Benjamin Millepied Hails the Dancer’s Mastery in Part Two of Our Jookin’ Double Bill
French ballet dancer and Black Swan choreographer Benjamin Millepied captures the freeform movement of rising dance star Lil Buck in his new short. Set to an electric guitar rendition of Bach’s 1741 “Aria” from the Goldberg Variations, performed by Millepied’s brother Laurent, the film showcases the richness of Jookin’ as a dance form and Buck’s ability to navigate different melodies and rhythms. While shooting another film together, Bacchanale, the classically trained Millepied invited Buck to collaborate on the unscripted piece, shot over an afternoon and evening against the backdrop of downtown Los Angeles. Millepied played “Aria” to Buck in the car on the way to the location, before allowing the Memphis native the freedom to simply improvise on the street. “He knew the mood, and improvised in a naturalistic manner,” says Millepied, who has previously worked with the likes of David Lang, Nico Muhly, Thierry Escaich and Philip Glass. Leading his own dance troupe called the New Styles Krew, Buck sprang to fame through a series of viral videos to perform with Madonna at the Super Bowl XLVI halftime show and feature on her new MDNA tour. “Lil Buck's dancing embraces all styles. He does steps that can be baroque, Indian or Russian, without ever having been exposed to those styles. There's a complete physical freedom in his body,” says Millepied. “Buck makes me want to dance. He opens doors to my imagination.” Here the rubber-limbed Buck shares his discovery of carpet-gliding moves and the rib-tickling joys of touring with Madonna.
How did you first get into ballet?
A hip-hop choreographer who was teaching me introduced me to ballet. She saw some of my movements as being similar to ballet and got me a scholarship to train in it. I was always an open-minded kid when it came to dance. I saw something that I thought could help me out in my own dance style.
What was your first experience of Jookin’?
There was a guy named Harlan Bobo who I saw at a place called the Crystal Palace Skating Rink in Memphis. He was gliding across the carpet like Michael Jackson, but better. Everyone was looking at him in amazement and I'd never seen anything like it. It was the first time I had ever come across it. From then on I knew that that was what I had to do, I was about 12 years old.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Back in Memphis it really was about the other dancers. Jookin’ was the only dance style that we had that was original. It was started there and it was our own. So we just learned from watching each other, I learned from the other people we saw. Watching my fellow Jookers, my peers and learning from the original people.
Do you preconceive what you're going to do or is it improvised?
It is genuinely spontaneous. I like to act in the moment, that is kind of how my life is. Quite often I am dancing to something I have only heard once and I just let myself go. I'm quite an experimental dancer, so if my body feels like a project is a good one, I go with it.
What have you learned from working with Madonna?
Never stop being humble and never forget where you came from. And love your fans, because they are the people that have put you where you are. We talk a lot actually, we all go out with her on day trips, kind of like her entourage going out to museums with her. She is quite a joker as well, she cracks a lot of jokes and keeps you smiling. She gives you a lot of energy. It really is a lot of fun being on tour with Madonna.
See part one of our Lil Buck double bill, directed by Jacob Sutton, here.