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.