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Janine Charrat, Ballerina and Choreographer, Dies at 93

(In 1964, reviewing the company in Paris, Clive Barnes of The Times had a less favorable view. “In general, they were strong on décor and drama, and weak on choreography and music,” he wrote of three ballets by Ms. Charrat.)

In addition to creating pieces for her own company, Ms. Charrat choreographed ballets for La Scala in Milan, Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, La Monnaie in Brussels, the Geneva Ballet, the Vienna State Ballet and the Paris Opera. In 1961 she worked with Maurice Béjart and his Ballets of the 20th Century, choreographing “Les Quatre Fils Aymon” with him.

That same year she made international headlines when her costume caught fire during the filming of “Les Algues.” Although severely burned, she was determined to return to the stage as both dancer and choreographer. Less than two years later she created and starred in “Tu Auras Ton Nom Tristan” at the Grand Theater in Geneva, where her company was based from 1962 to 1964.

Janine Charrat was born on July 24, 1924, in Grenoble, France. Her family moved to Paris, where her father was a senior official in the Fire Department.

Photo

Janine Charrat in about 1959.

Credit
Harry Croner/Ullstein Bild, via Getty Images

As a child Ms. Charrat began to study ballet with a series of Russian teachers — Olga Preobrajenska, Lubov Egorova and Alexander Volinine — and at 11 she was already giving her own dance recitals with works she had created. Soon afterward she was cast in the Benoît-Lévy film, winning the part of Rose Souris, a student at the Paris Opera Ballet School.

Ms. Charrat met Mr. Lifar during the making of “La Mort du Cygne”; he was the film’s choreographer and, even more significantly, the director of the Paris Opera Ballet. He was to greatly influence her career.

Her film appearance also drew the attention of Irène Lidova, a French dance critic and producer. In 1942, Ms. Lidova asked Roland Petit, then a young dancer who was not yet known as a choreographer, to collaborate with Ms. Charrat on the first of a series of concerts that would lead to the founding — by Petit, Lidova and Boris Kochno — of the Ballets de Champs-Élysées.

Three years later came the success of “Jeu de Cartes,” to the Stravinsky score of the same name, for the Ballets de Champs-Élysées, with a cast that included Ms. Charrat, Jean Babilée, Nathalie Phillippart and Petit. Ms. Charrat was soon in high demand by both French and international ballet companies.

Her inclinations were experimental, and she collaborated with prominent writers, composers and designers, including Jean Genet and Darius Milhaud (for “Adam Mirroir”), Pierre Balmain (“La Femme et Son Ombre”), and Henri Sauguet and Christian Bérard (“La Nuit”).

In 1952 Ms. Charrat appeared in Benoît-Lévy’s film “The Little Match Girl,” based on a Hans Christian Andersen story. Viewing it 51 years later, when it was shown at the French Institute Alliance Française in New York, Anna Kisselgoff of The Times noted, “The effervescence of French ballet in the first 15 years after World War II comes through” in the film.

But she added, “The film is profoundly disturbing as a study in constant disillusionment and because its images of flames and fire presage Ms. Charrat’s 1961 accident.”

Mr. Charrat had a brief marriage, 1960-’62, with Gérard Bouret. She married Michel Humbert in 1967, but at her death they had long been separated and possibly divorced. He is said to be living in China. There was no available information on survivors.

Ms. Charrat continued to choreograph and to work internationally until 1973, when she created “Offrandes et Hyperprism,” to music by Edgard Varèse, for the Paris Opera Ballet. She choreographed relatively little afterward, working rather as an adviser on dance at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris from 1978 to 1988 and actively promoting a younger generation of French contemporary dance makers, including Jean-Claude Gallotta, Maguy Marin, Régine Chopinot and Dominique Bagouet.

Her last piece, “Passion de Jésus-Christ,” using actors and dancers, was staged in 1994 at the Palais de Papes in Avignon. In 1999 she was awarded the title Commander of the Legion of Honor by the French government.

Ms. Charrat’s work is no longer performed by dance companies, but her influence has been underestimated, wrote Luc Riolon and Rachel Seddoh, the directors of the documentary film “Janine Charrat, L’Instinct de la Danse” (2001). “She was the first,” they wrote, “to explore the paths that were followed years later by the great choreographers of the 20th century.”

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