"There's a whole aspect to the craft of choreography that involves directing and leading a group of people. And it's like dancing: You need to practice, to work on being a leader," says Crystal Pite. Photo by Julien Benhamou.

Photographed for Pointe by Julien Benhamou

Crystal Pite considers herself to be on the contemporary end of the dance spectrum, but she's playing in the major league of ballet companies this season. In September, the Canadian choreographer debuted The Seasons' Canon, a large-scale work for 54 dancers at the Paris Opéra Ballet; in March, she will follow up with her first work for The Royal Ballet.

For POB, The Seasons' Canon turned out to be a powerful collective experience at a time of transition. The French institution was left in turmoil by former director Benjamin Millepied's resignation announcement last February, but Pite channeled their strengths into a rare creation using a third of the company's impressive roster. In just four weeks—“a sprint" according to the choreographer—she took the dancers on a creative ride. “They're open, willing, generous, patient and delightfully hungry," she says.

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Ballet Stars
Hannah O'Neill photographed by Nathan Sayers for Pointe.

This is Pointe's August/September 2016 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

What a difference four years have made for Hannah O'Neill. In 2012, as a foreign dancer on a temporary corps contract with the Paris Opéra Ballet, a botched arabesque in La Bayadère's “Kingdom of the Shades" scene led her to believe her French career was over. Last December, however, she was back on the Opéra Bastille stage in the same ballet, as Gamzatti. Newly promoted to first soloist, she led the company opposite étoile Dorothée Gilbert, showcasing the pencil lines and robust technique that have made her a local favorite.

At just 23, the young New Zealander has quickly established herself as one of the faces of the “Millepied generation." Her technical strength and fresh stage presence, backed up by a solid dose of sangfroid, made her a perfect fit for outgoing director Benjamin Millepied's focus on new blood and repertoire in Paris. In the two short seasons he spent there, she climbed the ranks and impressed with her precocious fearlessness in classical full-lengths, from Swan Lake to Paquita.


O'Neill as Gamzatti in "La Bayadère." Photo by Little Shao, Courtesy POB.

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Millepied leads rehearsal for his ballet Clear, Loud, Bright, Forward. Photo by Ann Ray, Courtesy POB.

The Paris Opéra Ballet is gearing up for another transition. This summer, Benjamin Millepied will hand over the reins of the company to former étoile Aurélie Dupont, who was hastily appointed artistic director in February in the wake of Millepied's abrupt resignation. Her tenure as director starts on August 1.

Millepied's announcement that he was stepping down to focus on his creative endeavors rocked the French institution. Many initially embraced the change his eventful—though short—term brought, but Millepied's American-style repertoire and his public dismissals of both dancers and local traditions undermined his relationship with the 154-member-strong company.

At a press conference announcing Millepied's departure, the general director of the Paris Opéra, Stéphane Lissner, stood by his January 2013 decision to appoint Millepied, who spent his dancing career in the U.S.: “He brought a lot to this company: a new organization, a new health system…He also nurtured new dancers." Millepied, who was artistic director for less than two seasons, stressed the burden administrative work proved to be. “I was very honored to have this opportunity, but what's important to me is to create," he said. He will return to direct and choreograph on L.A. Dance Project, the company he founded in California.

Dupont will be tasked with improving company morale and steering the ship through Millepied's final 2016–17 season of programming, which is heavy on American neoclassicism. Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream will join the repertoire with new costumes by Christian Lacroix; Crystal Pite and Tino Sehgal will contribute creations, along with four company members and Millepied himself.

With Dupont, the company returns to a homegrown director, who danced with the company for 32 years. Her goals include maintaining classical standards and balancing the repertoire: “POB dancers are good. It's a classical company which does contemporary work, and it will never be the other way around with me." —Laura Cappelle

In less than 24 hours, what started as a murmur in the French magazine Paris Match (here, if you read French) became a full-fledged roar throughout the ballet world. Benjamin Millepied is stepping down from his role as director of dance at the Paris Opéra Ballet—after only a little over a year.

When Millepied assumed directorship, his vision was at least somewhat at odds with the entrenched culture of POB. He was outspoken about his dissatisfaction with the company's classical technique, training program and system of promotion to French media outlets. He also commented on the need for POB to become more racially diverse.

Millepied delivered a major coup when he announced that William Forsythe would join the company as associate choreographer. But while Forsythe's presence was a major vote of confidence from a legendary choreographer, his work is also definitively boundary-pushing. Was Millepied's vision for POB to turn it into a lab for experimentation? It's possible that those two sides could have coexisted, but now we'll have to see how things play out under new leadership.

Paris Opéra Ballet in Millepied's Clear Loud Bright Forward (photo via @benjaminmillepied on Instagram)

POB's press conference today stressed that Millepied was stepping down of his own volition to better focus on choreography and L.A. Dance Project, his contemporary troupe in Los Angeles. His lasting impacts, such as greater attention to the dancers' health and 3e Scène (the digital platform he spearheaded), will likely remain in place. As for Forsythe, he told The New York Times that he wouldn't stay past the end of Millepied's tenure. His agreement to come on board at POB seems to have been based on hopes that Millepied would make lasting changes to the company.

Now, recently retired étoile Aurélie Dupont will step into Millepied's place. According to frequent Pointe contributor Laura Cappelle, who live tweeted news and opinions from the POB press conference this afternoon, Dupont will take over in summer 2017. Stéphane Lissner, the general director of the Opéra, stressed the continuity between Millepied and Dupont. However, Dupont had a few words of her own, saying that for her, POB would be a classical company that performs contemporary works, not the reverse, and that two classic ballets in an upcoming season is too few (as is the case with the company).

Aurélie Dupont as Nikiya and Josua Hoffalt as Solor in La Bayadère (photo by Agathe Pouponey)

Despite the collaborative spirit that Lissner championed at the time of Millepied's appointment, it appears that Millepied might have tried to change too much too soon—and bitten off more than he could chew as the director and choreographer for two companies. He will return to L.A. Dance Project with the goal of expanding the company and increasing its repertoire, free from the administrative pressures of running a more than 300-year-old institution steeped in tradition. He will also continue to choreograph for POB, at least over the next few seasons.

For more news on all things ballet, don’t miss a single issue.

 

The endless love affair between dance and fashion will never get old. Especially when photographic geniuses like Annie Leibovitz compose moments like this one:

Leibovitz's photographs for Vogue are usually whimsical, romantic and downright inspired. In these, she's succeeded again, capturing the magic of the Palais Garnier—home of the Paris Opera Ballet.

Hamish Bowles wrote the magazine's cover story to commemorate Benjamin Millepied's much-anticipated assumption of artistic directorship at POB. The high-society world is all a-buzz with the prospect of someone like Millepied—young, handsome, with Hollywood connections—taking over such an historical institution. Dancers, of course, are more concerned with who he'll hire and fire in the company, and whether L.A. Dance Project will suffer from his commitment to POB.

Millepied's real debut won't be until 2015-2016, when the season will include seven world premieres. In the meantime, enjoy these stunning images of model Natalia Vodianova, Millepied and dancers of the POB. For the full spread, click here

Benjamin Millepied, Natalia Vodianova and POB étoiles (photo by Annie Leibovitz via Vogue)

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