A free man no more: Benjamin Millepied to take the reins at the Paris Opera Ballet

It seemed as though it would be a race between two former etoiles and one present etoile of the Paris Opera Ballet to succeed Brigite Lefèvre as artistic director of the company.

Instead, Laurent Hilaire, 50, Manuel Legris, 48, and Nicolas Le Riche, who will be 40 next week, have missed their chance this time, as the 35 year old Benjamin Millepied will move into the role in September 2014.

Millepied told The New York Times he was sounded out for the position in mid-November by Stéphane Lissner, artistic director of La Scala, who is to succeed Nicolas Joel as general director of the Paris Opera Ballet in 2015.

Hilaire, a ballet master with the Paris Opera Ballet, was thought to be the first choice of Lefèvre.

Next year, Le Riche will turn 42, the compulsory retirement age for dancers at the Paris Opera Ballet.

He was to travel to Australia this weekend to dance with the POB in Sydney but it is understood that he is injured and will not appear in the season that begins on 29 January.

Millepied was born in Bordeaux but trained at the Conservatoire National de Lyon. He joined the School of American Ballet in 1993 and danced with New York City Ballet where he was promoted to the rank of a principal dancer in 2001. He retired in 2011 when he concentrated on his career as a freelance choreographer.

Unlike many of his colleagues who lead international dance companies he is blessed with, or cursed with, an aura of celebrity as the husband of Natalie Portman. The two worked together on the gothic horror movie, Black Swan in 2010 and he is also the face of Yves Saint Laurent’s fragrance for men, L’Homme Libre.

He won’t be much of a free man in Paris from 2014 when he will have to negotiate the politics of a company that will be emerging from the relatively calm years of Lefèvre’s directorship since 1995.

The Paris Opera Ballet has had more stability with its artistic direction than the Bolshoi Ballet in recent years but longevity was not a strong suit before Lefèvre took up the role.

Her nine predecessors were:

Patrick Dupont 1990-95

Patrice Bart and Eugene Poliakov, interim directors, 1989-90

Rudolf Nureyev 1983-89

Rosella Hightower 1980-83

Violette Verdy 1978-80

Raymond Franchetti 1971-78

Claude Bessy 1970-71

John Taras 1969-70

Roslyn Suclas of The New York Times was at the press conference at the Palais Garnier where Millepied’s appointment was annnounced. She has reported that his contract is open ended.

Her report is at www.artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com

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Benjamin Millepied, photo © Alexander Wagner

Benjamin Millepied with his wife, Natalie Portman at New York City Ballet’s spring gala, 2012, photo © C.Smith/ WENN.com