Great French choreographer and dancer Roland Petit died today in Geneva after a long illness. He was 87.
The Paris Opera Ballet gave out the news earlier today. French culture minister Frederic Mitterrand said Petit was “one of the major choreographers of the 20th century”.
“With his muse Renee Jeanmaire, or Zizi, with whom he formed a mythic couple, he wrote some of the most beautiful pages of contemporary music hall,” the minister said.
Petit last year returned to the Paris Opera Ballet with three of his favourite ballets, The Young Man and Death, Le Rendezvous and The Wolf.”Each time he came it was like the return of the prodigal son,” said Brigitte Lefevre, artistic director of the Paris Opera Ballet where Petit trained as a dancer.
Petit served as Paris Opera artistic director for a few months in the 1970s but he gave up the job to buy the Casino de Paris concert hall in which he staged revues that starred his wife Zizi Jeanmaire. From 1972 to 1998 he was director of the Ballet de Marseille.
Petit had lived in Geneva for the last 10 years. He has one daughter, Valentine.
A life: born January 13, 1924 – died July 10, 2011
Roland Petit trained at the Paris Opera Ballet school and joined the company in 1940. He left just four years later to create and perform his own works at the Theatre Sarah Bernhardt, in Paris. In 1945 Petit was instrumental in creating Les Ballets des Champs-Elysees, where he remained as principal dancer, ballet master, and choreographer until 1947. In 1948 he formed the Ballets de Paris de Roland Petit,where he created The Young Girls of the Night for Margot Fonteyn. The company made several tours of Europe and the UnitedStates.
In 1949, it was Zizi Jeanmaire’s performance in Petit’s production of Carmen in London that thrust the dancer into the spotlight.
Petit’s choreography was often angular or acrobatic and was considered theatrical in its use of mime dance, occasional singing, and props such as cigarettes and telephones.
Wooed by Hollywood, he choreographed Hans Christian Andersen with Jeanmaire in 1951, before marrying her soon after. Among the other films he choreographed were Daddy Long Legs (1955) The Glass Slipper (1955) and Anything Goes (1956). The ballet film Black Tights consisted of Petit’s works La Croqueuse de diamants, Cyrano de Bergerac, A Merry Mourning, and Carmen.
In 1965 he returned to the Paris Opera Ballet to create two new ballets – Adage et Variations and Notre-Dame de Paris. He served as artistic director for the company 1970 but resigned after six months to buy the Casino de Paris concert hall in which he staged revues that starred his wife, Jeanmaire.
Petit also staged several of his ballets for Sadler’s Wells Ballet (now the Royal Ballet), for the Royal Danish Ballet, and for other troupes.
In 1972 Petit helped found the Ballet de Marseille, which he would lead as director for 26 years. During this time, he created such works as Pink Floyd Ballet, Puss in Boots, The Queen of Spades and The Cheetah.
He choreographed a modern version of Coppélia in 1975 and a new Phantom of the Opera for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1980.
Some landmark works:
- Guernica (1945)
- Le jeune homme et la mort (1946)
- Les forains (1948)
- Carmen (1949)
- Ballabile (1950)
- Le loup (1953)
- Notre-Dame de Paris (1965)
- Paradise Lost (1967)
- Roland Petit Ballet (1973)
- Proust, ou Les intermittences du coeur (1974)
- Coppélia (1975)
- La symphonie fantastique (1975)
- Le fantôme de l’Opéra (1980)
- Les amours de Frantz (1981)
- The Blue Angel (1985)
- Chéri (1996)
- Clavigo (1999)
- Les chemins de la création (2004)
Photo: Thomas Peter Schultz, Wikimedia Commons
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.