This morning, there was a very interesting article in the New York Times' Style section about Benjamin Millepied. It's quite long, and pretty thought-provoking. As we all know, Millepied is engaged to Hollywood star Natalie Portman (of Black Swan), and the couple is also expecting a baby. The article explores his rise to fame, and the reasons why he is famous. The surprising thing is, it's not really because he's a great dancer.
Millepied is in demand these days as a choreographer (though whether he is a good one is debatable), and Joshua David Stein, the author of the piece, points out that much of Millepied's success comes from his ability to attract major donors and sponsors. He is charming and handsome, and is supported by the Jerome Robbins Trust and Foundation, which counts quite a few big-name philanthropists among its members. In other words, he's well-connected and is good at putting himself forward (he asked for a speaking part in Black Swan), and now that he is going to marry Natalie Portman, he's getting even more attention. He's modeled for Club Monaco and The Gap, and has been photographed for magazines. Stein calls him "tabloid fodder", and that leaves me wondering whether all this exposure he's getting is, in the end, good for ballet.
On the one hand, anything that moves ballet more into the mainstream is good. The dancers that work so hard deserve more acclaim, and the beautiful art they produce should be seen and appreciated. If the success of the movie, and Millepied's public profile attract more people to ballet, and get them to buy tickets in a time when our country's economic instability has hit ballet companies especially hard, so much the better. But on the other hand, do we really want ballet in the tabloids? Does Millepied really deserve this popularity? And either way, doesn't the fact that it's easy for him to get funding make the playing field for young choreographers, many of whom need money desperately, more uneven? I worry that his stardom will make it even more difficult for new ballet works by other emerging artists to be produced and seen, and ballet needs strong crops of fresh talent and fresh ideas. It seems to me that while it's great that ballet is getting more attention because of him, that interest might not be entirely justified by his artistry, but by his popularity.