#TBT: Zizi Jeanmaire in Roland Petit's “Carmen” Variation (1961)

August 21, 2019

Updated on 8/5/2020

French ballerina Zizi Jeanmaire first gained fame when she premiered the titular title role in Roland Petit’s Carmen in 1949, opposite Petit as Carmen’s lover Don José. With her famously cropped hair (and cropped tutu!), Jeanmaire’s performance as the seductive gypsy took the world by storm, catapulting her and Petit’s careers.

The couple, who married in 1954, were partners in life as well as onstage. They spent several years working in Hollywood, and later reprised their roles in Carmen for a version of the ballet in the 1961 French film Black Tights. This clip of Carmen’s variation immortalizes Jeanmaire’s sexy sophistication and brilliant commitment to a role.

Emerging from a back corner of the bar in the tavern scene, Jeanmaire toys with her fan as a tantalizing rhythm begins to build. The turned-in-and-out swivels and precise footwork in Petit’s Latin-infused ballet vocabulary accentuate her long legs. Jeanmaire, who passed away last month, is equally astonishing with each coy profile and shoulder shrug as she is in the variation’s finale of rousing fouettés. A duo ahead of their time, Petit’s choreography and Jeanmaire’s performance are still every bit as iconic as they were in the ’60s. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!