Benjamin Millepied Brings His LA Dance Project Back Home

Benjamin Millepied

Photography by Morgan Lugo

Benjamin Millepied is in love with Los Angeles and, yes, he can absolutely count the ways (but you’ll have to keep reading to hear them). In our opinion, however, nothing says ‘I love you’ more than the fact that the French choreographer, a former New York City Ballet principal dancer and director of the Paris Opera Ballet, founded his dance company in homage to the City of Angels. The mission of the L.A. Dance Project—which he founded in 2012 with composer Nico Muhly, art consultant Matthieu Humery, producer Charles Fabius and composer Nicholas Britell—is to promote new, collaborative work by emerging and established artists, and to revisit influential multidisciplinary dance collaborations from the past. In December, for the first time since its debut, the collective came home to The Theatre at Ace Hotel for the U.S. premieres of “II Acts for the Blind,” and “On The Other Side,” the world premiere of “Homecoming” with music composed and performed by Rufus Wainwright (Millepied choreographed the latter two and dances in “Homecoming”) and the pas de deux “After the Rain.” Explains Millepied, “I chose Los Angeles as a home base for the company in 2012 simply because the city is inspiring to me. L.A.’s rich cultural heritage, from the silent film era to classical music to visual arts, has been the inspiration and home of many important artists—a place where each felt great freedom and creativity in the pursuit of their art.” Here, Millepied (who is also the subject of Reset, a documentary about his time at the Paris Opera Ballet that opens in Los Angeles and New York theaters on January 13) discusses his love for the City of Angels and the local spots he and wife Natalie Portman like to visit.

How does it feel to be bringing the L.A. Dance Project home? 

Very good, very good. It was a conscious choice to [come] back to L.A. and focus on the company here. I’ve been hard at work for a few months and I feel like I’m in the right place, both in terms of leading the company and as a place to live-—as a place for the company to exist, for the community, and what L.A. is right now in terms of the cultural momentum going on, I think.

You’re showcasing four pieces. Can you tell us about them and how they reflect the location?

It really feels like [L.A.] has a clear, strong identity [that complements] what the company is and what it’s grown to be. We have a piece called “II Acts for the Blind” by choreographer Roy Assaf, who came to L.A. and was inspired and intrigued by the city. It’s more of a theatre piece, which has speaking in it. It’s a reflection on thoughts and impressions from a foreigner’s perspective. [They are also performing the Millepied-choreographed “On the Other Side.”] Then, there are two more pieces, [one of which] I will dance with Janie Taylor [called] “Homecoming” that I choreographed to music by Rufus Wainwright and, finally, a duet called “After the Rain” with Carla Körbes, which will be the first time we’ll present a Christopher Wheeldon piece. The idea was to come up with something really special to celebrate this new stage for the dance project. To me, to some extent, this is the most special project we’ve presented here.

Benjamin Millepied
Millepied dances with Rachelle Rafailedes

Can you speak about the dance project’s mission and how it has grown or changed since it started? 

I think the key now for us is to spend more time in L.A. and to grow our audience as a whole with a physical space that we can develop. That’s really what I’m focusing on for next year and committing to a place where the company will come more often. We’ll still be doing international touring, but there will also be developments on the digital side of the project, which I can’t talk about now. It’s very important that we share the community. I don’t want the company to be just a name. I want things to be realistic [and] more present here in L.A. I think the company will take off in more of a significant way once we actually spend more time here, and that’s going to happen in 2017.

How does L.A. specifically inspire you?  

There [are] a lot of things that inspire me. How international the city is and diverse—that is something that [I am] truly confronted with daily, whether I’m going downtown or driving through Koreatown or to the flower market. I think, in terms of performing arts, they’re done well. It’s interesting for me because there is such a young audience, a culture here for music, here for movies, here for technology in a city that is not too saturated with organizations. There is an interesting opportunity. It’s the right home to develop the project. We’re not just looking to stay in one place and do shows; I want to do things across the city and in different areas, with different collaborators. We’re still writing the history of dance in Los Angeles, we’re writing the story. It’s an interesting challenge to me.

What specifically inspired the move? 

This is my home. I moved here in 2011 and then obviously lived in Paris for a year and a half. This is just the place I want to live, period, for my reasons. I like a little bit of having more time to think and work, a little bit more laidback of an environment, and because the company is here and I think the company should be here.

What do you think the city is doing really well right now, culturally?

I think, visually, arts are thriving! There is more room for artists. All the musicians are here now—they’re not really as much in New York. It’s really the place to be; they can hop from studio to studio and collaborate. And it’s the media capital of the country and now there is more technology here as well. So [there are] a lot of interesting, positive aspects to Los Angeles.

What are a few of your favorite spots in the city?

That’s the thing with L.A.: there is always something to discover and there’s always a lot to explore. I mean, right now, there are so many [restaurants] that I want to go to. I haven’t been to Crossroads yet, which is a restaurant I’m dying to go to. I love the Arts District and the new Hauser Wirth [& Schimmel] gallery. I go to places like Factory Kitchen and Bestia, but I also go to small restaurants in strip malls that aren’t exactly amazing. I love Griffith Park, and I don’t get enough to the beach but I love going. There are so many. I love the Huntington Library in Pasadena, the pool there, the flea market once a month. Some of the places like Window, which has this incredible eye—[it’s] a modern-antique place on Melrose—I mean, there [are] so many.

Which is your favorite date spot and why?

I originally went to the restaurant Hal’s, which is pretty great… but my list is constantly changing. The whole point is to discover [new] places so that you don’t go back to the same ones.

How would you describe Los Angeles in three words?

To me, I would say ‘bright’ (the light and brightness [are] something that I love), ‘diverse’ (Manhattan feels like a strip mall to me now compared to Los Angeles), and ‘progressive’.