The great French choreographer Roland Petit’s “Pink Floyd Ballet” saw the group performing live onstage in 1972 and 1973 with the dancers of Le Ballet de Marseille, Petit’s company. Oddly, the original idea for the ballet was to do a version of Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past!
Nick Mason: “But nobody read anything. David did worst, he only read the first 18 pages.” [Miles]
Roger Waters: “I read the second volume of Swann’s Way and when I got to the end of it I thought, ‘Fuck this, I’m not reading anymore. I can’t handle it.’ It just went too slowly for me.” [Miles]
Later Petit wanted to do A Thousand and One Arabian Nights.
Nick Mason: “Proust has been knocked on the head.” [Miles]“Originally he was going to do a complete program: a piece by Zinakist, a piece by us, and a new production of Carmen. I think he has now decided to do just two pieces — Zinakist’s and ours — which has meant doubling the length of the thing we are going to do.” [Miles]
Nick Mason [February 1972]: “We haven’t started work on it yet. We’ve had innumerable discussions, a number of lunches, a number of dinners, very high powered meetings; and I think we’ve got the sort of storyline for it. The idea is Roland Petit’s and I think he is settled on the ideas he wants to use for the thing so I think we’re going to get started. Ballet is a little like film actually. The more information you have to start with, the easier it becomes to write. The difficulty about doing albums is that you are so totally open. It’s very difficult to get started.” [Miles]
Roger Water and Nick Mason discussed the experience in retrospect in 1973:
Roger Waters: “The ballet never happened. First of all it was Proust then it was “Aladdin,” then it was something else. We had this great lunch one day [4 December 1970]: me, Nick and Steve [O’Rourke]. We went to have lunch with [Rudolph] Nureyev, Roman Polanski, Roland Petit and some film producer or other. What a laugh! It was to talk about the projected idea of us doing the music, and Roland choreographing it, and Rudy being the star and Roman Polanski directing the film and making this fantastic ballet film. It was all a complete joke because nobody had any idea of what they wanted to do.”
Interviewer: “Didn’t you smell a rat?
Roger: “I smelt a few poofs! Nobody had any idea — it was incredible.”
Nick Mason: “It went on for two years, this idea of doing a ballet, with no one coming up with any ideas. Us not setting aside any time because there was nothing specific, until in a desperate moment Roland devised a ballet to some existing music which I think was a good idea. [Referring to the winter ‘72-‘73 performances] It’s looked upon a bit sourly now.”
Roger Waters [still on about the 4 Dec lunch]: “We sat around this table until someone thumped the table and said, ‘What’s the idea then?’ and everyone just sat there drinking this wine and getting more and more pissed, with more and more poovery going on ‘round the table, until someone suggested Frankenstein and Nureyev started getting a bit worried, didn’t he? They talked about Frankenstein for a bit — I was just sitting there enjoying the meat and the vibes, saying nothing, keeping well schtuck.”
Nick: “Yes, with Roland’s hand upon your knee!”
Roger: “And when Polanski was drunk enough he started to suggest that we make the blue movie to end all blue movies and then it all petered out into cognac and coffee and then we jumped into our cars and split. God knows what happened after we left, Nick.” [Miles]
Dave Gilmour: “In fact we did that ballet for a whole week in France. Roland Petit choreographed to some of our older material . . . but it’s too restricting for us. I mean, I can’t play and count bars at the same time. We had to have someone sitting on stage with us with a piece of paper telling us what bar we were playing…” [Miles]
“The Pink Floyd Ballet” has been performed all over the world since its debut. Aside from the Pink Floyd, Petit also worked with Serge Gainsbourg, Yves Saint-Laurent, David Hockney, Jean Cocteau, Rudolf Nureyev and artist Niki de Saint Phalle. Roland Petit died in 2011 at the age of 87.
Filmed during the dress rehearsals in Marseille on November 21, 1972:
November 26th, the final night in Marseille:
During rehearsals in Paris, at le Palais des Sports de la Porte de Versailles, on January 12, 1973. Dig how fluent David Gilmour is, seen suavely speaking French here with a reasonably passable accent:
French television report on the Pink Floyd/Petit collaboration:
The entire ballet wasn’t shot live, but an in studio version was produced in 1977. Here’s an excerpt: