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TV Review

Tracing the Love, Life of 'Zizi' and Petit

October 14, 1998|LEWIS SEGAL | TIMES DANCE CRITIC

On the ballet stage, in Hollywood musicals and in spectacular Parisian revues, French gamine Renee "Zizi" Jeanmaire became the epitome of postwar ooh-la-la--and perhaps the last great personality dancer of the century. Her career and that of her husband, choreographer Roland Petit, are deftly if incompletely summarized in the hourlong tribute "Zizi, Je T'Aime," tonight on the PBS "Great Performances" series.

Director Mischa Scorer follows the Petits on a pilgrimage to the sites of personal and career milestones, raking up old conflicts along the way, though some of them seem nothing more than improvisations for the camera. (Can Jeanmaire still be jealous of Rita Hayworth, with whom her husband danced just once at a party?)We get glimpses of Jeanmaire smooching with old pal Yves Saint Laurent and coaching Kirov ballerina Altynai Asylmuratova in "Carmen," but most of the hour focuses on the details of their romantic and creative partnership.

*

"We are the reflections of each other," Jeanmaire says, and the filmed dance excerpts reinforce that opinion, showing how Petit molded her dancing into the contemporary ballet style he envisioned, and how her star power extended his reach into show business. Major gaps occur--he talks about working with Fred Astaire, but there are no clips or even stills. Moreover, the Hollywood footage of Jeanmaire remains meager, leaving Petit's early career more persuasively documented than hers.

Later on, images of Rudolf Nureyev in his prime explain better than Petit can why someone he calls "a real monster" is also his favorite dancer. And where is Baryshnikov and Karen Kain and all those who helped give his quarter-century in Marseilles an international impact?

Now well into their 70s, the Petits remain active in the theater--his "Chaplin Dances" was seen earlier this season at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. This affectionate dual portrait will provide an overview for those with only recent knowledge of their achievements.

* "Zizi, Je T'Aime" airs at 10 tonight on KCET-TV Channel 28.

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