In less than 24 hours, what started as a murmur in the French magazine Paris Match (here, if you read French) became a full-fledged roar throughout the ballet world. Benjamin Millepied is stepping down from his role as director of dance at the Paris Opéra Ballet—after only a little over a year.
When Millepied assumed directorship, his vision was at least somewhat at odds with the entrenched culture of POB. He was outspoken about his dissatisfaction with the company’s classical technique, training program and system of promotion to French media outlets. He also commented on the need for POB to become more racially diverse.
Millepied delivered a major coup when he announced that William Forsythe would join the company as associate choreographer. But while Forsythe’s presence was a major vote of confidence from a legendary choreographer, his work is also definitively boundary-pushing. Was Millepied’s vision for POB to turn it into a lab for experimentation? It’s possible that those two sides could have coexisted, but now we’ll have to see how things play out under new leadership.
POB’s press conference today stressed that Millepied was stepping down of his own volition to better focus on choreography and L.A. Dance Project, his contemporary troupe in Los Angeles. His lasting impacts, such as greater attention to the dancers’ health and 3e Scène (the digital platform he spearheaded), will likely remain in place. As for Forsythe, he told The New York Times that he wouldn’t stay past the end of Millepied’s tenure. His agreement to come on board at POB seems to have been based on hopes that Millepied would make lasting changes to the company.
Now, recently retired étoile Aurélie Dupont will step into Millepied’s place. According to frequent Pointe contributor Laura Cappelle, who live tweeted news and opinions from the POB press conference this afternoon, Dupont will take over in summer 2017. Stéphane Lissner, the general director of the Opéra, stressed the continuity between Millepied and Dupont. However, Dupont had a few words of her own, saying that for her, POB would be a classical company that performs contemporary works, not the reverse, and that two classic ballets in an upcoming season is too few (as is the case with the company).
Despite the collaborative spirit that Lissner championed at the time of Millepied’s appointment, it appears that Millepied might have tried to change too much too soon—and bitten off more than he could chew as the director and choreographer for two companies. He will return to L.A. Dance Project with the goal of expanding the company and increasing its repertoire, free from the administrative pressures of running a more than 300-year-old institution steeped in tradition. He will also continue to choreograph for POB, at least over the next few seasons.