The iconic red windmill on the corner of boulevard de Clichy and place Blanche in Montmartre has housed the secrets of Paris for 130 years. Painters, writers, and artists have been inspired for generations by all that goes on inside the walls of the Moulin Rouge theatre. A night at the Moulin Rouge is more than a great cabaret show, it’s a night to remember.
In preparation for my Parisian adventure, and more importantly my night at the Moulin Rouge, I asked my grandmother to help me make a dress. When she was young, she would tease her father that she would run away and join the Moulin Rouge – even now she has the legs for it! So, I knew she would come out of her dressmaking retirement to help me create a one-of-a-kind dress, for a one-of-a-kind show. We laboured (by “we” I really mean “she”) over the dress for two days. Designed in an off-shoulder, 50’s style, and in the only appropriate colour to wear to the Moulin Rouge – the dress was perfect.
I zip the dress carefully so as not to catch the raw silk fabric, clasp the ankle straps of my heels, and apply matching red lipstick. Walking the cobbled stone streets of Montmartre in heels is a skill I am yet to master. While trying to navigate the uneven streets, I think about the history of the Moulin Rouge.
The Moulin Rouge was founded in 1889 by Joseph Oller and Charles Zidler at the foot of Montmartre. Dedicated to entertainment, champagne, and a very good time, the Moulin Rouge was the heart of bohemian Paris. Artists like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Pablo Picasso frequented its walls, drawing inspiration from their experience. Over the years, the Moulin Rouge has seen thousands of can-can performances, a devastating fire and rebuild of the theatre, war, and renovations. But nothing has stopped the show from ‘going on’. With 600,000 visitors a year, the Moulin Rouge is more popular than ever.
I’m running late, which is nothing new for me. But I do manage to snap a few quick photos with the iconic windmill before racing inside. Grateful I’m not the only latecomer, I take a program and follow a waiter to my table. It’s a small table, tucked neatly between two others, but has an exceptional view. The people around me are already enjoying the atmosphere and toasting to the show. I’m eager to do the same.
The lights go down. A ‘pop’ goes off behind me – a sound that can only come from the opening of a champagne bottle. Music fills the room, suddenly and with much gusto. The waiter places a bottle Duval LeRoy Champagne on the table, beside it a glass. I’m almost too taken by the opening number to even notice. Blindly I reach for the glass, not wanting to miss a beat.
Dazzling. Energetic. Magical. There are so many ways to describe the Moulin Rouge Féerie Show. I watch in awe as performers walk on air, dive into pools, and contort their bodies in ways that should be impossible. There are so many dancers, it’s incredible they all fit. They glide across the stage like they were born to it. And with three shows a night, it’s not surprising.
The male dancers are excellent, but the women are the true highlight of the show. The Féerie Show retraces the history of the Moulin Rouge. Each act blends seamlessly into the next. When the can-can comes on the crowd goes wild. No one can throw themselves in the air and land in the splits quite like a Moulin Rouge dancer. No matter how many times the dancers do this, my heart leaps. WOW.
The show comes to an end. My hands hurt from applause. As people begin to move around me to leave, I realise I’m not alone in the theatre. I wait as the other patrons depart and look around the almost empty theatre. The staff swoop in with as much style and grace as the performers. They reset the entire theatre in a matter of minutes, ready for the next performance of the night.
I smile knowingly at the patrons waiting for the 11pm show. And I find myself envious of the experience they are about to have. I could see a show at the Moulin Rouge a thousand times and never tire of it. But the first time will always be special.
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