A red mill that is continuously turning for more than a century
Just before the beginning of the twentieth century, European artists were crazy about Paris. On the other side, Paris was crazy about Orient, cabaret, cancan, new forms of performing arts, breaking down canonized styles, creating a great number of inventions, and why not mention – absinthe. This period, which in the defined chronological framework begins after the ending of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 and lasts until 1914, more precisely until the outbreak of World War I, today is called Belle Époque (Beautiful Epoch).
Exactly in this period, for the world conditions of a period of lasting peace, a certain economic development, social optimism and – many times repeated, and still questionable – faith in a brighter future, Moulin Rouge was founded, the most famous cabaret in the world.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the European capital of art has moved to the northeast, Berlin became the center and a place towards which many creators from all parts of the world are striving. However, Moulin Rouge is still one of the most visited institutions of art and entertainment in the old continent.
It all started …
When two entrepreneurs, Frenchman Charles-Joseph Zidler and Catalan, Joseph Oller, in 1889, at the foot of the Montmartre hill, recognizable for its cheerful atmosphere and extravagant parties, and therefore popular among all social classes, opened Moulin Rouge.
It is considered that these two businessmen had the idea to create a place there for the wealthiest Parisians to find fun according to their taste, and again in society and atmosphere that does not require salon predictability and monotony. The rich clientele was certainly entertained by the dancers in the burlesque skirts that made this cabaret famous, as well as by the company of underground artists and students.
The dancers, on the other hand, were celebrated by the painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who himself stepped out of the aristocratic courtyards into the nineteenth-century Parisian underground. Lautrec illustrated posters promoting performances in Moulin Rouge, and the stars of this theater were a frequent motif in his works. Exactly, 17 of Lautrec’s works are dedicated to Moulin Rouge.
We will suppose that it is kept in silence that the beauty of the epoch was also recognized in women, many of whom were courtesans, exhibiting gymnastic-acrobatic skills, performing, at that historic moment, a scandalous cancan.
As the Prince of Wales turns the tour
Although Moulin Rouge is not the place of origin of the cancan, this dance, in addition to the big red mill (by which it was named because it is on its roof) and the spirit of Toulouse-Lautrec, who certainly still dwells in the rooms of the Montmartre Cabaret, is one of its main features.
Cabaret was also named the first palace of women. Some of them ruled the scene. An anecdote has been noted that as in 1890 His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, had visited the cabaret. That evening, the famous La Goulue performed, with her leg in the air and her head in her skirts, spontaneously called out “Hey, Wales, the champagne is on you!”.
Red mill in another edition
Although the most recognizable, fast-paced and energetic cacan was not the only act of the theater’s famous cabaret in the past. Clowns, musicians, actors, opera singers, dancers have performed on his luxurious stage for years. In 1915, the theater building was completely burnt down in flames and was reopened in 1921 after long reconstruction work.
In the time of the Second World War during the occupation of Paris, Moulin Rouge worked all the time because it was popular among German officers as well. Just a few days after the liberation in 1944, Édith Piaf appeared on the stage, however, the audience was not particularly happy because she sang in front of enemy soldiers, so many considered her a traitor.
Moulin Rouge today
It is true that 130 years later, visitors of Montmartre often primarily want to bring to life the memories of the time when cabaret was founded, but despite French pride in its tradition, much has changed. For start, the elements of the scandalous and bohemian have disappeared, and the Moulin Rouge audience is made of tourists. On the other hand, the modern feature of Moulin Rouge is excellence.
The troupe brings together exclusively top performers, very often professional ballerinas, ballet dancers, and choreographers, as well as musicians, actors, acrobats – in a word, first-rate stage artists. Even in 1962, the first underwater ballet was performed here. In the end, it can be said that both the audience and the stage of the Paris cabaret met the most famous names of artists and performers, including Liza Minnelli, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Sinatra …