During one of the final scenes of Reset, a documentary following Benjamin Millepied’s 2015 creation of Clear, Loud, Bright, Forward while artistic director of Paris Opéra Ballet, a group of eight dancers walk proudly towards the front of the stage for a final tableau. They are young corps members, not company stars, but they gaze directly and confidently at the audience. Millepied’s message seems clear: Remember these faces.
Of course, we all know what happened a few months later—after trying to shake up POB’s deeply ingrained hierarchy, Millepied resigned. However Reset, which will be available for streaming on Sundance Now March 2, offers an inside view of this fascinating time in POB’s history. The film doesn’t capture a lot of drama and infighting; instead, you’ll see much of Millepied’s creative process, as well lots of rehearsal and performance footage of the hungry young dancers he wants to cultivate. (Two—Léonore Baulac and Germain Louvet—have since become étoiles).
Millepied comes across as an enthusiastic, good-natured boss who is genuinely concerned for his dancers’ welfare and artistic development. Still, there are subtle clues as to why he grew disillusioned so quickly. He frequently complains of a deeply ingrained culture of fear among the school students and corps de ballet, as well as POB’s surprisingly inadequate medical care. Stagehand strikes loom constantly. And he reveals his dismay at being told that black dancers are a “distraction” onstage. “I have to shatter this racist idea,” he says. (The film captures coryphée Letizia Galloni in her debut as Lise in La Fille mal gardée, and notes that she is the first mixed-race POB woman to perform a lead in a classical ballet.)
But what’s most apparent, at least to me, is that Millepied would much rather be in the studio creating, and nurturing dancers, than dealing with the over 300-year-old company’s institutional bureaucracy. (He often seems to be barely listening to his beleaguered assistant in meetings—his mind is on his ballet.) In fact, a friend notes early on that once he stops having fun, “he’ll leave.” Still, Millepied is so upbeat throughout the movie that you can’t help feeling a little surprised, even knowing the outcome, that his tenure didn’t work out.
Watch Reset, a film by Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai, on Sundance Now starting Thursday, March 2.