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French ballet choreographer Lacotte dies aged 91

Pierre Lacotte, a French choreographer who as a young man helped ballet superstar Rudolf Nureyev defect from the Soviet Union, died aged 91 on Monday, his wife said. “Our Pierre left us at 4:00 am,” said his wife, retired principal dancer Ghislaine Thesmar. “It’s very sad. He still had so many projects and was writing a book.” The artist, known in his later years for his revival of 19th-century ballet productions, passed away in a clinic in the southern French town of Seyne-sur-Mer after he suffered a cut that became septic, she said.

Born in the French capital in 1932, Lacotte became a dancer at the Paris Opera Ballet aged just 19. From the late 1950s, he worked as an independent dancer and choreographer. In 1961, after becoming friends with Soviet-born ballet legend Nureyev while he was on tour in Paris, Lacotte was among those who helped the dancer escape KGB agents and seek asylum at the capital’s Le Bourget airport, according to his account in a BBC documentary.

In this file photo taken on December 20, 1974 French ballet dancer Michael Denard (left) and Ghislaine Thesmar (center) rehearse a scene of Opera ‘Coppélia’ with French choreographer Pierre Lacotte (right), in Paris. — AFP photos

His role in the famous defection was also recounted in a 2018 biopic titled “The White Crow” directed by Britain’s Ralph Fiennes. After suffering an ankle injury, Lacotte increasingly turned his attention to the archives of the Paris Opera from 1968. He devoted the rest of his career to bringing back to life forgotten 19th-century productions on the world’s greatest stages.

They included “La Sylphide”, the first ballet completely on pointe when it was originally produced in 1832, and Orientalist fantasy “The Pharaoh’s Daughter” from 1862 — the latter for the Bolshoi Ballet. The Bolshoi on Monday paid its respects to Lacotte, describing him as a “talented man with a generous soul”. Lacotte’s last work in 2021 was a production of “The Red and the Black” based on the 1830 novel by French writer Stendhal. When it opened, he was 89 years old. — AFP

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