Benjamin Millepied

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by Maria Luisa Buzzi

Millepied, can you explain the title Unstill life? Unstill life or life never still?

The title reflects my life, full of different chapters, always on the move. I was born in France, to Bordeaux, grew up in Senegal, studied to Lyon, lived to New York, Los Angeles and now I am back in France, to Paris although I will continue to across the Atlantic. In the title is everything that inhabits me and has made my singularity. I have the impression that I have had many lives.

Is it a challenge for you to return to the stage after thirteen years of choreographing for others and filmmaking?

More than a challenge, it is a need, a necessity. I stopped dancing too soon. I felt the desire to return to the stage, partly because if I don't do it now, when? I want to relive once again that unique feeling with the audience, that unparalleled relationship with space that only dancing can give.... Thanks to my past experiences, being on stage for me now is pure pleasure.

Between you and Alexandre Tharaud on the scene there is a magnificent complicity. How did you get to this point?

Alexandre is not simply a performer who has touched me with his recordings: he has a poetic sensitivity, a finesse of choices and unique approach to the repertoire. We also possess the same point of view toward musical expression.

Unstill Life concludes with Ludwig van Beethoven's Sonata No. 32 Op. 111 in C minor. The composer's last work for piano, composed to fifty years old and already deaf. A reflection on the passing of age?

I feel the physical limit, but I also know that with maturity new spaces, and new outpourings, can open up. Beethoven is an awe-inspiring composer, his opera is so monumental! In my career I have only choreographed Piano Sonata No. 23, the Appassionata, at the Paris Opéra in 2016, nothing else. I love Sonata No. 32, so rich in emotion, suspended between death and rebirth, and I think even imbued with hope despite the fact that deafness had already removed him from the world. It seems to me that here his malaise and emotions were transformed into music to continue to living. Stylistically then, it shows great creativity, a less classical, freer structure. Very modern.

The influence of George Balanchine, an indefatigable advocate of a symbiotic relationship between dance and music, on your compositional process is very evident here. Can you confirm that for you, as for Balanchine, dance must "visualize" music?

Absolutely yes, I agree with Balanchine. Dance must immerse itself in the world and spirit of the composer and show the differences between composers: dancing Rameau is different from Bach or Satie. With Alexandre we chose pieces of music that inspired us and that I also played in the past. Dance and music must become one.

In the show he introduces another of his passions, video, also live.

Video and technology are part of today's world, but for me they have always been a creative passion as well. If it were not so, I would not have put myself to directing a film.

The hands at the center of the shooting...

The keyboard on which a pianist's hands fly always represents a miracle to me. That's why I film them during the performance. Even in ballet they are very important, they give expressiveness, they create gestures.

I really like the hands; they have always been important to leaving from that moment in my life when the piano called me to itself, although later the attraction to the body proved stronger.

The name of Jerome Robbins, the great choreographer and maître de ballet who discovered you to New York, is also linked to the Spoleto Festival. What was your relationship with him?

I met him in my days at the School of American Ballet on the occasion of one of his choreographies for students, 2&3 Part Inventions to the music of Bach. I was 16 years old, my first ballet, and I remember he was impressed by my dancing. I then joined the company and danced all his works in the repertory at New York City Ballet including his last hit Les Noces by Stravinsky in 1998. Thanks to him I met Aidan George Mooney, a curious, intelligent man who loved art from all angles, a great friend of Jerome. Aidan owned a house near Spoleto where he spent his summers. My first time to Spoleto was with him: I am very happy to return to Spoleto to dance.

The role of improvisation in the piece?

Beethoven is totally improvised. I take many liberties throughout the performance, but there is a definite structure. Rameau for example is all choreographed in detail.

A comment on these three words that characterize to my view Unstill life? Childhood, play, maturity.

The piece, like life, is all a variation on the theme. So a game. Being on stage is called jouer in French. There is play with structure, with space, with presence, with our childhood memories. Childhood then has to to do with dance because all children spontaneously dance.