Auditors rebuke Paris Opera Ballet for providing Natalie Portman's husband lavish perks

Benjamin Millepied, choreographer, dancer and husband of Hollywood actress Natalie Portman.
Benjamin Millepied, choreographer, dancer and husband of Hollywood actress Natalie Portman. PHOTO: AFP

Paris (AFP) - France's state auditors have rebuked heads of the Paris Opera Ballet for their taxi bills and for providing star choregrapher Benjamin Millepied with a car and chauffeur.

They criticised around 10 directors who had worked up taxi bills of nearly 100,000 euros between them in 2013 and 2014, and also took aim at the "quite high level" of spending on business lunches.

Millepied - husband of Hollywood actress Natalie Portman - spectacularly quit the bastion of classical ballet in February after his plans to radically modernise its repertoire ran into the sand.

His arrival a little over a year earlier had been greeted with fanfare, with his supporters arguing that he would revolutionise the world-renowned institution.

But the Cour des Comptes in a report published on Thursday said it could not see how a car and chauffeur for Millepied "could be justified" given no other manager enjoyed the same privilege.

The perk has since been abolished, and the Opera Ballet insisted on Friday that its taxi bill for management and guest artists had been reduced by nearly a third since.

"The cost of work lunches also dropped by 10 percent last year," it added in a statement.

Auditors recognised that the company had "taken measures recently to bring spending in line with its financial restraints".

But it still called for an increase in the number of productions which it insisted would help put the Opera Ballet on an even keel.

Insiders had criticised Millepied - who came from a modern dance background - for his programming which they said left many of the ballet's 154 classical dancers twiddling their toes.

"Too many new productions, notably lyric ones, do not have another run (40 percent) or only single subsequent performance (26 percent)," the report said.

"Given the high cost of productions...the Opera cannot allow this to continue and must better manage it productions over time." Nevertheless the auditors praised the institution - which employs 1,700 staff - for managing to "make up for the drop in state subsidy with a dynamic development of its own resources".

But progress was still needed to "balance its finances better with the number of shows it produces", the report added, saying efforts should be concentrated on its wage bill, which makes up 70 percent of its budget.