Every morning I wake up to the sound of this city coming back to the reality of daily life , my children (more often than not) fighting ; and the stillness of the great arms of the majestic Moulin Rouge. From my spot by the cooker , I can see the side of this historic monument that is rarely caught on camera ; the metal door leading to the electrical cables that charge it up and spin the web of intricate lights , and the keeper of the secrets of the 120 odd years of the history of this fabled place.
That, alone, never ceases to intrigue me. I feel like a modern day Don Quixote , my windmill reminds me that I am but a miniscule dot on the great map of life. Initially the history of the show , the building and the people who’ve walked or danced the boards here, overwhelmed me. From what I’ve gathered over the past few years , the Moulin first became famous as a type of freak show tavern in a part of the city that was riddled with the unwanted. Place Blanche was a once a working class quarry , and Montmartre a hang-out for opium smokers and absinthe inspired artists. La Goulue , a strangely disproportionate woman would entertain the gentlemen drinkers with her outrageously flamboyant leg kicks , revealing her petticoats and flicking their top hats to the floor with her freak show antics. No wonder Lautrec was so inspired and comfortable here , as a disproportionately small man himself , he quickly became an intricate part of the scenery ….. A place where, the unloved & undesirable became legends. The more up close and personal I get with it all , the more I realize that this is the closest I’ve come to one of history’s giant wheels of fortune … the Moulin rouge has been a catalyst for many changes over the years , my own miniscule perception of so many things included.
When we first moved in, I had to keep pinching myself to make sure it all wasn’t just a fantastic dream (and that bobby Ewing wasn’t about to step out of the shower in a Dallas type crash land into reality). It’s not our house , we will never own it ; it’s all part of a 120 year old heritage that belongs to an incredible lady who even though she’s possibly somewhere in her seventies looks like she should have a perfume named after her.( Birdlike , impeccably dressed and still smokes cigarillos that hang off the end of an ivory filter that’s probably worth more than I’ll ever earn in a lifetime……. ) ..; it has become our home.
My first encounters with the dancers in the hallway , had me dashing , red faced and abashed towards the stairwell , lest somebody ask me what the hell I was doing there. My daughter and her penchant for all things glittery soon broke the ice on that one. My husband and his great ability to be himself no matter what situation you put him in, was quickly on a first name basis with a large percentage of the 250 staff that work there …. I suppose that somewhere in the back of my holy catholic mind , I figured you just had to be a ‘certain kind of person’ to work in a topless Cabaret , yet at the same time thought the girls were incredible and inspirational….. As it turns out they are .
They are Scottish , Swedish , English , Australian , Ukrainian , Polish , French ,(I think there have been some Irish girls) …, intelligent , extremely hard working and believe it or not : not that different from you and I …. Ok , they don’t need a team of medical professionals on standby when they do the splits , nor do they need wonder-bras to differentiate between their upper and lower ribcages … but when you take the make-up and feathers off and put the jeans & a t-shirt on , you could easily be talking to one of your mates from back home.
1891 - La Goulue captured on canvas by Toulouse Lautrec
I had an interesting couple of glasses of dodgy Bordeaux with Diane Robertson , Moulin Dancer and photographer recently. Diane is Australian and has been dancing with the Moulin Rouge for 8 years . She has just finished her final dance contract and is concentrating on launching her career as a professional photographer , make up artist and travel addict. Since we’ve both been discovering the ins and outs of life in this part of the world for roughly the same amount of time ; I asked her would she be interested in answering a few dodgy questions for my blog. To help break the mould of the perceptions that people like ‘me’ might have on what being a Moulin dancer is or isn’t.
Diane grew up between Tasmania & the Gold coast ,the youngest of four girls & discovered she really liked dancing at age three when she was found at the back of her big sisters dance class trying to copy all the moves. At 8 years of age she had to choose between athletics or dance classes and chose the more glittery of the two options. By age 14 she was dancing practically every day and wanted to become a dance teacher. Her biggest idols are Anne Miller & Gene Kelly ….; ‘ since ALLWAYS!!’
The Moulin Rouge was a complete mystery to her until her mother came across an add in the paper for auditions. Diane , had no idea what the Moulin Rouge was and had only ever heard of the Lido , which she loved. Her mother convinced her it was the same thing & Diane did her first audition at 17. At the time she was too young to be taken on board ,so she re-auditioned at 21 and hasn’t looked back ( unless it’s in the choreography) since …. Here’s what she had to say .. ..
The early days ... Diane ( in blue ) is on the left of the lead male
Q/What is the weirdest reaction you’ve had when you’ve told people what you do for a living ? :
A/ Well generally people are either in awe or just really clueless, like I was because I’d never heard of the Moulin Rouge …..there is no general reaction …… I did have a really weird neighbor when myself & my best mate first moved to Paris; When this lady ( who told us she was a white witch) found out what we did ….. she gave us this big eyed knowing look and told us we’d be sold to a peep show if things didn’t work out for us. Luckily we’re Australian ( and I wasn’t only 17 , because I might have believed her) so we just laughed it off …. ( laughs)
Q/Best on stage experience :
A/ Oh my god , that’s a hard one , there’s so many – probably replacing the leads because it was so challenging. I had lots of favorite characters , there are about 45 positions on stage and over the years I did almost all of them , but my absolute favorite of all is the can-can. It’s so much fun , we can go wild and shout & have fun with each other on stage … in fact , I think it’s one of the things I’m going to miss most now that I’ve finished up.
Diane ruffles her feathers in Feerie
[ note from mama s : the dancers work on average 6 days a week , with 2 shows a day. Not including rehearsals which are generally once a month , or weekly when new dancers are being trained in , which is usually every 6 months…. So it’s fairly full on physically …. I think I’d rather have another baby ……..]
Q/ Worst on stage experience .
A/ …………………em , maybe the time both my heels got caught in my skirt in the Russian dance scene and I landed on my knees , NO ? , I once got kicked in the head during the can-can …. OH MY GOD – NO ………….it has to be this one, one New Years Eve we were all so excited and into it backstage that I almost missed my cue , ran onto the stage to get into position in the pitch black and whacked straight into a pole. I gave myself mild concussion and spent the rest of the show trying not to vo
One of Dianes personal favourites
mit . ( I ask her why she didn’t just stop …… )” Some-one basically has to cut one of your legs off to get you to stop”. ( If that isn’t job dedication , I don’t know what is …)
Q/ What do you love /hate most about Paris ?
A/ I have a major love- hate relationship with Paris so that’s a tough one … I love how busy it is , that there is always something to do and so many great people to meet ………I hate the sleazy men & dog shit , but if it didn’t have it, Paris would be like London , so I guess it’s all part of the charm and the culture of the place! I’ve travelled a lot but down by the Seine has got to be one of my favorite places. Paris is a great city , but I also love lots of different parts of Australia , I LOVE new York , and Italy …. Oh Italy , there’s so much I still have to see……….
Q/ Your favorite food / drink / restaurant …..
A/ Hmmmmmm , I love my food so that would all depend on what time of the day it is , or what type of food I’m looking for ……
Oh , I LOVE the Rose Bakery , on Rue des Martyrs ( Paris 9th) ,for daytime eats ; its run by an Anglo French couple and all the food is just so fresh and organic.
For dinner it has to be the Cloche D’Or ( Paris 9th ) , just for its great typically French food , my favorite is the camembert roti !! [* Note from Mama S : that’s roasted camembert cheese guys , I tell her I’m delighted she said that , it means the rest of us can get out there and have some too …..wooohooo GO GIRLIES , none of this starving for art stuff here !!!!]
For drinks or the Apéro : The Lux Bar on rue Lepic ( Paris 18TH ), just because.
A portrait of Paris
Q/ What are you most afraid of ?
Diane as a young aspiring dancer
A/ As in physical fear / Phobias or personally ? ……. I’m probably most afraid of failure , even though a lot of people might think that I’ve succeeded , I’ve got very high expectations of myself ….. hmmm , yes afraid of failure.
Q/ What’s the best bit of life advice you would give to children ?
A/ Just trust that everything WILL be ok , believe in yourself , it’s the only way to achieve your dreams.
Finally :Q / you know when you’re having one of those days where you feel like crap or stuck in a rut or a desperate housewife / you do get those moments don’t you? (… she nods and says …’ yes totally’ ….) what advice would you give to a mammy like me , to Moulin Rouge it up a little ?
A/ Treat yourself , pretty up your hair & face & slap on a little confidence !! I always feel better when I do that …..
Caught on camera .....Diane on the side of the lense she loves most
……. So there you go girls -you heard her . Go out & treat yourselves. I know I’m going to.
If you’d like to see what Diane sees when she looks through her camera lense … check her work out here : http://www.dianerob.book.fr/
Thanks for the tea & the tips on stretching before the splits ……
Mama S xx
The photos in this article copyright Diane Robertson. Reproduction rights reserved.