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Review: ‘Reset’ charts the leaps, strides and missteps of the now-departed director of the Paris Opera Ballet

Dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet in the documentary "Reset."
(Emmanuel Guionet / FilmRise)
Film Critic

Befitting its name, the gorgeous dance documentary “Reset” has multiple dual situations to deal with.

As that title indicates, “Reset” focuses on the 2014 arrival of Benjamin Millepied as director of the Paris Opera Ballet and the change of cultures he began to implement as revealed through the lens of the first ballet he created.

Though film fans may think of him as the husband of actress Natalie Portman and the choreographer of “Black Swan’s” ballet sequences, Millepied is a significant figure in the dance world, former principal dancer for the New York City Ballet and the founder of the L.A. Dance Project.

As fans of dance docs will know, “Reset” is also the second documentary to deal intimately with the storied Paris Opera Ballet, following as it does 2009’s “La Danse,” directed by the protean Frederick Wiseman.

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Even more than that, as “Reset” indicated at its close, just four months after the events shown on screen, Millepied surprised the dance world by leaving his Paris post to move to Los Angeles and concentrate on his work at the L.A. Dance Project.

That is an awful lot for one documentary, but as co-directed by Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai, the film handles it all with surprising aplomb.

It helps that, with co-director Teurlai serving as cinematographer, the filmmakers exhibit a refined and elegant eye for the kind of quiet loveliness that can be found in movement as well as stillness. This is one documentary, as “La Danse” was before it, that is a thing of beauty in and of itself.

The filmmakers also had excellent access to Millepied as he conceived and choreographed his 33-minute piece, eventually named “Clear, Loud, Bright, Forward.” Access often translates to an admiring tone, but Millepied turns out to be such an engaging presence that getting on his side feels inevitable.

Things begin with 39 working days (a timespan the film counts down in enormous yellow numbers) until the piece’s premiere and Millepied listening with pleasure to the music he’s commissioned from American composer Nico Muhly.

Then it’s off to a practice studio where we see Millepied slowly working out his piece’s first steps, at times talking either to himself or to the camera to fill us in on his thoughts.

One of Millepied’s ideas for this piece was to exclusively cast its 16 parts not with the Opera Ballet’s great stars but with members of the corps de ballet, counting on their energy, enthusiasm and willingness to work hard to carry the day.

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A big chunk of “Reset” is given over to numerous rehearsals, which, given that the company’s base is the gorgeous Palais Garnier, the former home of the Phantom of the Opera, invariably take place in beautiful spaces.

One of the key things “Reset” shows about Millepied is how solicitous he is toward his young dancers, worried about everything from a nosebleed to more serious foot injuries and proud of his role in changing the flooring of these practice rooms to a more forgiving surface.

As passionate as Millepied is about dance, it is also clear that being Paris Opera director entails a lot of non-dance commitments and worries, like the company’s lack of up-to-date technology and having to cope with things like strikes that are out of his control.

Perhaps most personally revealing is Millepied’s attitude toward how rigidly hierarchical the Paris Opera Ballet company has always been, with yelling by instructors being the order of the day, and how much that clashes with Millepied’s deeply held personal philosophy that “you can’t dance without pleasure.”

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So, by the time type comes up on screen telling us that Millepied left the Paris Opera Ballet after little more than two years on the job, we have seen the reasons for that departure writ large on the screen.

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No MPAA rating.

Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

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Playing Laemmle’s Ahryna Fine Arts, Beverly Hills.

Critic’s Choice. “Reset.” This gorgeous dance documentary shows us Benjamin Millepied creating his first work for the Paris Opera Ballet as well as illuminating the reasons that led him to leave the company. - Kenneth Turan

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kenneth.turan@latimes.com

@KennethTuran


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