The Moulin Rouge first opened its doors on October 6, 1889.
Its aim was to become the ‘palace of the dance and women’ and to show a cabaret ‘more luxurious, bigger and more elegant’ than those that went before it.
Today, in the run up to its 125th birthday, it attracts 630,000 spectators a year.
In the past century, its stage has seen many famous faces perform, including Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli and Elton John. In 2001, the red windmill was immortalised in a hugely successful Baz Luhrmann musical starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor. It’s no surprise that the Moulin Rouge has become the most famous cabaret theatre in the world.
What to Expect from a Show
There must be very few people who haven’t seen the film Moulin Rouge or heard of the French Cancan and, of course, the gorgeous women, sequins and feathers you imagine will feature on stage are very much a part of the show. What you might not anticipate is the 40-tonne python-filled aquarium that rises from the floor, or a parade of ridiculously cute miniature horses.
The current production – Féerie – began in 1999 following two years of preparation and an investment of 8 million euros. It incorporates 100 talented dancers and gymnasts adorned with rhinestones and feathers that give the Rio Carnival a run for its money. The artists perform two shows a night 365 days a year.
Perhaps because of the hype, the first act is a touch underwhelming. A somewhat repetitive song is followed by dancers dressed in what can only be described as furry tomato suits … but bear with it a few more minutes and the astonishing skills of a roller skating duo will leave you transfixed. From this moment on, elaborate costume after elaborate costume appears on stage, from girls with lions’ manes to pirates, acrobatic sheriffs and Siamese twin sisters. Those with a clown phobia may need to avert their eyes for a moment, and there’s a juggler who is talented, amusing and creepy in equal measures, but this all adds to the atmosphere of the evening.
To round off a fantastic night of entertainment, no show at the Moulin Rouge would be complete without the iconic French Cancan, performed by the ‘Doriss Girls’.
Origin of the Cancan
In its early days, the Moulin Rouge became famous for a dance known as the Quadrille. It included new and risqué dance moves, screams and a boistrous rhythm. Young amateur dancers, who spent their days working as washerwomen, linen maids, laundresses and seamstresses, transformed themselves on stage, lifting their legs high to show glimpses of their underwear beneath frills and flowing skirts. They would also give themselves show names, such as Nini Pattes-en-l’Air (‘a leg over’) and Grille d’Egout (‘drain cover’).
When the dance crossed the channel to England two years later, a British subject called Charles Morton decided to rename it the French Cancan.
The dance has been in every show since it first originated.
Who are the Doriss Girls?
The Cancan dancers are otherwise known as the Doriss Girls. They’re named after dance teacher Doris Haug, who choreographed and directed dance steps for Moulin Rouge from the mid 1950s. Since then, their number has grown from four to a troupe of 60 girls and 20 male dancers.
Many of the Doriss girls are from Australia, Great Britain and, of course, France. To be one, a dancer must have solid classical ballet training and measure at least 175 cm (5’8″). The boys must be more than 185 cm (6’3″). All dancers rehearse and work out regularly at fitness facilities provided by the theatre. The directors keep an incredibly close eye on the dancers’ appearances. They are not permitted to lose or gain more than 2 kg and their hair colours and styles are strictly monitored.
Eating at the Moulin Rouge
The food at the Moulin Rouge is exquisite. If you decide to eat before the show, there are two main menu options. The Toulouse-Lautrec and the Belle Époque both include half a bottle of champagne or wine. These must be popular options, as the Moulin Rouge gets through an impressive 140,000 bottles of champagne per year.
A la Carte, vegetarian and vegan menus are also available.
Meals are prepared by a team of 25 chefs and presented to the 900-strong audience by a staff of 120 mâitre-ds and waiters.
Prices are somewhat hefty, but considering the notoriety of the venue, a show really is a must for anyone visiting Paris. At the time of writing, the Toulouse-Lautrec menu costs 185 euros and the Belle Époque is 215 euros.
Prices for just the show are closer to the 100 euro mark, but vary depending on seasonal holidays, whether you choose the 9 pm or 11 pm performance, and whether or not you’d like a VIP service.
For more information, visit the reservations page, email email@example.com or call +33 (0)1 53 09 82 82.