At 33, Benjamin Millepied is at the top of his game. For Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky's new psychological thriller about cutthroat New York City ballet dancers, the suave, wildly talented French heartthrob multitasked as usual. He served as its choreographer and a coach to Natalie Portman, who stars as lead ballerina Nina, and played the role of her on-screen dance partner (and, later, her off-screen boyfriend). But the film -- which also stars Mila Kunis (as Nina's wayward rival), Barbara Hershey (as Nina's overbearing retired ballerina mother), and Winona Ryder (as a really fucked-up prima ballerina) -- is just one of Millepied's many acts.
When he arrives at 8 in the morning at a sun-flooded SoHo studio, Millepied explains that he'd just flown in from Amsterdam the night before, where he was supervising last-minute rehearsals for his new piece at the Dutch National Ballet, One Thing Leads to Another, with music by classical composer Nico Muhly and costumes by Rodarte. He then adds that he'll be premiering his latest work, Plainspoken, at the New York City Ballet, where he's a principal dancer, later that night.
'I get bored easily,' Millepied says, the remnants of his accent (and probably a lack of sleep) softening his vowels. Indeed, Millepied is a constantly moving machine, an Energizer bunny in a dance belt. He's already been compared to Mikhail Baryshnikov for his wide pop-cultural draw. He can be seen posing and leaping in Club Monaco's fall 2010 campaign and has also collaborated with architect Santiago Calatrava, legendary composer Philip Glass, and the fashion label Y-3. Not to mention, he's danced some of ballet's most inspired male roles, performing in works like Jerome Robbins's 2 and 3 Part Inventions and George Balanchine's Jewels and Copp'lia, just to name a few.
A bit like Portman's obsessive character -- and any ballerina who must play both Swan Lake's lily-white Swan Queen heroine, Odette, and her deceitful, unhinged counterpart, Odile -- Millepied is torn. In his case, between the single-minded discipline of classical ballet and the freewheeling ferment of choreography. 'But when you dance, you have to dance,' he says. 'Nothing exists except the ballet.'
Black Swan is now playing. Check local listings for theaters and show times.