Thank you to Jeff, who comments frequently here, for pointing me to this article in the NY Times, which most of you have probably already seen. The first page is all gloss and generalities and isn’t of much interest to a serious dance audience. I did think it was interesting that this writer, Joshua David Stein, called Millepied a “superstar in the insular world of ballet.” Does anyone really consider him a superstar? He’s known as being a choreographer who gets lots of commissions, but a superstar? I have to agree that unfortunately the ballet world has become really insular. And it hasn’t always been that way, right? What happened? Well, that’s the subject for another post.
What I found most interesting about this article (as did Jeff, who emailed me about it) is on the second and third pages where Stein gets into the business of ballet a bit. I’ve always wondered how Millepied gets so many blasted commissions. I’ve thought much of his choreography is good and interesting, but much of it is not, and I’ve thought that that is because he’s just working so much. How can you be creative on command like that, creating one ballet after the other every few months? According to this article, Millepied is a master of getting commissions because he’s a master of getting people with the means to fund them.
From the article:
His fund-raising prowess owes a debt to the enduring legacy of Mr. Robbins. The Jerome Robbins Trust and Foundation, which is led by Christopher Pennington, underwrites much of Mr. Millepied’s work and his inner circle of donors include Robbins-era philanthropic titans like Anne Bass and Arlene Cooper.
But credit should also be given to Mr. Millepied’s own assiduous cultivation of donors. William H. Wright II, chairman of the New Combinations Fund at the New York City Ballet, a group of 75 donors who dole out $2 million annually for new works, counts Mr. Millepied as a personal friend. Ira Statfeld, the home furnishings guru and a major dance supporter who met Mr. Millepied at a dinner in East Hampton in 2003, said he would “consider Benjamin a member of our family.”
Michele Pesner and her husband, Steven, who is the vice chairman of the Joyce Theater, said they have supported Mr. Millepied “from the very beginning.”
The article goes on quote others whom Millepied has wooed, and then quotes dance historians on the history of patronage in ballet:
To be fair, charming patrons is an integral part of ballet, a genre that grew out of court cultures of 16th-century France and Italy. By the 19th century, the backstage of the Paris Opera was a “privileged venue for sexual assignation” between dancers and season ticket holders, wrote Judith Lynne Hanna, a dance historian, in her book, “Dance, Sex and Gender.”
And then the article goes on to quote dance insiders who think this is how he gets so many commissions – more because of his ability to charm than actually choreograph.
Over the weekend, I was talking to a friend who’s a doctor and also a young patron of ballet, and he brought up the article as well. He said much of medical research is funded the same way – diseases that get the most research are those that are able to attract the wealthiest donors.
I just find it all very interesting…