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Trained at the Paris Opera Ballet school, Roland Petit joined the company in 1940 but left in 1944 to create and perform his own works at the Theatre Sarah Bernhardt, in Paris. In 1945 Petit was instrumental in creating Les Ballets des Champs-Elysees, where he remained as principal dancer, ballet master, and choreographer until 1947. In 1948 he formed the Ballets de Paris de Roland Petit, which made several tours of Europe and the United States.
His 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 staged several music hall revues and choreographed the dances for the films Hans Christian Andersen, The Glass Slipper, Daddy Long Legs, Anything Goes, and others. The ballet film Black Tights consisted of Petit’s works La Croqueuse de diamants, Cyrano de Bergerac, A Merry Mourning, and Carmen. Petit also staged several of his ballets for Sadler’s Wells Ballet (now the Royal Ballet), for the Royal Danish Ballet, and for other troupes. From 1970 to 1975 he owned and operated the Casino de Paris. In 1973 he became director of the Ballet de Marseille. He choreographed a modern version of Coppelia in 1975 and a new Phantom of the Opera for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1980.