© Roland Simounet © Pascal Delcey


 _Back in 1972, Roland Petit created a company in Marseille whose impact would be felt in France and the rest of the world : the Ballets de Marseille. It was the year in which he presented his first creation that made such an impression, paying homage to rock music in a venue customarily used for major sporting events ! With Pink Floyd Ballet at Salle Vallier, accompanied live by the mythical group, the choreographer rooted the ballet firmly in the modern era. Having studied at the ballet of the Opéra de Paris, notably under Serge Lifar, throughout his varied career Roland Petit continually shook the foundations of classical ballet and contemporary dance. He worked with great names in the arts, such as the fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, the dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, the painters Keith Haring and David Hockney and the writer Edmonde Charles-Roux. In 1981, the company became the Ballet National de Marseille and some years later in 1992 it moved into a specially designed building that is also home to the École Nationale Supérieure de Danse. The two organisations are still based in the building designed by the architect Roland Simounet, evocative of a Moorish village, each following their mission of teaching and disseminating the choreographic art. After Roland Petit’s departure, the BNM was run by Marie-Claude Pietragalla from 1998 to 2004, and then by Frédéric Flamand until 2014, both directors opening up the Ballet to new artistic experiences.


Appointed by the Ministry of Culture and bolstered by their success at ICKamsterdam (the International Choreographic Arts Centre in Amsterdam), Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten took over the Ballet National de Marseille in September 2014. In their artistic partnership of twenty years’ standing, Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten base their choreographic research on “the body”, whether reference is being made to the corporeal envelope or the social entity. Following on directly from Roland Petit, this atypical duo would like to perpetuate the Ballet National de Marseille’s rebellious and avant-garde spirit. The creation and dissemination of shows by the Ballet and guest artists are at the heart of what it does. Very much rooted in our time, curious about and open to the world, the BNM is also a prestigious part of Marseille’s cultural heritage, close to Parc Borély.

Roland Simounet was born in Algiers in 1927.

He studied at the School of Architecture in Algiers, then in Paris, and began designing buildings in 1951.

He took part in the International Congress of Modern Architects and designed the Djenan El Hasan housing project in 1956-1958, the Timgad housing project in Algeria and the hall of residence at the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar.

In France, his works of note include the Grenoble School of Architecture in 1977, the renovation of housing block no.1 in Saint-Denis and three museums: the Museum of Prehistory in Nemours from 1975 to 1979, the Picasso Museum in Paris in 1985 (restoration of the Hôtel Salé), and the Lille Métropole Museum of Modern Art from 1979 to 1983.

A member of the Académie Française d’Architecture, Roland Simounet was awarded the Grand Prix National d’Architecture in 1977 and the Equerre d’Argent in 1985 for his work on the Picasso Museum.

The building in Marseille’s Parc Henri Fabre which is home to the Ballet National and the Dance School opened in 1992.

Movement, equilibrium, challenge, freedom, joy

Running, climbing, stamping, hurtling, pushing, spreading out to work, relaxing: stages proposed for the living journey through the École Nationale Supérieure de Danse de Marseille. Like a huge piece of working scenery, a gently climbing ramp leads to the building’s entrance and a raised inner courtyard open to the sky. Brought together, students and dancers enter the light-filled lobby which is extended by walkways. Two generously proportioned staircases on either side of the porch, featuring a simple straight stairway, divide the students and dancers and lead them towards the garden level. Here the School’s students step onto peripheral walkways, moving through their cloakrooms before reaching the studios opposite.

This is where the cloakrooms and dressing rooms for the Company’s dancers are located, in a wide curved envelope comprising the large studio’s apse. For them, movement extends towards the upper levels, where chill-out rooms, gentle ramps and paved terraces articulate and spread out into a labyrinth open to the sky.

The living, active journey – alternating through covered passageways and light-filled spaces – leads to the heart of the building. Here the soothing volumes and simple geometry of the School’s studios are bathed in a diffuse glow while the vast naves of the large studios are enclosed by high walls and filled with light. Outside, in a long travelling shot, the building reappears, solar, unfurling its heavily structured volumes and balanced by the stage wall built like a beacon. Movement, rhythm, harmony, forms: appropriate responses for this place dedicated to Dance.

Roland Simounet