A red windmill lights up every night in the Pigale neighborhood of Paris . An image sought by millions of tourists each year on their visit to the City of Light.
The Moulin Rouge –literally red mill– is the most famous cabaret in Paris , perhaps in the whole world. From the images of the posters created by Toulouse-Lautrec to the world famous cancan – the French Cancan – the spell of the Moulin Rouge makes everyone want to see what lies behind those doors. It was among our places to visit in Paris in 3 days –obviously, also on our to-do list.60 things to do and see in Paris – and we weren’t going to let the occasion pass us by.
Feathers, sequins, dances, seduction… a symphony of glitter and glamour,dance and eroticism , spectacle and art that surprised Parisians at the end of the 19th century and soon did the same for the rest of the world. Kings, heads of state, actors, singers… sooner or later, they all succumbed – and continue to succumb – to the call of the Moulin Rouge . Who has not ever hummed the music of the cancan while raising one leg? We do, although our leg stays much lower.
More than 125 years of history
On October 6, 1889, the Moulin Rouge opened its doors in Paris . In the middle of the Universal Exposition, the one for which the Eiffel Tower was built. The goal of its founders, Charles Zidler and Joseph Oller, was for it to become the “ palace of dancing and women ”. More than a hundred years later, we don’t know if it has succeeded, but what no one can argue with is that the Moulin Rouge –with its characteristic red mill– is famous throughout the world .
That first night the cancan was danced and, since then, it has not stopped appearing in every performance. But not everything is cancan: during the more than 125 years of cabaret history, various shows have been represented. The curiosity is that, since 1963, they all start with the letter F . After the success of Frou Frou , Jackie Clérico , manager of the Moulin Rouge and clearly superstitious, decided that the letter F would be his fetish. Nine shows whose names began with F have been performed since then, we attended Féerie .
What you will find at the Moulin Rouge
The doors open and smiles welcome us. Everyone smiles at us at the Moulin Rouge . Not only on stage: from the person who collects our coats to the person who accompanies us to our table and asks us if we want champagne. Did you know that the Moulin Rouge is the first champagne consumer in the world ? More than 240,000 bottles a year.
Red surrounds us, it is not just the color of the windmill or the neon on the façade . The walls of the Belle Epoque-style living room, the seats, the floor, the tablecloths… everything is red. A burgundy red that, elegant, reminds us that the mill has a touch of sexuality, of morbidity, that catches you even before the curtain rises, red, of course.
60 ballerinas, the Doris Girls , and 20 dancers, the Doris Dancers , for Miss Doris, the mill’s ballet mistress since 1957, waited for the room to fill up –more than 600,000 visitors a year–, the lights would go down and the sound the music Féerie was the show that kept us hooked for more than two hours . Four acts including performances by variety shows.
Our first surprise –yes, we must have been the only ones who didn’t know this– was the shortage of clothes for the dancers , even though there are more than a thousand costumes and 23 people in charge of helping the dancers change backstage. The moment the dances started, the choreographies become the main attraction and make you “forget” that scarcity of clothes. The dance numbers follow one another: catchy rhythms, synchronized movements, overwhelmed senses … There are moments when it seems impossible that there are so many dancers on stage moving in such an organized way that everyone has their space. In fact, at one point in the show, there’s evendancers on the heads of the audience …
The cancan of the Moulin Rouge
The quintessential French evening dance is the cancan or can-can . That first show in 1889 involved the possibility of seeing the underwear of some dancers who raised their legs up to beyond what seemed possible. Today is the time when the Doris Girls are most dressed up, but the magic remains the same.
After watching the dancers, you will never lift a leg while humming again: it would be disrespectful to this masterpiece of timing, flexibility and strength . We would have been happy watching an uninterrupted cancan for two hours… but there is no human body that supports that. In any case, the moment was a bit short for us.
What we liked the most
What we liked the most, without a doubt, were the artistic numbers between the acts . The mastery of the two couples with their balance, their strength, their ability with skates, their movements… worthy of the Cirque du Soleil or any YouTube video showing things that seem impossible that can be done without breaking the chrism
Obviously, we also loved the cancan . It was our reason for going to the Moulin Rouge and we have to say that he did not disappoint us although, as I said before, we would have liked the number to be a little longer.
What we liked least
What we liked least was the use of animals during the show . A python appears in the act “The Pirates” and dwarf horses appear in the act “The Circus”.