Roland Petit

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Roland Petit
Petit in 2009
Born13 January 1924
Villemomble, France
Died10 July 2011(2011-07-10) (aged 87)
Geneva, Switzerland
  • France
  • United States
Alma mater Paris Opéra Ballet
OccupationDancer and choreographer
Years active1945–2011
(m. 1954)
AwardsPrix Benois de la Danse

Roland Petit (13 January 1924 10 July 2011) was a French ballet company director, choreographer and dancer. He trained at the Paris Opera Ballet school, and became well known for his creative ballets.


Life and work

The son of shoe designer Rose Repetto, Petit was born in Villemomble, near Paris. He trained at the Paris Opéra Ballet school under Gustave Ricaux and Serge Lifar and began to dance with the corps de ballet in 1940. He founded the Ballets des Champs-Élysées in 1945 and the Ballets de Paris in 1948, at Théâtre Marigny, with Zizi Jeanmaire as star dancer.

Petit collaborated with Henri Dutilleux (Le Loup - 1953), Serge Gainsbourg, Yves Saint-Laurent and César Baldaccini and participated in several French and American films. He returned to the Paris Opéra in 1965 to mount a production of Notre Dame de Paris (with music by Maurice Jarre). He continued to direct ballets for the largest theatres of France, Italy, Germany, Great Britain, Canada and Cuba.

In 1968, his ballet Turangalîla provoked a small revolution within the Paris Opéra. Four years later, in 1972, he founded the Ballet National de Marseille with the piece "Pink Floyd Ballet". He directed the Ballet National de Marseille for the next 26 years. For the décor of his ballets, he would work in close collaboration with the painter Jean Carzou (1907–2000), but also with other artists such as Max Ernst.[ citation needed ]

The creator of more than 50 ballets across all genres, he choreographed for a plethora of famed international dancers. He refused the free technical effects; he did not stop reinventing his style, language, and became a master in the arts of pas de deux and of narrative ballet, but he succeeded also in abstract ballets. He collaborated also with the nouveaux réalistes including Martial Raysse, Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely.

Le jeune homme et la mort ("The Young Man and Death") of 1946 (libretto by Jean Cocteau) is considered his magnum opus and it is also his most well-known work; the choreography and the costumes are of astonishing modernity. In his 1949 ballet Carmen , he made an unusual use of the en dedans, while he gave a non-figurative treatment to Turangalîla.[ citation needed ]

Among the films to which he contributed are Symphonie en blanc by René Chanas and François Ardoin (1942 short film on history of dance) in which he appeared as a dancer; the choreography for the 1948 film Alice in Wonderland, The Glass Slipper in 1954, Anything Goes (with others)in 1956, [1] and Black Tights as choreographer, writer, and dancer [2] in 1960.


In 1994, he was awarded the Prix Benois de la Danse as choreographer.[ citation needed ]

Personal life

In 1954, Petit married dancer Zizi Jeanmaire, who performed in a number of his works. His memoirs were published in 1993 under the title J'ai dansé sur les flots ("I Danced on the Waves"). He and Jeanmaire had one daughter, Valentine Petit, a dancer and actress. [3] [4] [5]

Petit died in Geneva, Switzerland, aged 87, of leukemia. [6]


During his career, Petit choreographed 176 works, including:

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  1. Bfi archives> Roland Petit, accessed 3 April 2013
  2. Black Tights at IMDB accessed 16 March 2015
  3. Kisselgoff, Anna (10 July 2011). "Roland Petit, Choreographer, Dies at 87; Conquered Ballet Taboos and Hollywood". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
  4. "BBC News - French choreographer Roland Petit dies at 87". 10 July 2011. Retrieved 23 August 2020 via
  5. Photo of Zizi Jeanmaire with daughter
  6. Cruickshank, Judith (11 July 2011). "Roland Petit obituary" . Retrieved 23 August 2020 via