What happens when prodigies meet? This fall, Nico Muhly, the excitable 25-year-old composer and Philip Glass protégé (and likely successor in stardom), is joining forces with Benjamin Millepied, 30, the laconic New York City Ballet principal who’s beloved for his bright, understated choreography. In October, their first joint work—From Here on Out, a three-movement, 25-minute ballet for American Ballet Theatre—will premiere at City Center. The two got on the phone for a far-flung chat with Rebecca Milzoff: Muhly from a studio in Iceland, Millepied from Martha’s Vineyard.
This is quite the intercontinental phone call…
Nico Muhly: We’re both on islands and shit!
Benjamin Millepied: [To Nico] How’s it going over there?
N: We’ve been working really hard. Since it doesn’t get dark out, you end up working for like sixteen hours and you’re like, Oh, we should probably eat something.
Benjamin, do you remember when you first heard Nico’s music?
B: He gave me his album last year. I was doing a piece in Paris, so my mind was set on that. But the second I heard it, on a plane, I called him.
N: I remember you kept calling and calling me, it was so fabulous!
B: It was extremely emotional—I was completely taken with the music, I loved every single second of it.
N: When someone calls and says they love every minute, you’re like, “Great, great! I’ll do whatever you say! You want me to fold your laundry? I’m so there!” [But] we were thrown together when he did that ballet in Paris based on Einstein on the Beach, and I was sent to conduct.
B: I had heard about Nico through my friends at Juilliard. I was intrigued by the fact that he had started working with Philip so young. Sometimes composers, if they like what you do, can come after you in an aggressive fashion. I’ve had experiences where I felt almost pressured, you know? Nico never at all came forward.
N: ’Cause it was my job to conduct! So I didn’t want to be like, By the way, do you want to do this hard-ass thing?!
How quickly did everything come together?
B: Nico was ridiculously fast. We got the go-ahead from ABT two weeks before his Carnegie Hall concert, and I think I heard the music a week after the concert.
N: I made myself produce, like, a minute a day. Didn’t I send you two minutes at first, and then another two, and then ten? Imagine if I wrote thirteen minutes and you said, Ummmm, no.
B: ABT really wanted me to use the orchestra.
N: Yay! Can I just interject that for me, orchestra is so fabulous? The idea that I’ll be able to hear the same music played by an orchestra eleven times, and to see it danced, is like porn for me.
So it’s not completed yet?
B: I think it’ll be done second week of October.
N: I have a question for you, Benjamin: Do you just assume it’ll change in rehearsal?
B: Yeah, right now I’m sort of experimenting. I have four dancers here I’m working with.
N: What about the music, are they all about it?
B: [Laughing] Yes.
N: If they say anything bad I want you to write it down and e-mail it to me! That’s like my worst fear— dancer scorn!