Obituary: Jacques Chazot

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The Independent Online
Jacques Chazot, dancer and writer: born Locmiquelic, Brittany 25 September 1928; died Monthyon, Seine-et-Oise 12 July 1993.

JACQUES CHAZOT resembled some of those idle, chic, good-looking and often ambiguous males who populate the novels and plays of Francoise Sagan. Sometimes he would appear as a combination of two distinct Sagan characters, like the beautiful Sebastien, who had only his youth and charm to offer, and his protector Robert Bessy, the theatrical impresario of her novel Des bleus a l'ame ('Bruised Souls', 1972). Chazot was one of Sagan's most loyal and most amusing friends: and he was to a certain extent the impresario of her life. She regarded him as a light-hearted, protective elder brother. Indeed, in 1964, they almost became man and wife. But that was not to be. Like Sagan herself, this indefatigably mondain and sharp-tongued gossip was a lonely man: 'I get worried if I don't have at least 15 invitations for dinner this very evening, but I often find myself dining all on my own, because there's nothing more killing for the figure than a sumptuous high-society banquet.'

Chazot was a professional dandy, his slender figure shown off to its best advantage in a Saint-Laurent purple velvet dinner jacket. He preferred the weightless nourishment of his butterfly mind to the stupefying richness of French haute cuisine. He had been known to enter famous restaurants and order a glass of water (but with a sprig of fresh mint) and a post-prandial cigar. Like Ronald Firbank, he could dine appreciatively on a single green pea.

His ethereal thinness was of a kind admired in France as filiforme - like a thread - and he started his career as a model when only in his teens. The sculptor Giacometti's skinny creations were originally inspired by this model, who also attracted Bernard Buffet, celebrated for the angular spikiness of his subjects. 'My only rival', Chazot proclaimed, 'is la Tour Eiffel]'

He was extremely handsome, with a dazzling smile, the kind that is the most impenetrable of social masks. It perfectly suited his persona when he took up classical ballet. In 1947, he began his studies at the Paris Opera school, and became one of its most brilliant technicians; his pirouettes were so much admired on stage, he was often asked to perform them off-stage, and he always obliged, for he loved to add a bit of sparkle to some dreary jet-set party: 'People love me,' he would say, 'because when I enter a room I create the effect of a sudden shower of rainbow confetti.'

He was, in fact, always on stage, and always in profile. He danced with Janine Charrat, partnered legendary stars like Ludmila Tcherina and Zizi Jeanmaire. But in 1956 he was transferred to the Lester troupe at the Opera Comique, which he led with brio and for which he choreographed many new works until he retired from the ballet in 1963. He went out in a blaze of scandal and glory. Long before the male ballerinas of the Ballets Trockadero, he electrified Le Tout Paris by dancing on point in the taxing role of Giselle.

He now played the darling of fashionable Paris to the manner born. Throughout his career he made friends with the rich and famous - but they had to be beautiful, also. 'It's quite true', he admitted, 'I prefer women to be intelligent, beautiful and rich rather than dull dumpy old frumps,' when envious interviewers accused him of always being in the company of Marie-Helene de Rothschild, Maria Callas, Louise de Vilmorin, Grace of Monaco and Juliette Greco. And why not, indeed? Jacques was the perfect cavaliere servente, always beautifully turned out, gallant, ready with a malicious quip. Indeed, he showed courage in speaking out frankly about his homosexuality at a time in the early Fifties when it was simply not done.

'I never came out of the closet,' he declared to anyone who would listen, 'because I was never in it.' And to a tiresome old trout who was pestering him to tell her his astrological sign, he gave the shock of her life when he answered: 'Balance, Madame - with buggery in the ascendant.' His eccentric wit often reminded me of Beatrice Lillie.

True fame touched him with its faery wand when he created the character of Marie-Chantal, a rich, featherbrained and cruel young snob, in 1956. This kind of Parisian Maudie Littlehampton was partly based on people whose inane and spiteful chatter he had often had to endure whenever he was called upon at the last minute to be 'the 14th man' for some inept society hostess who discovered she had invited 13 for dinner.

Marie-Chantal stories became all the rage, so much so that fond parents avoided giving such a name to their newborn daughter for a whole generation to come. Simone de Beauvoir condescendingly told Chazot: 'I've read your Marie-Chantal, but you won't have read one line of mine.' Jacques retorted: 'Fair exchange, Madame, is no robbery.' Madame was furious.

A typical Marie-Chantal story depicts a beggar holding out his palm and complaining to Marie-Chantal descending from an inexpressibly vulgar de-luxe limousine: 'Madame, I haven't eaten for three days.' Marie-Chantal replies: 'But my good man, that will never do. You should really try to get something down.' In a conversation with her equally obnoxious friend Gladys, the latter asks her: 'When did you last take the Metro?' Marie-Chantal replies: 'The Metro? What's that?' Again, Gladys tries to console her when she's feeling blue: 'You've got your limousine, your dishy liveried chauffeur, your rich husband, your jewels, your furs, your lovers. What more do you want? Stop crying, darling. Chin up]' Bravely, Marie-Chantal lifts her chin. Gladys: 'That's it] Now the other one]' Like Joe Ackerley, Chazot had only one real non-male love: his Alsatian bitch. But women adored him. He was their own living Camp-Follower's Guide.

It was a peculiarly savage irony, worthy of a moral fairy tale by Oscar Wilde or a sick fable by La Fontaine, that Jacques Chazot, who had always so greatly loved employing his wit at the expense of others - and of himself, for there was no more passionate devotee of the art of sending oneself up - should by a cruel stroke of fate have been struck dumb with cancer of the throat. 'I'm surprised it wasn't his tongue,' quipped a friend who because of its panache and timing had willingly endured its lash. Now, Marie-Chantal and Francoise Sagan are orphans, bereft of their creator.

(Photograph omitted)