Benjamin Millepied, the Black Swan choreographer who helped transform Natalie Portman into an obsessed, paranoid ballerina for the film and later married the actress, was named director of the Paris Opera Ballet on Thursday.
Millepied, 35, is a former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet who left in 2011 to create his own dance company in Los Angeles, L.A. Dance Project. He’ll start at the Paris company in October 2014, when the present dance director, Brigitte Lefevre, retires.
Portman and Millepied, who have a son, met during the making of Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky’s psychological thriller that stars Portman as a ballet dancer. Portman won the best actress Academy Award for her performance in the movie.
Millepied is known for his innovative work outside classical ballet, and his latest project in Los Angeles has its roots in contemporary dance. In the ballet world, the appointment of Millepied — who has no formal ties to the Paris Opera Ballet — is considered something of a coup.
“I will keep the things that seem strong and solid and I have the chance to rethink certain other things,” Millepied told the Figaro newspaper in an interview Thursday.
The Paris Opera Ballet, founded in the days of Louis XIV, is the oldest ballet company in the world and known for its respect, bordering on reverence, for traditional repertory.
“It’s unusual that someone would come from the outside to run the company,” said Wendy Perron, editor of Dance Magazine in New York. “He has to find his own way between contemporary innovations and the traditions there.”
Among its past directors was Rudolf Nureyev, who held the position from 1983-1989, then left for three years to take the lead role in a travelling version of the Broadway musical The King and I.
Taking on the role as director “will change him in that he will have to think of a large company that has to appeal to the big French public. I think it will change him in the sense of the responsibility he has with so many dancers and such a large public,” Perron said.
As for how Millepied’s leadership could change such an institution famed for its style and refinement, Perron said she hoped it would be for the better. But she cautioned, “I think it's going to be hard for him to deal with the hierarchy that’s there.”