French dancer Benjamin Millepied joined the New York City Ballet as a teen and became a principal dancer by his early 20s. Mentored early in his career by famed choreographer Jerome Robbins, Millepied himself quickly became a sought-after choreographer, working on various commercials and films; however, he may be best known to wider audiences for his work on the 2010 film Black Swan, for which he choreographed the dance scenes and acted in as a dancer. It’s also where he would meet his wife, Natalie Portman.
Reset follows Millepied as he choreographs his debut at the Paris Opera Ballet, where he became director of dance in 2013. The documentary gives a fascinating backstage look into a creation of a ballet show, an interesting glimpse for both ballet fans and non-followers of ballet alike.
Early in the documentary, Millepied, in voiceover, states that he’d like to rally against the strict hierarchy of the culture that dominates the large ballet companies. Dismayed at the fear that many dancers have when they first met him, he rallies against the strict physical expectations of ballet dancers (“A dancer must have long legs, a long neck, long arms.”) and the strict hierarchy of ballet dancers, who “…live in permanent doubt.” Every year, dancers must re-audition, making them constantly compare themselves to other dancers. “It’s like the army. They’ve been graded and ranked…it’s a shame there’s all this hierarchy, and we continue to rank them, saying, ‘No, you’re a third, you’re a fourth, you can’t do pointe. What’s the point of all this competition? It creates fear, a lot of it.” Millepied also despises how many people won’t hire dancers of colour, fearing they’ll stick out in a largely white company (Millepied doesn’t say if this is a phenomenon of French or American ballet companies, or both, but it’s a sad fact, regardless). As he says this, beautiful images of dancers in costume, dancing in unison can be seen, illuminating how audiences see the glory and elegance of ballet but none of its dark, ugly side.
It’s a joy watching Millepied work with a largely young cast as they rehearse his new piece. We see him interact with the dancers, all of whom are wearing sweats and other street clothes as Millepied works out the kinks of his piece. In fact, Millepied walks into the first day of rehearsals admitting to his dancers that the music and choreography isn’t completed, an invitation to his dancers to join him as he explores the piece. The documentary gives a countdown to the premiere (“30 Days Left,” “29 Days Left”) that heighten the tension of the debut performance of the new work. Dancers are interviewed about their background in dance, and scenes explore the orchestra’s rehearsal and the technical rehearsals, where lighting and other cues are set. The film culminates in a successful debut performance of Millepied’s newest piece. Audiences, particularly ballet and dance fans, will delight in the glimpses that this documentary provides.