, it is that Millepied was "informed that black and minority ethnicity performers should not appear in classical ballet". The big question would be: who, exactly? Presumably someone with real clout - at least that is the implication. But who made the statement?

Whoever the people with clout may be, they didn't stop Ould-Braham and Heymann--who may not be screamingly obvious minorities, but who don't look conventionally "white" either--from dancing the leads in a live cinema transmission of The Sleeping Beauty. I know those weren't their originally scheduled roles, but the parts of Bluebird and Princess Florine, which they were to have performed, are no less classical.

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Whoever the people with clout may be, they didn't stop Ould-Braham and Heymann--who may not be screamingly obvious minorities, but who don't look conventionally "white" either--from dancing the leads in a live cinema transmission of The Sleeping Beauty. I know those weren't their originally scheduled roles, but the parts of Bluebird and Princess Florine, which they were to have performed, are no less classical.

Other forum members have tried to show the diversity of the POB ranks, I'm not going to argue whether those examples are persuasive, or not. I just think the real issue is with the statement from Millepied - we get a lot of he said/she said from these media articles, but too much is left vague or unknown. If that comment came from the senior administrator or Ballet Master in Chief, there could be a problem (depending of course on your point of view).

Some people may not realize that, officially, Millepied will be around until July 15, 2016. He is still overseeing this current season - and there may be more "fireworks" to come...

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The ancestry of the dancers does not seem to be the issue here, it is that Millepied was "informed that black and minority ethnicity performers should not appear in classical ballet". The big question would be: who, exactly? Presumably someone with real clout - at least that is the implication. But who made the statement?

I suppose this relates to the quote that Dirac found: 'Purists were also unhappy when he rechristened in the name of political correctness the original "dance of the little negroes" in the 19th century ballet La Bayadère "the dance of the children" and forbade the young dancers to black up their faces.'

There are always going to be audience members who resist new developments, and it doesn't have to have anything to do with touchy issues like race.

According to the Jennings piece, the resistance to the change in "La Bayadere" came from within the company. It is troubling that apparently the organization as a whole were oblivious to the problem presented by having children caper onstage in blackface.

Its production of La Bayadère, reproduced by Rudolf Nureyev from the 19th-century St Petersburg original, contains a scene abhorrent to many contemporary eyes, in which children, listed in the programme as “négrillons” (picaninnies), are blacked up and caper around like savages. Millepied couldn’t make the company cut the scene completely, as almost all other productions elsewhere have done, but demanded an end to the blackface, and listed the children in the programme as “enfants”. In doing so, he roused the hostility not only of the Opéra establishment, but of the dancers, who objected to this rift with “authenticity” and “tradition”, despite the fact that La Bayadère has only been in the Paris repertoire since 1992.

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Regarding skin color, Coryphee Letizia Galloni is Italian but she has dark skin. She did not get promoted at the annual exam (although spectators thought she was good enough to be promoted), but she danced the role of Lise in La Fille Mal Gardee last season, and the Chosen One in Sacre du Printemps last December.

Casting a coryhee dancer to leading roles was considered a typical Millepied choice. (and in Sacre, etoiles such as Abbagnato, Renevand were in the supporting role on the same performance)

I also saw La Bayadere in December, and recognized the change in the children in the 2nd act. There was apparently one boy with dark skin. (as for the criticism in the Shades scene, I thought the quality of the corps were very good, unified and beautiful. I think it would be very strange if each of the corps de ballet shades had character in that scene and moved individually, that would not be La Bayadere).

But I did think it strange that a coryphee dancer Vikiinkoski was doing the role of Gamzatti and she was not good at all, no character, her movements did not display the elegance of the Paris Opera School, very rough fouettes. This seemed also a display of Millepied's attempt to break the hierarchical system and show more diversity (Vikiinkoski is the first Finnish dancer at POB) Because in the POB La Bayarede DVD, Gamzatti was danced by Elisabeth Platel and this is clearly a role for Etoiles or Premiere Danseuse.

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Regarding skin color, Coryphee Letizia Galloni is Italian but she has dark skin. She did not get promoted at the annual exam (although spectators thought she was good enough to be promoted), but she danced the role of Lise in La Fille Mal Gardee last season, and the Chosen One in Sacre du Printemps last December.

Letizia Galloni is not Italian, she is French and métisse, or mixed race.

I admit there is lack of diversity, but that's not going to change overnight. It needs to start at the school, and if you look at the young dancers in the corps de ballet and the school, there is indeed more diversity than 5 or 10 years ago.

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Letizia Galloni might not be Italian in nationality but she said in a Japanese interview that she is a mixed race with Italian blood.

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From The Guardian:

Benjamin Millepied: ballet’s black swan bows out in Paris

'Millepied seemed detached from the excited buzz around us. He felt suffocated, he told me, by the company’s complacency, and by the many restrictions placed upon him. “I can’t hire dancers, I merely head a jury of 10 people which selects them. I have no power over the company’s ballet school, and I have to ask permission to promote dancers. It’s very frustrating, and it’s very difficult to bring talented dancers up through the ranks.”'

'In discussions with the dancers, however, he was stunned to be informed that black and minority ethnicity performers should not appear in classical ballet, as it was an “occidental” art form. “You can imagine how it felt being told that by dancers,” he told me. “By young people who were supposed to be artists.”'

I'm still just not getting how Millepied did not know about this situation in advance (and think through how he was going to be able to deal with things). Unless, and it is quite possible, that the POB staff that he interviewed with, assured him that they were open to new, 'exciting' changes, and talked up their own side of things. And that turned out to be not really the case. That happens often enough in the business world when courting new CEOs.

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I'm still just not getting how Millepied did not know about this situation in advance (and think through how he was going to be able to deal with things).

He knew what he was getting himself into. But, in his arrogance, he thought he could jettison 300+ years of history and everyone would just acquiesce to it.

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