With history, comes emotions. Moulin Rouge is a French culture.
The magic of Moulin Rouge starts at the entrance. It’s not just the show, which, of course, is a splendid spectacle, but entering the venue is bewildered entertainment. The building bears 122 years of history, like most of Paris, it’s been there for so long to earn its rightful status of a bonafide French monument. Fanny Rabasse, Moulin Rouge’s Director of Public Relations, explains, “We put a lot of money into making the show a fantasy. But people take photos outside, and they say ‘maybe one day, we’ll be able to go inside.’” She says this, because for most people, it’s a dream to see a show at Moulin Rouge. Some may need to save money if the ticket is deemed too expensive, some see it once in their lives, and for some, it’s part of their wedding anniversaries.
“The girls know this, so regardless of fatigue, they give their all every night because they know people sitting in the audience may only see the show simply once in their lives. The audience expects so much, it’s important dancers give all that they can.” Fanny indicates that there’s a reason why tourists and locals gravitate toward Moulin Rouge, treating it as a rare prestige. It’s beyond an institution of the French culture, it is a mixture of modernity, tradition, glamour; all needs to be represented within the production.
Moulin Rouge was built and established the same year as the Eiffel Tower in 1889. It has survived two World Wars and multiple economic crisis. Evolved with time, it has become more international with its clientele as well as its dancers. The 60 dancers on stage comprise of 14 nationalities, with Australians, English and the French as dominant groups. Each is fully aware that being a part of Moulin Rouge signify an imperative part of the French tradition. Being the most famous French type of dance, the cancan, specialized within the theater, every dancer feels “French” as they kick their legs high and smile to the public. “There’s been so many performers in 122 years that this dance has been passed down from generation to generation in here.” Fanny says.
One of the most spotlighted stages in the world wasn’t alway multicultural. Prior to 50’s, Moulin Rouge couldn’t select international dancers simply because people didn’t travel as much. In the 90’s, along with dissolution of the Soviet Union, acquisition of Russian and Eastern European dancers began. Since 2000, additional dancers from Australia came into the picture. “When we have an 18-year-old dancer from Australia, it’s our job to prepare her to be a part of Moulin Rouge with all the history, first and foremost.” Fanny continues, “After history lessons, prior to a 4-week rehearsal; she isn’t Australian, she isn’t French, she’s a Moulin Rouge dancer. The culture is what we give on stage.” After all, cabarets were created in France then popularized in 20’s by Mistinguett, one of the most effervescent dancers at Moulin Rouge. “She was the first performer with feathers, nudity, the big stairs in the end. So this is the French tradition, and we want to keep the tradition here.” Every Moulin Rouge dancer lives the history of its stage, one that conceived fame for legends like Mistinguett. Hence, regardless of where the dancers come from, they need to live and breathe such expansive French tradition.
The selection process for Moulin Rouge dancers is, expectedly, precise and particular. Outside of classical and ballet training since childhood, the minimum height is 175cm (for women) and 185cm (for men, to compensate grandiose hats and feathers that female dancers wear.) Outside of physical attributes of possessing slender legs and bodies, “the face is also important.” Fanny indicates the way dancers play to the public, and the way they carry their smiles. “Often, that’s the most important component in becoming a principal dancer of the show. She or he doesn’t have to be the most beautiful person on stage, but talent relies on the way dancers play with their eyes. The big difference depends on who gives something extra that captures everyone’s attention.”
Current Moulin Rouge establishment entails 450 employees who work incessantly, making sure every detail of the show is immaculate and goes unnoticed to audiences that travel from all over the world. Aside from 60 dancers on stage, who all perform two shows each night, there are 120 waiters to care for 900 seats in the theater and 100 artists under contract, who hand fix each costume, feather and crystal. “The magic of the show is that people don’t know there are 100 people working behind the curtain.” Fanny further states, “We have 21 dresses worn everyday, the staff work backstage on the costumes as soon as they see a problem or a jewel that is missing.” All the crystals are Swarvoski, the real feathers (mostly of ostrich, marabou and pheasant) are changed every year. Each design and garment is treated like haut couture.
To obtain its authenticity, doors to the red windmill never close. Moulin Rouge is open everyday, except during conversion periods of the show, which occurs only once every 12-13 years. Each show runs for more than a decade long because of high expenses. It costs approximately 10 million euros (USD $12 million) to create a single show. Costumes alone cost 4 million euros to create. Yet, authenticity of each performance emanates in the directors, who’ve created every show since the 50’s and presently in the process of creating the coming one. The venue remains Parisian, with dinners prior to each show. Some may perceive Moulin Rouge as a touristic experience, one may be surprised to discover that 50% of their clientele comprise of French citizens who come from all over the country.
When Moulin Rouge!, the movie, was released in 2001, it put the show back in style. Fanny remembers, “The movie didn’t bring more clients, because we already had a lot of people coming in. But it attracted a younger audience, Moulin Rouge was back in fashion. If you saw the movie, then you want to take a photo here, buy a shirt or a bag that has Moulin Rouge on it.” To fulfill such needs, the establishment set up a memorabilia store for its new fan base after the movie release.
Today, when Fanny enters a cab and tells the driver that she is headed to Moulin Rouge , he first thinks she’s going to see a show. Once it’s revealed that she works there, excitement follows. With history, comes emotions. Moulin Rouge is a French culture, as Fanny puts it best, “it’s glamour with a bit of naughtiness. But we never go too far.”
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All photos are Copyright Moulin Rouge© and/or ©Moulin Rouge-SandieBertrand.