Benjamin Millepied Biography



Dancer and choreographer

Born c. 1977, in Bordeaux, France; son of a decathlete and a dance teacher. Education: Trained at the School of American Ballet, New York City, 1993-95.

Addresses: Office —c/o New York City Ballet, 20 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, NY 10023-6965.

Career

New York City Ballet, corps de ballet dancer, 1995-98, soloist, 1998-2002, principal dancer, 2002—.

Sidelights

Benjamin Millepied is a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, one of the top dance companies in the world. The French-born Millepied, whose name means "thousand-footed" in his native tongue, has earned impressive accolades since beginning his professional career in 1995. Anna Kissel-goff, a New York Times critic, described him as "a standout in his explosive energy, dazzling speed, and astonishing high leaps."

Born in the mid- to late 1970s, Millepied seemed blessed with a gifted genetic legacy from the start as the son of a dance teacher and a father who was a decathlete. The family left their native Bordeaux, France, for Dakar, Senegal, when Millepied was still quite young when his father took a job training Senegalese track and field athletes. Millepied's earliest

talents seemed to be musical, however. "We lived next to this really famous family of drummers, so I played the drums seriously until I was 12 or 13," he told Vogue writer Gia Kourlas.

The family returned to Bordeaux when Millepied was five, and three years later he began taking dance classes under his mother's tutelage. A video-cassette copy of the 1985 feature film White Nights, which starred Russian émigré ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov, positively entranced a young Mill-epied, and he set his sights on following Baryshnikov's career path. He went on to study at the Bordeaux Opera House before winning a place at the Conservatoire National in Lyon, France, at the age of 13. Initially, he was placed in its modern dance division, but successfully argued to be reassigned to the ballet classes.

Millepied came to the United States in 1992 to take classes in the summer program of the School of American Ballet (SAB), the official school of the New York City Ballet (NYCB). The company was founded in 1948 by George Balanchine, one of the most renowned ballet masters and choreographers of the twentieth century, and the equally eminent Lincoln Kirstein. A long roster of well-known performers had spent the better part of their careers with the NYCB, including Baryshnikov, Suzanne Farrell, Darci Kistler, and Peter Martins.

Millepied returned to SAB in 1993 as a full-time student after winning a scholarship from the French government. A year later, he won a prestigious international scholarship competition for young dancers, the Prix de Lausanne. Jerome Robbins, a legendary figure in American ballet and the NYCB ballet master during these years, cast a young Mill-epied in a highly coveted role that same year in the premiere of Robbins' Two- and Three-Part Inventions. "As a student, he already had an air of calm authority that suggested a coiled spring," wrote Harris Green in Dance magazine of Millepied a few years later.

In 1995, his SAB training over, Millepied was invited to join the NYCB's corps de ballet. Though his artistic excellence was already gaining attention, some critics noted that his technical proficiency lacked finesse. "His feet were not always pointed and his legs were never quite turned out enough to make him a model of classical style," remembered Kisselgoff in the New York Times. Over the next three years, however, Millepied's physical prowess improved, and he was cast in a number of plum male-dancer roles. These included Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream and as the Faun in Robbins' The Four Seasons, in which one of Millepied's leaps set a new elevation record at the NYCB.

Millepied became an NYCB soloist in 1998, the same year that Dance magazine named him one of the five new male dancers to watch, along with Christopher Wheeldon, Sebastien Marcovici, Edward Liang, and James Fayette. By the spring of 2002, Mill-epied advanced to the category of principal dancer with the NYCB, and also began exploring his interest in choreography. He participated in City Ballet's New York Choreographic Institute that year and the following, and also organized a small touring company made up of 17 NYCB dancers, called Danse Concertantes, that performed in London at Sadler's Wells Theater. The troupe returned to England in the fall of 2004, this time with a new work that Mill-epied had choreographed, Circular Motion. The evening's performance was reviewed by David Dougill in the London Sunday Times, and Dougill termed Millepied's newest work as "a brisk set of dances for four excellent men, a kind of friendly contest that conveyed personalities as well as technique."

In 2005, Millepied began a project with his hero, Baryshnikov, that featured vintage footage of the star along with live performance. Other works that Millepied had choreographed had their premieres at NYCB events. He was still a popular performer with the company during its regular season, noted Kisselgoff. "A thinking man's dancer," she noted in the New York Times, "Millepied shows a very different side in romantically tinged ballets. In works like Christopher Wheeldon's Carousel (A Dance) the intensity of his matinee-idol presence comes into full play."

By early 2006, Danse Concertantes was performing under the name Benjamin Millepied … Company. Village Voice dance critic Deborah Jowitt wrote about one of its engagements at the Joyce Theater in March of 2006, and called the pickup company "a dream team of terrific dancers." She noted that Mill-epied choreographed some of the works performed that evening, and appeared in two of them himself, including a duet with Gillian Murphy, Closer. Jowitt commended both his performance and the choreography, noting that its steps appeared "fluid, easy, understated even when difficult. Both dancers wear soft slippers, and their solos are full of little springy steps and easily spun out turns. Their shoulders, twisting and shrugging subtly, give a lightly temperamental edge to the steps. These are two handsome, extraordinarily gifted dancers, and Millepied has created some imaginative but never strained partnering."

Millepied lives with his girlfriend, Danish-born NYCB ballerina Saskia Beskow, in New York's trendy East Village neighborhood. He could not imagine living anywhere other than New York, he asserted in the interview with Vogue. "This is the place where Balanchine and Jerry made their ballets," he told Kourlas. "This is the place where there are people who really get the kind of work that I believe in."

Sources

Dance, November 1998, p. 70.

New York Times, January 10, 2001, p. B5; April 5, 2005, p. E1.

Sunday Times (London, England), October 24, 2004, p. 34.

Village Voice, March 17, 2006.

Vogue, April 2005, p. 234.

Carol Brennan



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