Tuesday, March 10, 2009

All that glitters is not gold.

The Moulin Rouge.

If there’s something I’ve learned about Paris after 8 weeks of surveying its cultural happenings, it is that Paris really does love its appearance, and for that reason, a show, a happening, and an event are all a “spectacle.” That is to say, poor technique and poor performance quality can be covered up with enough glitter, feathers, neon lights, and the buzz of a half bottle of champagne you can’t help but guzzle.

As the four arms of the Moulin Rouge spun outside lighting the main boulevard of Pigalle, images of grungy burlesque women tinged with a vintage sepia hue stomped around in my mind. I longed to see the dirt in the fingernails of a dancer straight from a Toulouse-Lautrec with an air of green about her as she soaked up the exhaled absinthe from her voyeurs. I romanticized the pressing urgency of performance that was so disorienting in the film “Moulin Rouge” that I wanted to vomit from motion sickness. Much to my disappointment, the contemporary dancers of the Moulin Rouge were polished clones without the grunge, the heart, nor the performance flare. They were placed far from the laps of viewers and caged in the dimensions of the stage. The show was like any other variety show you could see in Vegas, especially the parts in English.

The appeal of the Moulin Rouge used to be its sense of danger and excitement that existed despite the tucked in collared shirts of the Parisian exterior. And perhaps it is the fault of pervasive sexuality in the media, but topless women prancing around in sequins is not enough to keep my attention. The show has now turned into an expensive tourist trap. I could not tell one dancer from the next as legs flew up in every direction. The Can Can section was filled with squeaks that seemed to come from trampled chipmunks rather than gutteral shouts, yells, and exclamations that accompanies traditional Can Can. Bent knees, and hunched upper bodies paired with grimaces due to lack of flexibility were indiscreetly covered up with feathered boas in the shape of sea urchins. Even the lip-synching was well, unsynchronized. The show was divided into thematic sections—and true to the movie, the show contained sections of exoticism featuring a Russian dance section, and costumes from what appeared to be Egypt, South Asia, and a non-descript location in the Middle East. I do not mean to say that I supported the exotification of these regions nor that I expected to see a real version of the Hollywood movie. I was just looking for the performance spark that makes a performer, a performer, the special “je ne sais quoi” that the French are supposed to possess. The show was a poor rendition of what I could see at a drag karaoke bar in the Marais for the mere price of a cocktail.

Nevertheless, there were some redeeming factors that kept me tuned in. The dance sequences were divided by a juggling act, a contortionist couple, a ventriloquist, and a naked woman doing tricks with snakes in a pool. I really felt as if I was making my rounds at the town circus and that soon I would come across a two-headed man. But that was just it—the disjunction between the intermediary acts in which the “other” really was put on display versus the dance sequences when airbrushed legs only posed as being the exotic “other.” There was a sincerity to the performance of the contortionist couple—an extremely skinny woman with a dreadlock and her buff manly companion—that when they balanced on poles, or did flips in a split position, or merely shared a coat sleeve that led me to buy into their act. There was a cute factor in the oddity of the couple, a certain pizzazz that made them unlike other couples I had seen. This was not the case for the other dance sections.

Now, one could argue that I am fairly more versed in dance than I am in contortionism, however there are still performances that literally evacuate the air from my diaphragm with it’s creativity. Mainly, Le Parc, a ballet choreographed by Angelin Preljocaj for the Paris Opera. A pas de deux between dancers wearing little more than nightgowns that managed to captivate and paralyze me not with numerous turns or virtuosic leaps, or bare legs, but rather in the quiet commitment to a single brush of the back of a hand against a cheek. A commitment that the dancers of the Moulin Rouge, regrettably, lacked. At the very least, Opera dancers have a place to retire to once they weigh more than 100 pounds, are over the hill at the age of twenty-five, and have lost their "umph".

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