From Montmartre to Mount Pleasant

Intro to 1971 Moulin Rouge Souviner programme:

On October 6th 1889 a new thrill was created in Paris and the spectators making their way towards the Moulin Rouge, bearded men in top hats, pretty wasp-waisted women and girls in the bloom of youth, high society and professional revellers, had scarcely any inkling of it.

This “new thrill” whose appearance was welcomed in these terms by the novelist Armand Lanoux, was the quadrille, described as naturalistic or realistic, which the founder of the ‘Bal du Moulin Rouge’ launched at the same time as his establishment. This was the idea of genius for the quadrille, which has become our French cancan, is linked for ever with the celebrated mill.

Thanks to the French cancan the Moulin Rouge became the centre of Parisian life and thus of the world in one night. To see the wonderful dancing girls with the evocative names – La Goulue, Grille d’Egout, Rayon d’Or, Nini Pattes-en-l’Air – soon to be joined by Jane Avril, Valentin le Desosse and singer-entertainer Yvette Guilbert.

The cinema has brought to life once more this period which has become legendary in such films as “Moulin Rouge” and “French cancan”. Other artists, painters or writers have followed in the footsteps of Toulouse-Lautrec in maintaining and illustrating this legend: Steinlen, Bonnard, Edmond Heuze (who ended as a member of the Institute after beginning as a quadrille dancer!) for the painters, Jean Lorrain, Mac Orlan, Francis Carco for the poet, not forgetting Maurice Boukay (who was incidentally a minister of the Republic) who wrote the touching ode:

Moulin Rouge, Moulin Rouge

 Whom do you turn for Moulin Rouge?

  Is it for death or is it for love.

 You turn until dawn breaks above?

The mad night at the Moulin Rouge with their frou-frous, filmy petticoats, split, princely visitors including the future Edward VII, their roisterers and rowdy dances lasted until the first world war. Closed in 1915, the Moulin Rouge took on a new lease of life with peace in 1921 and became a temple of music hall with monster revues featuring such artistes as Mistinguett, Maurice Chevalier and Josephine Baker.

And now, owing to the management of Jacki Clerico and Robert Rouzaud, the “Bal du Moulin Rouge” has resumed it’s place, a leading one, in the enchantment of the Parisian nights.

As in 1889, all is ready for the quadrille at the ‘Ba du Moulin Rouge” 1971.

Introduction by Christian Fracheboud

2013-08-12 15.11.08


Kiki the dolphin and her friend Gillian. Moulin Rouge 1971. This act wouldn’t fly now.

As it was in 1971. I’m sure the Moulin Rouge, and many other cabarets and nightclubs the world oner have lived through various incarnations like the one mentioned above. Countless stories of showgirls, impresarios, and performers meeting on the stage to the eyes of their audiences of rich, poor, fan and celebrated celebrity. Friendships forged and romances sparked. Passion, personal connections… it’s stories that have layered on top of one another, and have likely repeated themselves the world over, like a ghost who walks the same path over and over again for eternity.

The desire to entertain and perform is like those spectres: restless and always seeking supplication. I can’t speak for the world at large, but I can speak for my own little town. There are three secret spaces that call to mind the opulence, the camaraderie, and the joy that I think of when I think of the past lives of the Mouin Rouge. They are not so secret to we, the entertainers and our patrons but when people discover them a light comes into their eyes. They appreciate they are being drawn into something special. That future generations will sigh with the nostalgia of it all and think back to ‘back when’ showgirls with names like Lola Frost, Nicky Ninedoors, Cherry Ontop, Burgundy Brixx, Crystal Precious, Callio P Cock and Melody Mangler would grace the stages of these places.

The first is in a bar in Chinatown. It was once a storage space for the Vancouver Gas Company warehouse and for many years was a white elephant on the real estate market. It was given a kiss of life when it was converted into a boutique hotel (now stratified condos) above and a bar below. The bar, The Keefer Bar, on it’s own merits, has grown into a legend in it’s own right, based on the elegant and sophisticated cocktail menu (sorry -  no Cosmos here). But it was when they invited Sweet Soul Burlesque to perform there every Thursday night did the magic grow exponentially. Now Thursdays remain busy at the Keefer and the few people who wander by unsuspectingly then are treated to a prime view of the hindsight and full moons brought about by Sweet Soul Burlesque.

The second is in Gastown. Under aged cobblestones of the street in what feels like an old speakeasy is Guilt and Company. If you brush your fingers against the old bricks that comprise the walls there, you’d likely hear the stories the ghosts of the past would tell you – and likely pick up some glitter as well. Amidst cocktails and board games, Guilt plays host to live entertainment every Tuesday from the strange and beautiful Cabaret Du Passé to live jazz band and burlesque of Pandora and the Locksmiths. Weaving magic with sound, visuals and movement.

The third in this trinity is tucked up off of Kingsway. Where once a scuzzy dive bar dwelled, it was given the kiss of life by Burgundy Brixx and The Purrfessor with their weekly burlesque show. Prompting people to turn off their televisions on Sunday nights, come be social, and see live performances of dancers from all troupes and even other cities, Kitty Nights is the Western cousin to the night of the same name in NYC. Spanning two coasts, it pumps lifeblood through the veins of the burlesque community, connecting performers and aficionados, topped by the dance party at the end of the night. With weekly drink specials and themes, it’s become part of many people’s Sunday constitutionals, as well as a destination for out-of-town visitors.

It’s a pattern of human nature for history to repeat itself. I won’t lie, often it’s destructive and unbecoming history at that, but every once in awhile we get it right. The cycle of magic continues.


Little Miss Risk

This entry was posted in Burlesque History Lessons, Showgrrl Shiz, Vancouver History. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to From Montmartre to Mount Pleasant

  1. WOW just what I was searching for. Came here by searching for brave frontier

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