Star choreographer Millepied quits Paris ballet

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  • Benjamin Millepied
    Benjamin Millepied
    Dancer, choreographer
  • Natalie Portman
    Natalie Portman
    Israeli-American actress

Star choreographer Benjamin Millepied said Thursday he was ending his short tenure at the Paris Opera Ballet, after lambasting the ensemble as stuck in the past. In just over a year at the helm, the French former dancer -- husband of Hollywood actress Natalie Portman -- faced stiff resistance to his plans to radically reform the institution, a bastion of classical ballet tradition. "I have decided to end my time as director of dance," he said in a statement, adding that he wanted to "concentrate 100 percent on creating" rather than on administration. His shock departure came only a day before the world premiere of his latest work at the ballet, ironically titled "The Night Ends". The board of the ballet later named former principal ballerina Aurelie Dupont, 43, as his replacement. Although Millepied, 38, insisted that "the ties that bind me to this beautiful institution mean that I will always be at its side", his acrimonious exit is a major blow. While he refused to answer questions at a press conference, he praised the choice of Dupont, describing her as his "muse". As fans bombarded his Facebook page with messages beseeching him to stay, Millepied said: "My functions as director... take up so much time that they have considerably reduced that for artistic creation, which is essential in my view." One fan, Genevieve Renaud, wrote: "You gave dance a new breath of air, stay and continue to shake this crusty old lady that has mummified." The choreographer made his name as a dashing principal dancer at the New York City Ballet before returning in triumph to France in 2014 to lead the Paris Opera Ballet. - 'Bored to death' - But relations with the board appeared to sour after he strongly criticised the way the ballet was run, in a documentary aired on the Canal+ television channel just before Christmas. He claimed that the ballet was too hierarchical and set in its ways. And he said it was no longer as "excellent" as it claimed to be, with dancers sometimes looking like "wallpaper... bored to death". "I don't think we're in a golden age of ballet right now," he said as his frustration boiled over in another recent interview with a fashion website. "Even musicals are more daring than new ballets!" he told Style Report. He was particularly irked by the ballet's lack of diversity and the rigid methods of its school. "I think it's very important that the company resembles Paris and not the old-school form of racism that ballet companies need to be white," he added. "If I'm staying long term, I need to have more say on what it means to be a ballet school in the 21st century." - Whirlwind romance - Even as he announced his first season in 2014, Millepied told AFP that the ballet was stuck in the past. "It is no longer 1830," he said. Millepied and Portman met on the set of the ballet-themed 2010 thriller "Black Swan", which earned the Israeli-born actress a best actress Oscar for her role as a ballerina driven close to madness by her quest for perfection. The couple brought a huge injection of glamour, and sponsorship cash, to the venerable Paris institution. But Millepied's impatience for change grated with some, even as younger members of the company revelled in the opportunities he opened up for them. More than 100 fans posted heartfelt appeals for him to stay on his Facebook page as the news leaked out. Many raged against the ballet's "dinosaurs" who they accused of blocking his reforms, while one, Severine Boutry, said: "It's desperate. Even in culture, France is not capable of reform." The ballet's director Stephane Lissner insisted there had been no falling out. "We both agreed that the weight was too great for him as an artist and creator. There were no problems with the ballet. "He left too quickly," he added, "but others stay for too long."

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