The choreographer blew into Paris Opera Ballet on a mission to shake events up. But two seasons eventually, he walked. Does the rebel of dance have any regrets? Plenty

I was always the Frog in America, tells Benjamin Millepied, and then I was the American in Paris. It was naive of me not to realise how different the two worlds are and how differently the politics run. When he was appointed administrator of dance at the Paris Opera in 2014, the French-born choreographer was, in theory, returning to his native ballet culture. Yet the fact that hed spent all his professional life in the US firstly as a dancer with New York City Ballet, then as administrator of his own LA Dance Project had done him more American then he knew.

When he arrived in Paris with a sweeping programme of reform, Millepied spotted himself being criticised as an arrogant interloper, out of touch with French institutions and flavour. However, forming changes at Paris had been a prime provision of his taking the job. I had to feel that there was an franknes, an integrity, in accordance with the rules I led the company. I needed to build something that indicated the things I believed in, social as well as artistic concerns, from A to Z.

When he realised how much defiance there used to be, Millepied decided it wasnt worth battling on. Just 18 months after taking the pole, he announced he would be leaving Paris to concentrate on his LA company, which had continued to operate during his absence. The corporation is now coming to Britain and, encountering Millepied ahead of their call, its easy to look why he and Paris had initially seemed so workable a fit.

He searches and sounds altogether transatlantic. His casual black dres and sky off-color loafers are matched by a cool hybrid accent of clipped Parisian vowels and American drawl. While cynics suggested that hed been hired mainly for his fundraising potential hes married to the actor Natalie Portman, whom he satisfied on the give of Black Swan Millepied comes across as a soldier of passionate sentences, talking fluently about his eyesight for dance, his concern for its fragility, and his commitment to developing new financial modelings for its survival.

Benjamin Milliepied with his wife Natalie Portman in Cannes last year Photograph: Valery Hache/ AFP/ Getty Images

In 2012, when Millepied set up his LA company, hed wanted to create a pulpit for his own choreography, but he was also ambitious to build an organisation that could bend the old-fashioned conventions. In America, beings are struggling to bring in gatherings for dance. I wanted to create a brand-new kind of organisation where you could be genuinely smart about the qualifications of undertaking you put on, but likewise smart about the people who would support you. Dance folds together all the artwork chassis. At LA, we observed firebrands who were very interested in patronizing us because of our association with great contemporary masters and music.

When the offer came from Paris, nonetheless, Millepied felt it was an extraordinary opportunity. The corporation has such a great tradition its where ballet started. But I felt it had lost some gumption of its patrimony. As chairman, he wanted to update the repertory but too restored some of a better quality for which Paris has traditionally been famed: the distinctive musicality of its dancing, and the virtuosity of its pointe handiwork. Just as importantly, he wanted to institute practical changes, which he belief were chronically overdue, such as the introduction of expert physiotherapists to foreclose and repair injury, the installation of sprung dance floorings in studios, and the development of a social media department.

But Millepied didnt take into account the companys size and the heavines of its traditions. Nor was he tactful about local sensibilities. In his hurry-up to improvement, some dancers complained of his abrasive directorial mode while a section of the public grumbled that hed ditched too many beloved French classics for the sake of imported, Anglo-American choreography. He is a known fact that misstep were acquired: I could have gone slower and I could have handled some issues differently. Certainly, when he announced his abandonment, some commentators indicated his entire term had been a wilful vehicle disintegrate of cultures.

Harbor Me, part of LA Dance Assignment triple legislation at Sadlers Wells. Photograph: Andrea Stappert

In his defense, Millepied tells the reaction against him was tremendously overdid and was modest compared with complaints suffered by his precedes. There “werent any” characters sent to parliament asking for me to be removed, as there were in the time of Brigitte Lefvre, and I didnt have impress like Nureyev.

Many dancers supported the changes he tried to implement, as did some of the public. Ticket marketings outperformed themselves during the last season. Most of the audience appears to be very willing to go on this expedition with me. Millepied is also convinced that, where reference is differs in July, he will leave a positive gift: some awesome new ballets; a health plan( he raised a record 1m at the seasons opening pageant ); some practical betters; and above all a more wondering culture from which his successor, Aurlie Dupont, can benefit.

But he does declare “hes been” the wrong mortal for the number of jobs. The requirements of extending a company of 154 dancers, and orchestrating 170 conducts in two theatres, were far heavier than hed imagined, and left him no time for choreographing his own operate. While some criticised him for is inadequate to stick at the number of jobs, he believed it was better for the company that he left as soon as he realised it wasnt toiling and essential for him. I could have stayed in Paris for another five years, or 10, but for the first time in “peoples lives” I was afraid of losing my power. If Id bided I would have become a different person.

Watch a trailer for the LA Dance Project appearance at Sadlers Wells

Hes delighted to now be returning to LA. The metropoli is a love story with me, the illumination, the crazy record of the place, and it feels full of possibilities. His LA is a city of writers and masters and, despite being married to Portman, he has little contact with the movie industry. My bride is very much a smart normal person who spends era with her amazing friends from college. You dont determine her running around to defendants. Its likewise a town that devotes both of them a flexible quality of life of canadians, allowing them to dedicate time to their five-year-old son, Aleph, as well as their individual careers.

Millepied is allayed to now be focused entirely on his own corporation, for which he has enthusiastic programs. Over occasion, he wants to expand it to 20 dancers, preparing it versatile enough to perform classical and contemporary choreography and new productions, as well as revivals of modern dance classics. Hes went hopes, very, for cinema and digital assignments, palaces in cities around the world, and plans for importing the experimental intent of new opu and theatre-making into ballet.

Dance is such a unstable skill sort, he articulates, and I want to create an environment where the choreographers, composers and masters have all the time they are required shape new operate. I want to develop my dancers theres one girl demonstrating real endowment as a choreographer and I want to have artistic conversations with them. Its so different from Paris, where I used to get telephone call from the union at 10 at night. Parties find it hard to understand how I could leave such a prestigious organisation, but I adore what this busines has. It feels like a treasure.

LA Dance Project is at Sadlers Wells, London, 24 -2 5 June.


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