French choreographer, dancer Roland Petit dies at 87.
PARIS: French choreographer and dancer Roland Petit, who helped set up Les Ballets des Champs-Elysees and formed several more dance companies, died Sunday in Geneva at the age of 87.
The Paris National Opera announced Petit's death after receiving word from his wife and collaborator, Renee "Zizi" Jeanmaire, a ballerina turned music hall performer.
He created around a hundred dramatic ballets, which often combined fantasy with contemporary realism, including "The Strolling Players" and "Carmen," and choreographed several French and U.S. films.
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.
Petit was, as French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand said Sunday, "one of the major choreographers of the 20th century. With his muse Zizi Jeanmaire, with whom he formed a mythic couple, he wrote some of the most beautiful pages of contemporary music hall."
Some of his works, Mitterrand noted, brought together designers like Yves Saint-Laurent for costuming, Picasso for decor and writer and poet Jacques Prevert for text.
Petit had a long but fitful relationship with the Paris Opera Ballet, which he joined in 1939-40, after training at the POB's school, but left in 1944 in order to work at Paris' Theatre Sarah Bernhardt.
In 1948 Petit formed the Ballets de Paris de Roland Petit, which presented his works "Les Demoiselles de la nuit" (1948), "L'Oeuf Ea la coque" (1949), "Carmen" (1949) and "La Croqueuse de diamants" (1950), among others.
Several important dancers emerged from Petit's company, including Zizi Jeanmaire herself, who attracted attention with her passionate dancing in the popular "Carmen." Petit and Jeanmaire married in 1954. They subsequently worked in Hollywood on several films, including "Hans Christian Andersen" (1952) and "Anything Goes" (1956).
In late 1965 Petit choreographed his "Notre Dame de Paris" for Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn at the Paris Opera Ballet. The Paris Opera was also invited the choreographer to take the post of theater head, but he quickly left that position. He nevertheless went on to create 10 more pieces for the Paris Opera, including works like "Cheetah," for Paris Opera star Nicolas Le Risha, and "Daddy Long Legs" (1955) with Fred Astaire.
In 1960 "Black Tights," a film incorporating several Petit numbers, was released and since then Petit received many opportunities to work for companies around the world.
From 1972 to 1998 he was director of the Ballet de Marseille.
In 2010 Petit returned to the Paris Opera Ballet with three of his favorite ballets, "The Young Man and Death," "Le Rendezvous" and "The Wolf."
Petit had lived in Geneva for the last 10 years. He has one daughter, Valentine.
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