Roland Petit was a world renowned choreographer and dancer. A French national, he received his early training at the Paris Opera Ballet school and slowly established a name for himself as a skilled dancer. But more importantly, his original ballets and choreography earned him a reputation for creativity and artistic innovation that remained with him till his death, making him one of the most respected choreographers of our times.
In 1946, Petit choreographed his magnum opus, Le Jeune Homme et la Mort, which became his most well known and critically appreciated work. By 1965, Petit was directing ballets at some of the largest theaters in countries like France, England, Italy, Canada and Germany.
In 1972, Roland founded the Ballet National de Marseille and premiered his Pink Floyd Ballet as the company’s first production. He directed the company for the next twenty six years, creating more than fifty ballets across all genres and worked with some of the best dancers of this era. He was one of the best choreographers in the arts of narrative ballet and pas de deux and was accomplished in abstract ballets as well.
Le Jeune Homme Et La Mort:
Le jeune homme et la mort (“The Young Man and Death”) is considered to be Petit’s greatest achievement in ballet. Choreographed in 1946, it was danced to Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor, BWV 582 with an additional one act libretto by Jean Cocteau.
The ballet revolves around the story of a young man, who is driven to suicide by the actions of his faithless lover. It has been reported that Petit choreographed the ballet for his wife, but it was Jean Babilée and Natalie Philippart who danced in the premier.
The ballet premiered at the Ballets des Champs-Elysées on 25th June, 1946, with set design by Georges Wakhévitch and costumes by Tom Keogh. It was a commercial and critical hit, assailed by viewers for its innovative choreography and bold interpretation of the music.
The ballet has now become a regular feature in the repertoire of many leading ballet companies and has been performed numerous times by prestigious ballet companies like the Paris Opera Ballet, American Ballet Theater, Ballet National de Marseille and the Mariinsky Ballet.
Just like the name suggests, Pink Floyd was based on the music of the famous rock band with the same name. It was Petit’s daughter who reportedly gave her father a Pink Floyd album and asked him to compose a ballet out of it. The idea appealed to Petit and he set about working on the idea.
Petit went to meet the band and discuss the idea with them. Upon their enthusiastic response, he started working on the choreography, and finally premiered the ballet with his newly founded company, Ballet National de Marseille in 1972. The premier was staged at the Palais des Sports in Marseille, with the band performing live at the opening performance. It was a huge critical success, with critics hailing the unique mixture of the old and the new and Petit cemented his place amongst the all time great choreographers.