Dance News
Martin Bureau

Today in "How has this not already happened?" news: Benjamin Millepied—former New York City Ballet principal, former artistic director of the Paris Opéra Ballet, founder/director of L.A. Dance Project, and Mr. Natalie Portman—is going to direct and choreograph a big-screen film, Carmen.

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The company in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles (photo by Morgan Lugo, courtesy LADP)

Not many dance companies get to perform at a palace—let alone the glamorous Palace of Versailles outside Paris, the former home of Marie Antoinette and ballet enthusiast King Louis XIV. But L.A. Dance Project isn’t your average dance company. They like unique spaces, unexpected collaborations and performances with a twist. Last spring, LADP danced at Versailles with a special guest: Lil Buck, who twirled around the majestic grounds in a gold coat.

The performance—an edgy mix of contemporary dance, classical ballet and street styles at a one-of-a-kind location—perfectly represents the adventurous spirit that has been attracting new and younger audiences since LADP was founded in 2012. Other examples of their out-of-the-box thinking include a site-specific work with an experimental opera company at L.A.’s Union Station, partnerships with the Ace Hotel in downtown L.A. near the company’s studios and vibrant, dramatic films on the fashion and culture site Nowness.

LADP in Justin Peck's Murder Ballades (Photo by Rose Eichenbaum, courtesy LADP)

From the beginning, LADP generated a lot of buzz, thanks to its ambitious vision and its big-name founding partners, including Benjamin Millepied, the former New York City Ballet principal and choreographer, and composers Nico Muhly and Nicholas Britell. But just a few months after LADP’s first performance, Millepied was announced as the new artistic director of the Paris Opéra Ballet, a position he began this fall, leading everyone to wonder: Would he stay involved? And what would

become of LADP?

To answer the first question: Absolutely. His initial mission was to build a strong administrative team—including James Fayette, the company’s managing director. Fayette, also a former dancer with New York City Ballet, is part of a large family of former NYCB-ers that has relocated to L.A. to be part of Millepied’s vision. Other members include Fayette’s wife and former NYCB principal, Jenifer Ringer, who runs the affiliated Colburn Dance Academy; and another husband-and-wife pair, Sébastien Marcovici (now LADP’s ballet master) and Janie Taylor, who designs some of the company’s costumes and FOR LADP, a fashion collection inspired by LADP’s chic onstage outfits. 

Millepied also recruited Carla Körbes, the recently retired star of Pacific Northwest Ballet, as associate artistic director. Just two weeks after her last performance in Seattle, Körbes resettled in L.A., drawn to the LADP by its entrepreneurial spirit and impressive repertory. “It’s really a 21st-century company,” she says. “I’ve never seen a company like this before.”

It’s an exciting time for LADP: The group now boasts nine dancers, up from the original six. And Millepied frequently invites his dancers to be part of the creative process. “Benjamin has these amazing ideas and lets us help bring them to life,” says Julia Eichten, a founding LADP dancer who’s had several opportunities to choreograph. “To have that acknowledgment is amazing.”

LADP is also eager to focus more energy on its hometown. “We’ve been touring and building rep over the last three years,” Eichten says. “Now it feels like we can sink our toes in the sand a bit more in L.A.” Part of that effort includes crossing paths with L.A.’s commercial-dance community. Eichten and fellow dancer Nathan Makolandra come from a competition background. Eichten is friendly with the Shaping Sound guys

(she and Kyle Robinson attended Juilliard together); Makolandra has taught class at Edge Performing Arts Center, and a few of his solo creations have appeared on “So You Think You Can Dance.”

Given these successful projects, an expanding team of new talent and more innovative performances ahead—like a collaboration with the avant-garde dance and visual art duo Gerard and Kelly—it’s now easy to answer the question, “What will become of L.A. Dance Project?” The answer: It’ll thrive.

The Colburn Connection

Several years ago, Benjamin Millepied invited Jenifer Ringer and James Fayette

to envision a dance program for students ages 14 to 19. The result is the new Colburn Dance Academy in downtown L.A., designed to match the high standards of the Colburn School’s famous music program. Its curriculum demands strong classical technique but also offers classes by top-notch commercial choreographers, like Galen Hooks. And the school takes advantage of its connection to L.A.   Dance Project.

Each Saturday over the past year, in addition to rigorous daily training with some of the top ballet teachers in the world, the 13 students of the new academy took a contemporary dance class from then–L.A. Dance Project rehearsal director Charlie Hodges. Classes were held in the LADP studios, and Colburn Dance Academy students frequently observed company rehearsals, too. “We wanted to get them out of the ballet studio mind-set,” says Ringer, the former New York City Ballet principal dancer who now heads the school with her husband, fellow former NYCB dancer and LADP managing director James Fayette.

In addition to classes at LADP, students frequently get the chance to visit neighboring institutions, like the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

“We want dancers that are willing to throw themselves into other experiences, like going to the museum and taking music lessons,” Ringer says. “Those experiences will give new layers to their dancing.”

Dance News

OK you guys, I'm officially obsessed. This #empty trend on Instagram is absolutely captivating and when top 'grammers turn their lenses toward the world's most beautiful buildings—well, I die.

POB dancers in rehearsal (photo by @hannahrw)

It feels like it was just yesterday that I was freaking out over #emptyROH. Now, thank the interwebz for #emptygarnier. That's right, the most magical ballet palace on the planet opened its doors to a lucky group of 'grammers whose unique snaps and captures really show the different ways you can look at a place. Thanks also to the Paris Opéra Ballet's Insta-savvy new artistic director, Benjamin Millepied. He's going full-speed ahead when it comes to shaking things up at the POB—he's confidently mixing the old with the new. Civilian smart-phone artists to document an institution steeped in tradition and prestige? Why the heck not?!

IS THIS A REAL PLACE?! (Photo by @wonguy974)

And whether they're tricky perspective shots, soaring views from the roof or intimate close-ups of tiny Palais Garnier details, each photo is a testament to the beauty of sharing our art with others, whether it's dance, photography or something else entirely.

Dance News

Whoa, you guys: Benjamin Millepied does not mess around.

Ever since it was announced, back in 2013, that he'd become director of the Paris Opéra Ballet, Millepied has been talking about pushing the historic company forward. But today he revealed POB's upcoming season—the first he's been able to plan himself—and it became clear that all that talk wasn't just talk.

Millepied (center) in the studio with POB (photo Agathe Poupeney/POB)

Let's start with the biggest piece of news: Millepied is bringing William Forsythe in as associate choreographer. This is HUGE! Forsythe is one of the dance world's most gifted artists, period. And he actually has quite a history with the Paris Opéra Ballet. He created his masterpiece In the middle, somewhat elevated for the company back in 1983 (starring a young Sylvie Guillem!), and the genre-defying work ushered in a new era for POB—for ballet as a whole, really. Forsythe went on to experiment with more radical forms of dance-theater, but now he's back at the ballet, and I, for one, am crazy happy about it.

POB's Valentine Colasante and Marc Moreau in Forsythe's In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated (photo Anne Deniau/POB)

The season will also include new works by Wayne McGregor, our friend Justin Peck and Millepied himself. And the programming reveals Millepied's connections to New York City Ballet, where he was formerly a principal. Ballets by George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Christopher Wheeldon and Alexei Ratmansky—all NYCB mainstays—will join the POB repertory.

So yeah, basically, now I want to live in Paris even more than I already did. Le sigh. Come visit us soon, you belles Français!

Dance News

If your soul needs soothing today, look no further: Benjamin Millepied's cutting-edge L.A. Dance Project just put out a new film reel, and it is so, so beautiful.

The dreamy compilation features LADP performing snippets of choreography in striking sites all over Los Angeles. (The clips are taken from the company's collection of short dance films, which you can watch in full on the LADP website.) It's all handsomely, inventively shot. And the LADP dancers are, as always, fantastic—they'll straight-up bewitch you.

Get inspired, friends:

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Dance News

WHOA. Big news from Paris, guys.

Yesterday afternoon, rumors started swirling that Paris Opéra Ballet dance director Benjamin Millepied—the former New York City Ballet principal also known as L.A. Dance Project's director and Mr. Natalie Portman—was leaving his post at POB. Which was a shock to most people, given that Millepied had a) only held the position for a little more than a year and b) generated a lot of excitement (and controversy) with his plans to bring the revered classical company into the contemporary world.

Soon enough, those rumors were officially confirmed, along with the fact that recently retired POB étoile Aurélie Dupont would take over as director. And the news set the whole ballet world buzzing.

Millepied in the studio (via @benjaminmillepied)

So, why is Millepied leaving? He says that while he was honored to have the opportunity, the POB job "doesn't fit" him. He wants to focus on his own choreographic work, and spend more time with LADP, which he plans to turn into a larger company. (Good news for L.A. dance fans.) In earlier interviews, Millepied also expressed frustration with POB's rigid hierarchy and its lack of racial diversity. Aaaaand OK, there've been rumblings that Portman was unhappy in Paris, but...who really knows.

Anyway, Dupont—a gorgeous dancer who gave her final performances with the company last summer—will officially take over on July 15. What can we expect from her? That remains to be seen. (Though she won't be choreographing, apparently; she says she has "no talent" as a choreographer.) Here's how she described her relationship with the company at a press conference today: "It's a love story with [POB]. You lose your soul when you join it. It takes time to change things, and I will take my time."

Dupont after a performance of Manon (via @balletoperadeparis)

Obviously, we'll let you know more as we hear it!

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Dance News

So, this is incredibly cool: Have you heard about the Google Cultural Institute? It's a virtual museum boasting millions of artifacts from artistic partners around the world. And we're not talking your standard, here-is-a-really-old-painting-DON'T-TOUCH-IT artifacts: The Institute features interactive digital "objects" that encourage viewers to get up close and personal with art and artists.

Why should you be especially excited about this? Because yesterday, the GCI launched a performing arts arm. And one of the participating organizations is the Paris Opéra Ballet.

In a way that's no surprise, given director Benjamin Millepied's eagerness to boost the company's digital presence. But oh, man, the POB gave Google some GREAT STUFF.

For starters, there's this truly amazing 360-degree video of Millepied's recent ballet Clear, Loud, Bright, Forward, which lets you observe the dancers onstage from every possible angle. It's even cooler than it sounds:

There are also 360-degree "museum views" of the breathtakingly beautiful Palais Garnier, the POB's home. You can tour the stage area, take in amazing views of Paris from the theater's roof—even explore the spooky subterranean "lake" underneath the building. (The Phantom of the Opera: not 100 percent fiction!) And there's a collection of beautiful photographs highlighting the Palais Garnier's exquisite design details.

Like this close-up of Marc Chagall's ceiling for the theater. (via Google Cultural Institute)

Check out the whole thing here. And then pray to the dance gods that the 360-degree dance video trend sticks around for a long time.

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Dance News

Benjamin Millepied has that L.A. cool and that Parisian chic all wrapped into one multi-talented package. When he's not busy being the artistic director of the Paris Opéra Ballet, he's making work on the company he founded in 2012, L.A. Dance Project.

LADP tours the U.S. and performs in L.A., but for those who can't always make it to a live performance, Millepied often creates beautiful dance films starring his equally beautiful troupe of contemporary dancers. His latest film, Hearts and Arrows: Movement 6, sets the dancers' tenderness against the harsh landscape of the L.A. River (though, these days it's a lot more concrete than it is water).

Still from Hearts and Arrows: Movement 6, directed by Benjamin Millepied

In case you needed another reason to love this video, it turns out it's part of a larger project called Gems, which pays tribute to George Balanchine's ballet Jewels. Millepied created Reflections, the first ballet in Gems, for the stage in 2013. Now he's re-imagining his own work to turn it into a series of site-specific videos (watch the film version of Reflections here). Of course, Millepied's modern interpretation is nothing like the iconic, three-part ballet we love, but that's part of the fun. And if you happen to be in Paris this month, you can catch LADP performing the stage version of Hearts and Arrows!

Click here to watch the film, and let us know what you think in the comments below!

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