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4 FEB 16
Some further reactions to Benjamin Millepied's shock departure from Paris Opera Ballet from his predecessor, the longer-lasting POB director Brigitte Lefèvre, and one of the company's stars shed further light on the claimed misfit between the Millepied and the company.
Lefèvre says he was essentially unqualified and ill-experienced to run a large ballet company, while étoile Josua Hoffalt complains that Millepied focused on a small group of his loyalists and failed to grasp the bigger picture of the Paris Opera Ballet's past. He also claimed that the appointment of (his former partner) Aurélie Dupont as Millepied's successor had come as a total surprise to the company.
Here are my translations.
Lefèvre: "Millepied had no experience of a large ballet company"
The choreographer Benjamin Millepied, who announced his departure two hours before the company’s official press conference [3 February], ”had no experience of directing a large company," said the former director of the Paris Opera Ballet Brigitte Lefèvre.
“It would have been common sense to appoint someone who really knew ballet,” the woman who led the prestigious company for 20 years told AFP. She had proposed to the Paris Opera director Stéphane Lissner that her successor should be the balletmaster anf former étoile Laurent Hilaire.
"Running a large institution can’t just be conjured up," Lefèvre emphasised, though she did not question the creative talent of Benjamin Millepied, from whom she had commissioned several new works during her time in office.
”Benjamin had not taken full measure of the job, that it involves 80 percent administration and only 20 percent artistic,” a connoisseur of the Opéra told AFP. "He wanted to make quick reforms, because it's how he does things, quickly, but he was not backed by the Opera directorship.
"He did put all his honesty into the job, but he didn’t consider the effect of certain things he said. When he says that ballet was like wallpaper, it implied there weren’t individuals in the company, when he wanted to say to dancers, 'Be artists, not just super technicians'."
Millepied’s statements to Le Figaro about “wallpaper”, and what he said in the documentary co-produced by the Opéra and broadcast on Canal Plus, also caused shock.
"Being a dancer means to express oneself, not trying to look like a wallpaper pattern,” said the director. "Yes, the ballet dancers do need to show a certain homogeneity, to be aware of each other in space, but above all, they must be dancing! Right now at the Garnier, in the contemporary program of Wheeldon/ McGregor/ Bausch, that's how they are looking, they are displaying total freedom. But in the classics we’re not seeing it.”
Good riddance to Millepied, says étoile
The reaction from Josua Hoffalt, étoile at the Paris Opera [IB, since 2012 - here is an audience film of his nomination on stage after La Bayadère, partnering Aurélie Dupont] is that Millepied's departure was inevitable.
"Millepied’s departure from the Paris Opera does not surprise me. For some time now it seemed to be all wrong. His resignation was inevitable, it could no longer go on.
"For several months the atmosphere had become tense. It must be said that we all took his criticism in the Canal Plus documentary Relève very badly, as well as in an interview he gave to Le Figaro last December. He said he was dissatisfied with 'the way the company danced on stage.'
"Among his most violent remarks, he said the standard of classical dancers was still too low for works like La Bayadère. However I would say: “to dance is to express oneself, not to try to recreate some kind of paper pattern”, and to dance in a company imposes a certain harmony to be reached, yet doesn’t prevent individuals from emerging. He also said we were not 'the best classical company but the best for contemporary dance', which is both insulting to us as classical dancers and also to the most talented contemporary companies such as Kylian’s Nederlands Dans Theater.
"In toto, his remarks, as well as causing us hurt, showed that he had not understood the house culture. I think when he took the job, Mr Millepied didn't get his head around where to place his feet. The Paris Opera is an institution that has existed for over 300 years, with all that that implies in terms of hierarchy and operation.
"Millepied was very excited when he arrived, but he probably made the mistake of wanting to white out the past. No one can white out the past of an institution like this one.
"Besides that, he announced all this stuff in the press before taking up the job: like his wish to promote in-house talent, to develop outside projects... But the fact is that a year later the results are not there to show.
"On my own personal account, I led two projects outside the Opera, one of which was a creation that involved only dancers from our company. I asked Benjamin Millepied to come, but he never did. And I'm not alone in this. He said there was no 'house' choreographer, but Samuel Murez, who is also a dancer at the Opera, has created danceworks for 10 years with success, and he never budged to see it. It was the same thing when I launched a clothing line in the Opera shop with a star dancer from the company.
"Having been elected to the administrative council of the Paris Opera, I have been able to hear him speak about all the great choreographers of the 20th century, where he cited only Americans, without referring to Roland Petit and Maurice Béjart. It’s simply a violation of our history.
"It became clear over time that a misunderstanding was only growing, and that there was a gap between promises and reality. Yes, he had projects, but they were only for him.
"Quite apart from his incompatibility with the various crews in the company, it seemed to me there was a problem of competence and management. We had the impression that he had no wish to manage us, even if it was part of his job.
"His statement today made me laugh. He had taken on the responsibility 'with the sole objective of innovation in serving the glory of the institution and the fulfilment of the dancers'? As far as I am concerned, the record of my year under his direction comprises a lack of generosity, a kind of absence from us while yet a strong presence in the media, not much content, and various projects for the company.
"In the end, it leaves the Paris Opera in a greater crisis than the one we knew at the departure of Brigitte Lefèvre, its former director.
"We learned today that he will be replaced by Aurélie Dupont. This is a real surprise, we did not see it coming. But we will give it a chance and welcome her with open arms… as we did with Benjamin Millepied."
'It would have been common sense to appoint someone who really knew ballet'