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French choreographer Roland Petit dies at 87

10 July 11 17:44
Roland Petit

French choreographer and dancer Roland Petit has died in Geneva at the age of 87, the Paris Opera Ballet has said.

Petit helped set up dance company Les Ballets des Champs-Elysees in 1945 and is credited with revolutionising ballet for his theatrical choreography.

France's Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand paid tribute to him, saying he was "one of the major choreographers of the 20th Century".

Petit is credited with creating more than 100 ballets during his career.

He married dancer Zizi Jeanmaire in 1954 and choreographed a number of pieces for her.

"With his muse Zizi Jeanmaire, he wrote some of the most beautiful pages of contemporary music hall," Mr Mitterrand said.

Born in 1924, Petit joined the Paris Opera Ballet when he was nine years old, but left when he was 20 to create and perform his own works at the Theatre Sarah Bernhardt in Paris.

After forming Les Ballets des Champs-Elysees, he remained at the company for three years as principal dancer, ballet master, and choreographer.

He then formed the Ballets de Paris in 1948, where he created The Young Girls of the Night for Margot Fonteyn.

In 1949, it was Jeanmaire's performance in Petit's production of Carmen in London that thrust the dancer into the spotlight.

It was not long before Hollywood came calling and Petit spent four years in the US choreographing films including Hans Christian Andersen, The Glass Slipper, Daddy Long Legs and Anything Goes.

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.

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.

After his tenure, Petit continued to tour the world with his new ballets.

Last year he returned to the Paris Opera Ballet with three of his favourite ballets, The Young Man and Death, Le Rendez-vous 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 is survived by his wife Jeanmaire and daughter, dancer Valentine Petit.

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