Benjamin Millepied on the intersection of dance and film.
Keeping up with Benjamin Millepied, whose surname aptly translates to “1,000 feet,” is no easy task. A mover and shaker in the dance world, Millepied was formerly a principal dancer at New York City Ballet and director of the Paris Opera Ballet. He has also choreographed for companies around the world and for the film Black Swan, where he met his wife, Natalie Portman. When New York–based footwear brand FEIT wanted to do something special for the launch of its ballet shoe, it’s no surprise that Millepied was the first name to come to mind. Millepied, whose goal is to “rejuvenate the dance scene” with L.A. Dance Project, the company he co-founded in 2011, has collaborated with FEIT to create a two-and-a-half-minute film marrying dance and fashion.
How is the role of filmmaker different from choreographer?
There is a history of choreographers moving to filmmaking with ease. Choreography necessitates a sense of movement and finesse that is very advantageous to filmmaking. I recently read the director Elia Kazan’s biography, and he highly recommends that directors dance and study choreography themselves. He’s someone who really approached directing like choreography. He came from theater, and his ability to compose groups and people on the stage ultimately translated very well to the screen. It made a difference for his film career when he understood that he could treat the camera as another actor. For me, film is like choreography in that it gives you the capability to finesse movements. For that reason, filmmaking has always appealed to me. I’ve been focusing more on film lately, and I’m actually directing my first feature next year.
You stress the importance of multidisciplinary collaborations with the L.A. Dance Project. Is this a historical moment for the cross-pollination of dance and other art forms?
What I’m doing isn’t anything new, except that art is of course very different today. Now there’s video art, live streams, virtual reality. I’m doing what has been done in the past many times but in my era. It is dialogue between artists that makes some of the greatest art. There are a lot of moments in history—at Black Mountain College, Bauhaus or the Ballets Russes, for example—where artists from different mediums were united. They inspired each other by offering different perspectives. I’m bringing talented artists together to create work that feels relevant to our time and can move the art form forward.
What motivates your work?
I aspire to excite young audiences, to encourage them to see more dance and to expose them to culture in a way that isn’t entertainment. I want to promote thinking and a kind of sensibility that is important to this moment in time. In an era of superficiality and short attention spans, I want to go against the grain and really have artistic integrity. My goal isn’t necessarily for my work to be popular but if it is, that’s wonderful.
What else inspires you creatively?
Naturally, I’ve been watching a lot of films and studying filmmakers lately. I also read a lot, multiple books at once—historical books on dance, art and film. Novels, too. I just started a biography on the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. I’m also reading a dance theory book by French writer Laurence Louppe. And I’m about to start Sapiens, which I’ve been looking forward to. Aside from films, books and music, which is also a big part of my life, there’s a lot to be said for just looking at the world around you.
Watch Millepied’s collaboration with FEIT here.