Home Arts Lights, camera, feathers: a night at the Moulin Rouge

Lights, camera, feathers: a night at the Moulin Rouge

by Tiffany Lafleur April 8, 2014
Lights, camera, feathers: a night at the Moulin Rouge

Taking a closer look at one of the most internationally renowned shows and a staple of Parisian culture

The energy left in the ballroom of the Moulin Rouge remained palpable. Even after the curtain had dropped, the lights turned back on, and the tables had been cleared of their champagne buckets, the eclectic show left the audience buzzing with excitement.

The Concordian sat down with Moulin Rouge’s creative director, Thierry Outrilla, to discuss the institution’s 125th anniversary. Photo by Tiffany Lafleur.

The dancers of the Bal du Moulin Rouge had done it again, giving a spectacular performance involving singing, dancing, acrobatics and multiple costume changes, just as they have been doing every night for the past 124 years. Though the faces have changed and different choreographies taken to the stage, the historic heart of the show is still very much alive.

A Parisian beacon of culture and of the arts, the Moulin Rouge is characterized by the illuminated red windmill always turning on top of the building. Built in the same year as the Eiffel Tower, audiences worldwide have continually been swept away by the extravagance of the venue, the dancers and the show.

Thierry Outrilla has been with the Moulin Rouge for 38 years. He started out as a dancer with the Moulin in 1976, and has been there ever since. In 1989 he left the stage to instead carefully watch the show, noting how it could be improved. Outrilla is now creative director, responsible for ensuring everything runs smoothly, working with the dancers on a continual basis and watching over anything related to the stage.

“We expect perfection,” said Outrilla.

This year, the institution will be celebrating its 125th anniversary.

The high-energy French can-can is the Moulin’s speciality, and although they still retain their traditional flavour, the incorporation of modern technological elements adds flare to the typically French style of dancing. The show now sports an aquarium containing five pythons, a descending staircase, and powerful, eco-friendly spotlights that enhance the thousands of glittering jewels encrusted into the costumes. When the dancers saunter on stage, they shine.

The institution has sent representatives around the world, dancing for kings and queens, meeting presidents and shaking hands with celebrities.

Last June, Outrilla represented the Moulin Rouge as a judge for Vaudreuil-Dorion’s Festival International de Cirque. He was accompanied by Eugene Chaplin, son of the famous Charlie Chaplin.

“When our dancers travel, we really want for them to consider themselves as ambassadors,” said Outrilla. “We are aware of the image we bring: it is the image of France and of Paris.”

However, Outrilla warns that to really appreciate the show, you have to see it in its original setting:

“We have to be careful because it’s only a small piece of the Moulin. To see the real show you need to go to Paris, to really live it. And that’s something we cannot move around.”

Every year 630,000 spectators come from around the world and walk through the red velvet-covered lobby, consuming 240,000 bottles of champagne a year. There are 80 dancers, 800 pairs of shoes and 1,000 costumes.

Although the venue can hold 900 spectators, the placement of the stage makes the scene intimate. The dancers are not dancing for a crowd; they are dancing for every individual sitting in their seat.

“It is a mythical place. It is an image, a powerful symbol,” said Outrilla. “It is a place of festivity, spanning 125 years. A place where we are happy, and where we bring that happiness elsewhere.”

There is no individual element that makes the Moulin Rouge so phenomenal. It is the combination of the set design, the costumes, the make-up, the choreography, and most of all the talent and dedication of the 400 employees involved in making this Parisian gem ever brighter.

Albeit expensive, the show is a must for anyone traveling through Paris. With heart-stopping acrobatic acts, intricate costumes and more feathers than you’ve ever seen in your life, a visit to the Moulin is worth the expense.


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