Posted on February 4, 2016
Benjamin Millepied is stepping down as director of the Paris Opéra Ballet, where he has been director since 2014. At a press conference on February 4, his successor was announced as Aurélie Dupont, who retired as étoile of the company last year. Millepied will leave at the end of the current season, in July.
Millepied confirmed his departure in a statement on social media. He plans to focus on his own choreography, returning to Los Angeles and to his small contemporary company, LA Dance Project, which he founded in 2012. He and his wife, the Hollywood actress Natalie Portman, lived in Los Angeles before moving to Paris in 2014. The news of his departure from the Paris Opéra Ballet was broken by the French magazine Paris Match on February 3, and confirmed the next day.
Millepied and Dupont were at the press conference with Stéphane Lissner, the director of the Paris Opéra. Lissner said that he and Millepied had discussed the difficulties of both directing the company and choreographing, but that this was Millepied’s decision: “An artist needs time to create”. Millepied has programmed the 2016 to 17 season, and will announce it next week. Dupont will take over as artistic director from August 2016.
Millepied said that he was honoured to have had the opportunity to direct the company, and was proud of his two seasons, but needed to make creation a priority. He said that the job of director, in its current form, does not fit him. He told the assembled journalists that he would create a work for the Paris Opéra Ballet next season, adding that he thought Dupont was the right choice for his successor. He continued, in English, “The future is bright.” He left the conference early, taking no questions from the press.
Dupont said that she was happy and a little surprised by her own appointment. She paid tribute to Millepied, saying that she wanted to continue what he has done. She and Lissner both described this company, where she has spent 32 years, as her home. She praised the dancers and described the Paris Opéra as a classical company that does contemporary work, adding that she would never reverse this balance. She also said that two classics out of 13 productions – the balance in the current season at the Paris Opéra Ballet, programmed by Millepied – was not enough.
Over the past few months, Millepied had criticised the Paris Opéra’s rigid hierarchies, and in the documentary Relève, broadcast in France in December, he said the company needed to be more racially diverse, and that its standards of classical dancing needed to be higher.
The critic Laura Cappelle reported the press conference in detail on her twitter feed, @bellafigural. Her article on dance in France will appear in the March 2016 issue of Dancing Times.
Picture: Benjamin Millepied at the Palais Garnier. Photograph: Julien Benhamou