French choreographer Roland Petit dies at 87

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Acclaimed choreographer Roland Petit, whose creations dazzled stages from Paris to Hollywood and inspired dancers, writers and designers has died. He was 87.

The Paris National Opera said Petit’s wife, Zizi Jeanmaire, informed them that the choreographer died on Sunday in Geneva. No cause of death was given.

Jeanmaire, ballerina turned music hall performer who collaborated with her husband, and the couple’s daughter Valentine, saluted Petit as "not only a great innovator … but also an incomparable creator who marked and will mark all generations."

Petit took his first dance steps aged nine at the Paris Opera’s School of Dance "and never truly left the house," they said in a statement.

While opening several ballet companies in Paris after its liberation from occupying Nazis and the Marseille ballet house, Petit maintained ties with Paris Opera, offering 11 creations, including "Notre Dame de Paris."

His reputation grew well beyond France in the 1950s during a four-year stint in Hollywood, collaborating with Orson Welles in "The Lady in the Ice" (1953) and choreographing classics like "Daddy Long Legs" with Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron (1954) or "Anything Goes" with Bing Crosby and Zizi Jeanmaire (1955).

Famed American dancer Alvin Ailey said in 1970 that he owed everything to Petit.

French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand, paying tribute, said that some of his works brought together designers like Yves Saint-Laurent for costumes, Picasso for decor and writer and poet Jacques Prevert. Notable pieces included "Carmen" or "Le Jeune Homme et la Mort" (The Young Man and Death).

Petit choreographed for Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn among other great dancers during an eclectic career that saw him spend six months at the head of the Paris Opera in 1970 then moving to the Casino de Paris for music hall creations until 1976. He then settled in Marseille and lent his name to the company in 1981, now known as National Ballet of Marseille-Roland Petit.

In 1998, after 26 years there, he made a break, traveling the world to create new ballets or mount old works with the likes of the San Francisco Ballet, the Bolshoi in Moscow, La Scala in Milan, the Asami Maki Ballet of Tokyo and the National Ballet of China.

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