Monday, February 16, 2009

A Vision of a Mythical Paris through Cabaret

This past Thursday night, I went to see a Cabaret show at Lido on the Champs-Elysees. I was not sure what to expect, and this sentiment was amplified as soon as I walked out of the metro and saw the local Parisians well dressed for the occasion. I don't know why the only words that I had heard in advance, “partial nudity”, gave me the impression that I was about to witness something less sophisticated, but nonetheless, I was completely mistaken.

Lido itself was very well put together with white tablecloths covering the tables layered on multiple platforms to ensure excellent visibility from all locations. The room had a dinner-theatre feel as couples cuddled together in cozy booths with glasses of champagne in hand.

We were fortunate to be sitting at stage center, directly in front of the raised platform. The show commenced with a start as women filed on wearing sparkling outfits with large feathers emanating from their backs. It seemed like a scene from Las Vegas, but as the show progressed, it became evident that we were experiencing something quite extraordinary.

There was never a pause throughout the show as each sketch had an entirely different theme. Although the themes from each scene didn’t relate to one another, nothing seemed out of place as the entrances and exits progressed with such fluidity that I barely had time to digest what was taking place in front of my eyes.

The cabaret performance pulled from all realms of the exotic, with scenes devoted to far-off places and animals. One of the most vivid images remaining in my mind is the cat scene, during which the mannerisms of the women imitated the cat with perfection. The swift turn of the head, the snobby flick of the wrist, the seductiveness of the gaze, all paid tribute to that domestic animal we know so well. Although the women personified the “sexiness” of the feline, the men played it cool with their shades and loose movements, together creating a unified vision of the animal they represented.

I remember being stunned when a massive pyramid rose from below the stage, hiding the women within. As the pyramid rotated, the women twirled and moved their arms and heads imitating the classic Egyptian style. The ornaments on their costumes, the gold of the pyramids, and the jewels covering their bodies paid tribute to the richness of this ancient civilization.

The Egyptian scene flowed perfectly to the Indian, as women dressed in elaborate saris took over the stage. At first, I was a little disappointed by how the dance moves remained western, but at the scene progressed, the Indian arm postures and leg movements were incorporated in a brilliant way, bridging the orient with the occident. I was stunned when the stage descended again and waterfalls surrounded the dancers, making the scene seem like the surreal images that are often associated with Bollywood films.

The Cabaret show didn’t only capitalize on the expertise of the dancers, but also on that of acrobats, skaters, and yes, even horses! I was completely shocked when a horse was ridden onto the stage, galloping back and forth to the beat. Most of all, I had never seen a horse perform a side step (grapevine). Although the horse added something special to the performance, I can’t help but be dismayed by the poor conditions to which it must have been subjected. As a free range animal, being confined to a small stage and kept in the indoor backstage is not justified, even if for the benefit of art.

My dismay however soon turned to excitement as the stage platform rose, this time containing a small square of ice. I couldn’t believe it when the two skaters started performing their routine. They moved with speed and agility, performing the common moves that are normally associated with figure skating competitions. I took in a big breath as the male skater started to swing the female, holding just her hands. The area of the ice was so small that her rotating body extended outside the boundaries. The skaters were able to jump, skate backwards, twirl, and even lift each other without a glitch, despite the thin layer of ice (I could see the stage floor beneath) and the small surface area. Their actions required skill from the start, but the fact that they were able to succeed in spite of the conditions in which they were performing illustrates a supreme talent.

Although I could keep describing the various scenes that took place during the two hour show, what most remains in my memory are the special effects, the unique acts, and the sets. The dancing in my opinion was average, but the smooth transitions, the grandeur of each scene, and the diversity of the themes, all succeeded in producing a spectacular show. The “partial nudity” barely remains a memory, as the entire production was presented in a classy and sophisticated manner. I would highly recommend attending a Cabaret show particularly at Lido, should the opportunity ever present itself. It is one of those uniquely Parisian experiences that will contribute to a different perspective of the arts scene in Paris.

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