With his appointment as the new director of the Paris Opera Ballet, Benjamin Millepied has landed one of the most prestigious jobs in dance, overseeing a corps of 150 performers at the legendary institution.
But his new post, which was announced Thursday and begins in October 2014, creates uncertainty for L.A. Dance Project, the downtown collective that the French choreographer launched to much fanfare with the Music Center in 2011.
Speaking on the phone from Paris, Millepied said he remains committed to the future of L.A. Dance Project even if it means he will have to step back from the daily operations of the company.
"It's close to my heart. There's no desire to make it a project that will end when I leave," he said.
Millepied, 35, is an experienced choreographer and former principal dancer at New York City Ballet. He is married to actress Natalie Portman; the couple met while making the 2010 movie "Black Swan," on which Millepied worked as choreographer. They and their toddler son live in Los Feliz, but Millepied said they will move to Paris next year.
At the Paris Opera, Millepied will succeed Brigitte Lefèvre, who has headed the ballet there since 1995.
Millepied said he will probably take on the title of founding director and advisor at L.A. Dance Project, handing the leadership reins to another choreographer. He said he would continue working intensively with the company at least through 2014.
"In no way is it something I want to abandon. I think it is important to follow through with it," he said.
L.A. Dance Project is a collective consisting of dancers and artists that curates new works and presents modern-dance pieces from notable American choreographers. In addition to Millepied, the company's leaders include composer Nico Muhly, art consultant Matthieu Humery, film producer Dimitri Chamblas and producer Charles Fabius.
Its big debut was in September at Walt Disney Concert Hall, in a program that included a new work titled "Moving Parts," created by Millepied.
The company, which is based out of the L.A. Theatre Center building downtown, launched with some funding from the Music Center. Leaders of L.A. Dance Project said they received approximately $250,000 from the Music Center.
Since then, L.A. Dance Project has raised nearly $1 million for the current year and close to that amount for the next three years, and none of that money has come from the Music Center, Millepied said.
This year, L.A. Dance Project will embark on an international tour that will include stops in London, Paris, Edinburgh and Spoleto, Italy. The tour will feature performances of new and existing repertory pieces.
The company is also working on a site-specific project with the young, edgy L.A. opera company The Industry, which is expected to debut later this year.
"This was never meant to be 'his' [Millepied's] company," said Fabius, a producer at L.A. Dance Project, in a separate interview. Fabius said the company is a curatorial entity rather than a traditional dance organization, with the goal to bring together artists from dance and other disciplines.
Last summer, the group performed a site-specific work at the Museum of Contemporary Art in conjunction with an exhibition by artist Mark Bradford. It has also commissioned a new work from Justin Peck, a dancer with City Ballet who hails from Encinitas.
Millepied choreographs for some of the world's leading dance companies, including American Ballet Theatre and the Mariinsky Ballet, as well as the Paris Opera Ballet. For L.A. Dance Project, he said he is creating a new work in collaboration with artist Barbara Kruger.
As the head of the Paris Opera Ballet, he will lead a major dance company for the first time. "I am sure I will discover all the complications of it once I start," he said.
Millepied was born in Bordeaux, France, and has spent much of his career in the U.S. He stepped down from City Ballet in 2011.
The dancer married the Oscar-winning Portman last year in a ceremony in Northern California.