Los Angeles

Choreographer Benjamin Millepied to Work with the Industry's Yuval Sharon

LA Dance Project2.jpg

As the vision for his new company begins to take form, L.A. Dance Project founder Benjamin Millepied, revealed to Artbound this week that he will collaborate on a new opera with The Industry, the avant garde "hyper opera" company that debuted in Los Angeles this spring helmed by Yuval Sharon (see Artbound's story here on The Industry).

While he offered no further details about the pending opera project, Millepied says he's been busy "focusing on the future" by scouting the SoCal arts landscape for possible collaborations with Los Angeles artists and organizations for the winter season. The company has already laid out its repertoire for the fall, which officially launches Sept. 22 and 23 with great fanfare at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Also, the company, which embarks on an international tour later that month, recently announced its new downtown digs at the Los Angeles Theatre Center Group, where it also plans to perform new works in 2013.

"Every step is important," said Millepied. "I don't want to miss any opportunities for creating new interesting work, but I want them to be of consequence so we will be able to tour them."

Presenting rich, collaborative artistic dialogues with the region's top creative minds seems a smart strategy for a new dance project entering a crowded performance landscape. The Project, on a two-year commission by the Glorya Kaufman presents Dance at the Music Center, is being billed as an "art collective," which names composer Nico Muhly and producer Charles Fabius, among others, as partners. Millepied's approach to team with artists from a wide industrial swath, including for example fashion, music and film, will set his work apart from others in the space while engaging a younger audience, according to Millepied.

To this end, Millepied has already unveiled unique artistic alliances including an online short film with freeform dancer Lil Buck, as well as teamed with artist Mark Bradford for three site-specific works called "Framework" in the galleries of the Museum of Contemporary Art. He even served as a judge this week on the Fox reality show, "So You Think You Can Dance," and his company performed a new piece, titled "Moving Parts," set to a composition by Nico Muhly at the end of the broadcast.

Exploring interesting spaces with "modular" performances across Southern California excites him, he says. "Finding the right venues is very, very important to me," said Millepied, a former New York City Ballet principal dancer. "There's a wealth of fantastic venues in Los Angeles. Old theaters and modern buildings. Outdoor spaces. Even the rooftops!"

Millepied vaulted to mainstream America's consciousness after choreographing and performing in the award-winning film Black Swan. He was swept into the Hollywood fast track and, in short order, became a star, a father and a husband to Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman, his Black Swan co-star.

Millepied, who is from Bordeaux, France, was groomed as a classical ballet dancer and has performed all the great works by choreographic masters from George Balanchine to Jerome Robbins on stages around the world. In January 2011, he left the ballet world to embrace new choreography and launch L.A. Dance Project.

Millepied has been recognized for his art with many awards, including the Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Ministry of Culture in 2010.

Not exactly someone you might expect to step comfortably into the cultural fray of food trucks, paparazzi and high-speed car chases. But Millepied is aggressively embracing Los Angeles and all that defines it.

"There's a really rich artistic environment here and right now everything is exciting; it just depends on what project we're after," he says. "There's no question that some interesting things will come out of this. And I'm going to take this as far as I can!"

To find out more of what we can expect from L.A. Dance Project, Artbound caught up with with choreographic powerhouse Benjamin Millepied who revealed his new collaboration with the Industry, his dream to work with John Baldassari, and why his company has no Los Angeles dancers.

Benjamin Millepied.

You've certainly been busy in LA lately with the musical Hands on a Hardbody, LACMA's dance camera west, Ballet du Grand Theatre de Geneve and MOCA. But of course the biggest anticipation here is the official launch of L.A. Dance Project. How is the preparation going?

It's definitely a new responsibility. Starting a company and having a staff, and people working in an office and people working in the studio -- you feel a sense of responsibility for your company. At the same time it's incredibly exciting to be at the beginning of something and watching this early phase take place.

I am also thinking about the future. The fall is organized, but what happens next year? What is all that new work going to be?

I'm trying to get out and meet the artists and arts organizations that really interest me and create connections that make most sense in Year Two. Creating an artistic dialogue is always enriching. It is interesting to see what happens when you join two artists who already have their own voice. I really am pushing for living artists and investing the artists here in Los Angeles but also internationally known artists.

We'll be presenting new work in Los Angeles in the winter, and performing in our own space, Los Angeles Theatre Center. We will also have new work in Paris and London, which will be created here, so we need to find the right people for this opportunity. I want to take this project throughout the world.

Who else are you speaking with in Los Angeles about collaborations?

I'm really going to be pushy with the collaboratives and the relationship between dance, art and music. The idea is to do something a little more about the investigation of how the arts can interact with dance. For example, right now I'm working with a choreographer who is excited to have a certain aesthetic and the work of an artist on the back of the stage.

It's all conversation right now. We want to put something really successful together. And there are people who I want to reach out to, but haven't talked to yet. It's exciting, and the Los Angeles organizations are all so wonderful, like LA Philharmonic. CalArts. The Colburn School of Performing Arts.

We just worked with Mark Bradford. But I am also interested in artists like Peter Shire, who has been around forever and can make such wonderful sets, to composer David Lang. I'd like to contact John Baldessari but he's been very busy. It would not be right away.

Can you tell me specifically about who you're working with?

We're going to work on an opera with The Industry, the new L.A. based opera company. We are working on something together.


What interests you about LA? What does it offer you that New York can't?

Well, exactly. Never in New York would I have even had the opportunity to begin this -- to get the capital and funding the Music Center had given us. This was not something an institution in New York would have been prepared to do. This happened here because there was a hunger for it, and it's not something that came out over night, I've had years of conversations about starting something here.

I've had a fascination with this town that I've always loved. Even though there are a lot of great things going on here in dance, it was time to make [dance] happen in a big way. My company will help gather and solidify what's already here. That's my hope.

Will you be partnering with other dance companies in Los Angeles?

I am talking to choreographers. So far no collaboration with another dance company. I'm definitely interested working with CalArts and organizations where other dancers are involved.

How do you respond to criticism about not having any Los Angeles dancers in an LA-based company?

What's San Francisco about San Francisco Ballet? What's New York about New York City Ballet? What's American about American Ballet Theatre? Dancers in any professional company are from all over world.

If there's a great dancer here in Los Angeles who is right for my company, I will hire him/her in a heartbeat. I'm opening my classes to the talented dancers here who want to take class, and I will see them, and I will hire them if I think they are a good match.

My company is called L.A. Dance Project because we are in a position to invest in this town, and we already have. I've already partnered with a few organizations that are here and we haven't even really begun.

The truth is I am here to succeed, and my name is with this company, and I am programming this with my staff for the next year and a half. We are going to world venues and they are taking us on as co-producers without even having done a single show. People know I will bring in great dancers. I'm here to hire the best dancers I can find. That's the story.

You have said you want to go where the young audience is.

That audience does exist for dance and I do want to get to them. There's so much crossover to explore between fashion, arts and music. And also online platforms where there's a young audience.

Won't that be difficult?

I think if we were only to perform at the Music Center, then yes it would be difficult. But you have to go to venues where these younger people would want to go. And eventually you bring them to the Music Center. I don't think it's difficult to do.

How would you best describe your signature choreographic style?

That's a loaded question. I think yes, there's an interest in movement as an artist that resonates with all the things you've been exposed to. Certainly, [I have] a lot of ballet craft. Also, I use a lot of torso movement that is really personal to me, and I have a very strong relationship to music. My work is about human relationships, not narratives, for the most part.

Do you miss classical ballet?

No, it's something I did for so long and so intensely. I didn't want to be another dance company that performed the repertoire [of other classical ballet companies]. I do want to bring on some of Jerome Robbins pieces that we never see back to the forefront. I want to bring back some Merce Cunningham and Martha Graham work. Part of my goal, is little by little bring these unseen treasures I believe in that were not for big theaters. And being able to find the right venues is very, very important.

How exciting would it be to present these pieces in the repertoire? To me it's about the quality of the pieces. I don't really differentiate. I want to make good programs and educate the audience with all these works and new works too. To do that properly is hard but that's the direction we're taking.

For tickets to the debut of L.A. Dance Project at the Music Center please click here.


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