Jeanmaire, Zizi (1924—)

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Jeanmaire, Zizi (1924—)

French ballerina and film actress. Name variations: Renée Jeanmaire; Zizi Petit. Born Renée Jeanmaire in Paris, France, on April 29, 1924; daughter of Marcel Jeanmaire (owner of a Paris chromium factory) and Olga (Brunus) Jeanmaire; studied ballet at the Paris Opera Ballet School; married Roland Petit (a dancer and director of Les Ballets des Champs Elysées), on December 29, 1954; children: one daughter, Valentine Petit.

Selected films:

Hans Christian Andersen (US, 1952); Anything Goes (US, 1956); Folies-Bergère (1956); Charmants Garçons (1957); Guinguette (1958); Un Deux Trois (Les Collants noirs or Black Tights, 1960).

Born in Paris, France, in 1924, Zizi Jean-maire entered the famed Paris Opera Ballet School at the age of nine and studied under Alexandre Volinine and Boris Kniaseff. As a young student, she also met Roland Petit, who would later influence both her career and personal life. At 17, after leaving the Paris Opera, she spent several seasons with the de Basil and de Guevas Russian ballets, then became an original member of Les Ballets de Champs-Elysées, a company formed by Petit in October 1945. She left the group in 1948 to join Petit's newly formed Les Ballets de Paris de Roland Petit, a troupe of 15 solo dancers. During the company's initial season, Jeanmaire danced the leading roles in Que le Diable l'Emporte, Études Symphoniques, and Carmen, three new ballets choreographed by Petit. Following a successful Paris engagement, the company toured Western Europe, appearing in London for the first time in February 1949.

On the occasion of the company's debut in New York on October 6, 1949, Jeanmaire dazzled American audiences with her unconventional interpretation of Carmen. The elfin star also received enthusiastic notices from the American critics, one of whom called her short-cropped hair and exotic eye make-up "sensual and bold." Louis Biancolli, writing for the New York World-Telegram, thought Jeanmaire's Carmen "one of the most amazing portrayals of the modern stage. Using almost strictly classical technique, abetted by a shrewd sense of subtly graded pantomime, she manages to depict the whole tantalizing personality of Don Jose's femme fatale." After 118 performances of the ballet in New York, the company went on to tour other eastern cities as well as Canada.

In 1949, Jeanmaire suffered a leg injury which required surgery and a six-month recuperation period. She then returned to dance in yet another new ballet by Petit, La Croqueuse de Diamants (The Diamond Cruncher), which tells the story of a woman who has an insatiable appetite for diamonds (for eating, rather than wearing). In the ballet, which toured the United States in 1951, the principals sang and spoke as well as danced, an innovation that met with varying degrees of acceptance among the critics. In the leading role, Jeanmaire revealed a knack for comedy and a charming singing voice reminiscent of chanteuseEdith Piaf . "She dances, mimes, and sings with an intensity that makes the most fantastic episodes seem wholly natural," noted the reviewer for Musical America (November 15, 1950), "and she tosses off the technically difficult solos and duets with the utmost ease."

While touring with the ballet on the West Coast, Jeanmaire signed a movie contract with Howard Hughes (whose plans to film Carmen never materialized) and, in 1952, was loaned to Samuel Goldwyn to star in the film Hans Christian Andersen with Danny Kaye. The movie's end contains a 17-minute ballet choreographed by Petit, the most elaborate ever staged by Gold-wyn. Jeanmaire went on to star in several French movies and also appeared on Broadway in The Girl in Pink Tights (1953).

The dancer married Roland Petit in 1954 and had a daughter, Valentine Petit . During her later career, Jeanmaire combined singing and acting with dancing and starred in the stage shows Revue des Ballets de Paris (1956), Le Patron (1959), and An Evening with Zizi, which came to the United States in 1964. "There is nothing interesting about me personally," she

once said. "But when people see me dance, they understand me. That is the important thing."


Candee, Marjorie Dent, ed. Current Biography. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1952.

Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. NY: Harper-Collins, 1994.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Jeanmaire, Zizi (1924—)

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