Spoiler alert: The dancer and company cofounder returns to the stage at the upcoming November gala
Words by ELIZABETH VARNELL
LA Dance Project (LADP) cofounder Benjamin Millepied credits the creative freedom of Los Angeles as a seedbed for his innovations. Here he has shaped a dance company and premiered work in unexplored venues while simultaneously choreographing bold projects and engaging the local dance community. Now, with LADP’s upcoming annual gala slated for Saturday, November 11, to be held at Vibiana in the heart of the city’s downtown core, the multidisciplinary creative is celebrating the beginning of the company’s second decade by returning to his roots as a dancer. In addition to honoring San Pedro–raised Misty Copeland at the benefit, Millepied — formerly a principal dancer at New York City Ballet — will return to the stage after a 13-year break to dance a portion of his solo work, Unstill Life, slated for its American premiere this spring. Known equally for his collaborations with such artists as Mark Bradford and Barbara Kruger and his leap into film, he’s also looking ahead to the next LAUNCH:LA Residency that pairs early career dance-centered artists with the resources and mentorship to develop and premiere their new work. Here Millepied previews the upcoming gala program and the season ahead.
You’re slated to dance at this year’s gala!
I’m going to dance a solo. I just recently made Unstill Life in the spring and I’m still debating which part of it I’ll perform, maybe the Schubert movement. It’s a work that I created with Alex [pianist Alexandre Tharaud], a collaboration with him. I’m also performing it at Walt Disney Hall this spring.
This April you’ll perform the entirety of Unstill Life here in town?
Yes, the complete piece. It’s an hour of dance and conversation between the pianist and the dancer. I loved making it and sharing the stage with Alex. He’s a very poetic French pianist. As we worked on it, we talked about our respective professions and similarities that we have. It’s really about the meeting of two artists at a certain moment in their careers and how we got here. We met when I was back at Paris Opera. We ended up making the piece very fast, but it’s something we thought about for a long while.
What’s it like to be back on stage?
It’s great to be back on stage. Dancing has this ability of really putting you in the moment and making you be really present. It really is fulfilling for me; I love it. Of course I also had lots of unexpected pain, but it’s good. You’re learning how to retrain your body to be strong and withstand the changes of directions. To have the ability to withstand.
And what about mentally?
It’s such an opportunity, that’s something you realize that comes with maturity. The sheer enjoyment of it is really special for me.
Is it easier or harder to choreograph for yourself?
It’s harder for yourself because you need to be more disciplined, but I really enjoyed it. I also left myself room for improvisation.
Where will the gala take place?
At Vibiana downtown. I’ve been at galas there and I was always interested in having one in the space. It’ll be beautiful. We always do a tequila toast [Millepied has adapted Balanchine’s New York City Ballet vodka toast to LADP’s Southern California environs]. The evening is a chance to catch up and thank everyone for their support of the company. It means so much to me.
The evening will honor Misty Copeland. How long have you known each other?
I knew Misty before she became the voice she has become. She was a dancer at American Ballet Theatre. She’s someone I’ve always appreciated as a dancer. I’m very impressed with how she became this voice and an example for dancers of color. Taking that on and doing it well is not easy, and she’s done it very elegantly. I admire her. I choreographed for her at ABT. I think her drive, dedication, intelligence, and professionalism — what you experience when you hear her speak — are all qualities that are also there in her dancing.
And in March, LADP will be at the Philharmonie de Paris?
The work in Paris is exciting for me. We’re reviving two Brecht pieces that I plan to turn and twist, revise and improve. And then there will be a new work that I’m making with [American composer] Nico Muhly for orchestra. This is a great opportunity for a moment of creation with the company. It’ll be about pure dancing, a more minimalist approach.
The company is touring Australia in the spring. Will they perform the Romeo & Juliet Suite at the Sydney Opera House?
Yes, and the building in Sydney is one of the most beautiful in the world. I’m very excited for the company to go. We’ll use the Opera House with cameras moving throughout as we do with the Romeo & Juliet piece [cameras continuously follow the dancers throughout the hall and its backstage areas become sets while images are projected onto a screen for the audience]. When you get there and see the spaces and put your brain around it, you create it. You’re always changing the piece and improving it. It’s a good creative challenge.
Feature image: Benjamin Millipied. Photography by Frank Ockenfels.
October 24, 2023.
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