WELCOME TO THE CITY OF ANKLES
At the age of 34, dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied is poised to become a household name; an extraordinary feat considering that the best-known figures in dance are those trailblazers who came to emblemize originality and invention in ballet and on Broadway long ago – names such as Cunningham, Joffrey, Balanchine and Fosse. Millepied, a protégé to the ingenious Jerome Robbins, became a principal dancer with New York City Ballet in 2001, the same year he premiered his first original ballet. Since then, the busy dance-maker has choreographed over 25 ballets on stage and film; yet unlike Fokine, Diaghilev and other pioneers of ballet, Millepied jets around the globe, working with troupes with different tastes and customs; as such, his work evolves with the rapidity of modern technology. Yet, as a 2009 NY Magazine article suggested, a signature style may be emerging: “Intricately woven, slightly off-balance partnering; complex, evolving group patterns; and the celebration of female dancers as both powerful and mysterious.” The NY Times added that “his masterly handling of large groups in changing geometries is something rare,” and the L.A. Times commented that “critics have praised Millepied’s ballets for their stylishness and craft.”
Millepied managed to evade wonder-boy propaganda until his choreography and appearance in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan gave rise to celebrity status. On top of that, the man from Bordeaux, France, renowned for his superabundant work ethic and charisma to match, is the face of Yves Saint Laurent’s new fragrance l’homme libre. Surprisingly, although he currently resides in Los Angeles with actress Natalie Portman, the work of this in-demand globetrotter has never appeared in The City of Angels.
That’s all about to change this week. In its West Coast debut, the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève (Artistic Director Philippe Cohen), performs a trio of works by Millepied at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion: The North American premieres of Les Sylphides and Spectre de la Rose, and Amoveo, originally created for the Paris Opera Ballet. Under the auspices of Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center, this event is rightfully being hailed as a rare opportunity to see one of Europe’s most respected ballet companies perform work by one of dance’s most exciting young talents; it plays for three performances only: April 13-15, 2012.
Les Sylphides, with music by Chopin, first appeared in 1909 as a non-narrative ballet in which sylphides, imaginary female beings assumed to inhabit the air, danced with the arch-Romantic figure of The Poet. Against a backdrop of Paul Cox’ black and white crisscrossing lines, Millepied adds a narrative touch to his rendition, involving eleven ladies, dressed in a range of striking colors, and a somewhat bemused poet. Christopher Park, annotator for the company, comments that in eight scenes, the formal aspects of dance are given extra sparkle in gently humorous tableaux vivants that wittily comment on such things as feminine deceit, masculine ego, and the ups and downs of our lives as a community of socially interdependent beings.
The original 1911 production of Spectre de la Rose, with music by Carl Maria von Weber, was staged for two dancers: a dreaming maiden and a Rose, whose spirit is embodied by a young man who gave her a rose earlier at her first ball. Millepied’s version has three licentious male Roses giddily tossing about a young dreamer on Paul Cox’s brightly colored cubist set.
Paris Opera Ballet may have introduced Millepied’s Amoveo, set to extracts from Philip Glass’ Einstein on the Beach, but this work is being performed by the Ballet du Grand Théâtre for the first time. Renae Williams Niles, director of programming for the Music Center, told me that Millepied needed a company which can live up to the technical requirements of the piece, which contains numerous variations in roundelay, from solos to ensembles; while this is a set work, he may make changes according to the dancers he is working with, but eleven company members will be performing a choreography where classical expression merges with a contemporary spirit.
Millepied is next creating a world premiere for New York City Ballet in May, and choreographing the new musical Hands on a Hard Body at La Jolla Playhouse. He will always return to Los Angeles, however, as the Music Center and Millepied recently announced the creation of LA Dance Project, a “splashy, blue-chip contemporary ballet company devoted to artistic experimentation,” according to the L.A. Times. It appears that Millepied and Los Angeles are at the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
photos by GTG/Vincent Lepresle
Les Sylphides, Spectre de la Rose and Amoveo
Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
plays April 13-15, 2012
for tickets call (213) 972-0711 or visit www.musiccenter.org