The (insurmountable) weight of tradition

A couple of years ago, when I found out Benjamin Millepied was announced as the new director of the Paris Opera Ballet, I was genuinely excited. I had followed Millepied’s remarkable trajectory and I was sure he was up for great things. However, I suspected his tenure wasn’t going to be easy -he was about to lead one of the most important and conservative cultural institutions of Paris.

My trepidation was supported by two conditions: Millepied’s background (he was born in France but developed as a dancer in the US), and his passionate inclinations towards contemporary works. These features would crash, first, with the Opera’s renowned pride for what’s French and second, with its well-know rigidness and traditionalism towards its programming.  

Now, after a little more than a year at the helm of the Paris Opera, Millepied has resigned. He cited personal reasons stating that he wishes to create new works of his own and devote more time to his company L.A. Dance Project.

Nonetheless, his decision could also have been motivated by reported tensions within the organization. Millepied undertook the daunting task of reforming L’Opera and he certainly ran into many obstacles: bureaucracy, internal forces and opposition to his daring programming. He was also very vocal -perhaps too much- in calling out the need for the Opera to get into the 21st century and to break the rigid structure that enclosed it throughout the last 20 years.

The exit of Millepied has been received with a fair share of disappointment among dance circles. Millepied intended to modernize the Opera through the commissions for new work, interdisciplinary projects and the inclusion of modern mavericks like Balanchine and Forsythe in the canon. I can’t help but think that, even with a bunch of great intentions, Millepied failed to swim through the relentless currents of politics and bureaucracy set forth by such an ancient -in the literal sense of the world- institution.

It’s been announced that Millepied will be replaced by Aurélie Dupont, a former ballerina of the Paris Opera who has worked for more than three decades in the company. From the onset, she has imposed a striking contrast to her predecessor. In her first public appearance after her engagement she seemed to be more conciliatory -and expectedly conservative.

French tradition has spoken: one of the most remarkable names in modern dance has been expelled from one of the most traditional dance institutions in the world -one that desperately needed a revolution.

This is very sad news for dance lovers around the world like me, who were expecting to celebrate an injection of vitality to one of its preeminent organizations.


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