Pierre Lacotte, a French ballet choreographer who helped superstar Rudolf Nureyev defect from the Soviet Union, has died aged 91.
“Our Pierre left us at 4:00 am,” said his wife, retired principal dancer Ghislaine Thesmar.
Lacotte helped Nureyev escape KGB agents in Paris and seek asylum at the capital’s Le Bourget airport in 1961.
His role in the famous defection was recounted in a 2018 biopic titled The White Crow directed by Ralph Fiennes.
Ms Thesmar said her husband had died after a cut became septic.
Lacotte started his career at the Paris Opera Ballet as a teenager and later turned his attention to the revival of forgotten 19th Century productions.
In 1961, he became friends with Nureyev while he was on tour in Paris. Lacotte told the BBC in 2012 that he accompanied Nureyev on several tours of the city’s restaurants, bars and museums.
This angered the KGB agents who were on the trip, and Nureyev was told he was to be sent home. Nureyev believed he would not be allowed to leave the country again.
Nureyev pleaded with Lacotte not to leave his side at the airport, but Nureyev was surrounded by KGB agents.
Lacotte asked the agents if he and his friend, socialite Clara Saint, could say goodbye to their friend before he left.
“I said, listen Rudolf, look behind me there is Clara Saint, and behind Clara Saint is a policeman. You just have to come to him. You kiss me, you kiss Clara and you say you want to be free. And it’s done,” Lacotte said.
“I said don’t be afraid, stay quiet and do as I say.”
Nureyev then made a dash towards two French police and declared that he wished to remain in the West.
Despite being recognised as one of the greatest dancers of his era, Nureyev and his family paid a heavy price. He was only allowed back to the USSR more than 25 years later when his mother was dying, while his Soviet friends’ careers were made to suffer.
After suffering an ankle injury, Lacotte turned his attention to the archives of the Paris Opera from 1968.
They included La Sylphide, the first ballet performed completely “en pointe” – where the dancers stand on the tip of their toes – when it was first produced in 1832.
His final work in 2021 was a production of The Red and the Black based on the 1830 novel by French writer Stendhal.
Despite being 91 he was still working, his wife said.
“It’s very sad. He still had so many projects and was writing a book,” she added.
Source : BBC News