Oscar nominee dies: Colette Marchand

Published: June 22, 2015

Oscar nominee dies: Colette Marchand, Colette Marchand, a French ballerina whose long-legged glamour made her an international star in Roland Petit’s ballets in the 1940s and 1950s, and who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in John Huston’s “Moulin Rouge,” died on June 5 at her home in Bois-le-Roi, France. She was 90.

Laurent Bazire, a nephew, announced her death.

Ms. Marchand played a highly visible role in the postwar creative ferment of French ballet. Like many dancers in the Petit company, including Zizi Jeanmaire, its best-known star, she gave audiences a new image of the modern ballerina – part poetic, part chic. She was especially suited to Petit works that had a revue quality.

In 1949, in London and New York, she caused a sensation when she emerged from a giant egg in Petit’s “L’Oeuf à la Coque” (“The Boiled Egg”) as a chicken in black tights and black feathers. In the acrobatic mayhem onstage involving cooks and poultry in a kitchen (an updated Faustian Hell, as the program defined it), Ms. Marchand’s showgirl presence was a standout. Some in the New York press called her “Les Legs,” and she later embarked on a music hall career.

But Ms. Marchand, a classically trained dancer, also excelled in Petit’s more lyrical works. He had created “Les Demoiselles de la Nuit” in 1948 for Margot Fonteyn, then a guest with his company, Les Ballets de Paris. Ms. Marchand succeeded her in the leading role of a cat who is a woman by night and falls into ill-fated love with a human.

Ms. Marchand attracted, among other creative spirits, the director Orson Welles, who had her in mind when he wrote the scenario for the 1953 Petit ballet “The Lady in the Ice.” Here she portrayed a young woman discovered in a block of ice, which melts when a youth falls in love with her. When she kisses him, he turns to ice. Welles called this short-lived ballet “a little parable for our times.”

Colette Marchand was born on April 29, 1925, in Paris and danced briefly with the Paris Opera Ballet after graduating from its school. She left that company in 1946 and performed with the Metropolitan Ballet, a British troupe, in 1947 before joining Les Ballets de Paris the next year. In its New York debut in 1949, she and Milorad Miskovitch danced in the premiere of “Le Combat,” a duet, now well known, by the American choreographer William Dollar.

While on tour with Les Ballets de Paris, Ms. Marchand married its conductor, Jacques Bazire. She is survived by her sister, Yvonne Le Bras.

Among the works Petit choreographed for Ms. Marchand was “Ciné Bijou,” a wistful tale about a secretary and a young man who identify with lovers in a movie and then part.

Ms. Marchand’s theatrical career expanded when she appeared in the 1951 Broadway revue “Two on the Aisle.” She then performed with Maurice Chevalier in a Paris music hall and turned to acting roles. In “Moulin Rouge” (1952), she played the streetwalker who torments the painter Toulouse-Lautrec (played by José Ferrer). She was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actress but lost to Gloria Grahame in “The Bad and the Beautiful.”

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