He was the greatest. Working with him I touched upon genius itself. He gave you the essence of a character in a single gesture, in an instant. A dancer was never the same after meeting him.
Petit forced me to bring out the tiger that was inside me. I was almost 20 when I débuted in Carmen with Peter Schaufuss. To learn the ballet I flew to New York and Marseille: I entered the rehearsal room to demonstrate a couple of steps to Roland, unaware of his maniacal perfectionism. What was I thinking! He grabbed me and started to pull me about, throwing me here and there. I was speechless, but Roland said “This is Carmen!”
I understood that I should stand up for myself; it was one of his characteristics, he hated submissive women, for him women are the force that makes the world turn!
He taught me everything, even how to sew a costume. He made me aware of my sensuality, and forced me to overcome my fear of acting in La Voix Humaine. Working with him was never easy: he was highly demanding, he didn't tolerate approximations by the dancers and closely followed every detail. I remember that at the first night of Carmen at La Scala he arrived on stage with a can of spray paint to show the stage-hands how to retouch the base of the scenery.
It is true that he was provocative in life, in the rehearsal room and on stage. But he was witty and elegant, a Parisian down to his roots. His unmistakable technique remodelled my body, giving me sinuous legs.
Roland never understood my choice [to retire], his life was the stage. Today my thoughts go out to his wife Zizi, there were inseparable even though they argued. Zizi lived through Roland, even when he was away. Now that he's no longer with us, he will continue to live in Zizi, but for her it will be very hard.
Comments taken from the Corriere della Sera
Photo: Alessandra Ferri and Julio Bocca in Carmen © Rosalie O'Connor
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.