Moulin Rouge is best known as the spiritual birthplace of the modern form of the can-can dance. Originally introduced as a seductive dance by the courtesans who operated from the site, the can-can dance revue evolved into a form of entertainment of its own and led to the introduction of cabarets across Europe. Today, Moulin Rouge is a tourist attraction, offering musical dance entertainment for visitors from around the world. The club's decor still contains much of the romance of fin de siècle France.
The Belle Époque was a period of peace and optimism marked by industrial progress, and a particularly rich cultural exuberance was about at the opening of the Moulin Rouge. The Exposition Universelles of 1889 and 1900 are symbols of this period. The Eiffel Tower was also constructed in 1889, epitomising the spirit of progress along with the culturally transgressive cabaret.Japonism, an artistic movement inspired by the Orient, with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec as its most brilliant disciple, was also at its height. Montmartre, which, at the heart of an increasingly vast and impersonal Paris, managed to retain a bucolic village atmosphere; festivities and artists mixed, with pleasure and beauty as their values. On 6 October 1889, the Moulin Rouge opened in the Jardin de Paris, at the foot of the Montmartre hill. Its creator Joseph Oller and his Manager Charles Zidler were formidable businessmen who understood the public's tastes. The aim was to allow the very rich to come and 'slum it' in a fashionable district, Montmartre. The extravagant setting – the garden was adorned with a gigantic elephant – allowed people from all walks of life to mix. Workers, residents of the Place Blanche, artists, the middle classes, businessmen, elegant women and foreigners passing through Paris rubbed shoulders. Nicknamed "The First Palace of Women" by Oller and Zidler, the cabaret quickly became a great success. The ingredients for its success:
A revolutionary architecture for the auditorium that allowed rapid changes of décor and where everyone could mix;
Festive champagne evenings where people danced and were entertained thanks to amusing acts that changed regularly, such as the Pétomane;
A new dance inspired by the quadrille which becomes more and more popular: The Can-can, danced to a furious rhythm by dancers in titillating costumes;
Famous dancers whom history still remembers: la Goulue, Jane Avril, la Môme Fromage, Grille d'Egout, Nini Pattes en l'Air, Yvette Guilbert ;
A place loved by artists, of whom the most iconic was Toulouse-Lautrec. His posters and paintings secured rapid and international fame for the Moulin Rouge.
Toulouse-Lautrec and Mr Tremolada, Zidler's assistant, Moulin-Rouge manager. Paris, 1892.
The early years of the Moulin Rouge are marked by extravagant shows, inspired by the circus, and attractions that are still famous such as Pétomane. Concert-dances are organised every day at 10pm.
1886–1910: Footit and Chocolat, a comic act of a white, authoritarian clown and a black, long-suffering Auguste, are very popular and often appear on the Moulin Rouge poster.
19 April 1890: 1st review, "Circassiens et Circassiennes".
26 October 1890: His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, who on a private visit to Paris, booked a table to see this quadrille whose reputation had already crossed the Channel. Recognising him, La Goulue, with her leg in the air and her head in her skirts, spontaneously called out "Hey, Wales, the champagne's on you!".
1891: "La Goulue": Toulouse-Lautrec's first poster for the Moulin Rouge.
12 November 1897: The Moulin Rouge closed its doors for the first time for the funeral of its Manager and co-founder Charles Zidler. Yvette Guilbert paid him homage saying "You have the knack of creating popular pleasure, in the finest sense of the word, of entertaining crowds with subtlety, according to the status of those to be entertained".
1900: visitors from around the world, attracted by the Universal Exhibition, flock to the "Moulin Rouch". Once home again, these visitors thought of Paris as a modern Babylon, the capital of pleasure and the "little ladies of Paris". In many capital cities "Moulin Rouges" and "Montmartres" sprang up like mushrooms, but their methods of imitation and free interpretation made them more like Sodom and Gomorrah than Babylon.
Operetta and grand shows
January 1903: the Moulin Rouge reopened after renovation and improvement work carried out by Édouard Niermans, the most "Parisian" architect of the Belle Époque (amongst other works he designed the brasserie Mollard, the Paris Casino, the Folies Bergère in Paris, the Palace Hôtel in Ostend in Belgium, the rebuilding of the Hôtel du Palais in Biarritz and the creation of the Hotel Negresco on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice). First aperitif concert, where the elite of the fashionable world met for dinner and a show in a setting more beautiful and comfortable than any that existed elsewhere.
Until the First World War, the Moulin Rouge became a real temple of operetta. Further successful shows follow: "Voluptata", "La Feuille de Vigne", "le Rêve d'Egypte", "Tais-toi tu m'affoles" and many others, each with a more evocative title than the last.
3 January 1907: during the show "le Rêve d'Egypte", Colette exchanged kisses that showed her links with the Duchess of Morny. Deemed to be scandalous, the show was banned.
29 July 1907: first appearance of Mistinguett on stage at the Moulin Rouge in the "Revue de la Femme". Her talent was immediately obvious. The following year she had a huge success with Max Dearly in "la Valse chaloupée".
Mistinguett, born in poverty, was not particularly beautiful but had an undeniably quick wit. She wanted to build her own life and said "the poor suburbs, it's not enough just to want to get out. I had a talent: life. All the rest remains to be done, to be thought about. I couldn't allow myself just to be a beautiful animal, I had to think of everything". A peerless businesswoman, she first listened carefully then captivated. She lived wholly for her art, and toured Europe and the United States.
9 April 1910: A former lady-in-waiting to the Empress Eugénie attended a showing of the Revue Amoureuse at the Moulin Rouge. She was so enchanted by the faithful recreation of the ceremony for the return of the troops from Italy that she could not stop herself from calling out "Long Live the Empress!"
27 February 1915: the Moulin Rouge was destroyed by fire.
After the war, Francis Salabert took charge of the Moulin Rouge. A businessman rather than a showman, he gave Jacques-Charles, the leading impresario of the time, the task of reinvigorating the cabaret. The Moulin Rouge took off again, thanks to stars such as Mistinguett, Jeanne Aubert and Maurice Chevalier, and gave the first showing in Paris of American revues with the Hoffmann Girls.
Gesmar, aged 20, became set designer. His drawings and models will always be associated with the image of the Moulin Rouge.
Jacques-Charles and Mistinguett were the originators of:
1925 : "la Revue Mistinguett"
1926 : "Ça c'est Paris"
1928 : "Paris qui tourne"
At the Moulin Rouge, Mistinguett created many enduring songs, including "Valencia", "Ça c'est Paris", both by Jose Padilla, "Il m'a vue nue", "On m' suit", "La Java de Doudoune", the latter with Jean Gabin.
1929: Mistinguett retires from the stage and leaves the Moulin Rouge.
After her departure, the ballroom is transformed into the most ultra-modern Night Club of the time.
June – August 1929: the revue "Lew Leslie's Black Birds", starring jazz singer and Broadway star Adelaide Hall, with a troop of a hundred black artists accompanied by the Jazz Plantation Orchestra, opens at the Moulin Rouge and becomes the hit of the season.
1937: the Cotton Club, all the rage in New York, is put on at the Moulin Rouge; Ray Ventura and his Collegians also appear.
1939–1945: the Second World War interrupts the Moulin Rouge's sparkle.
1944: a few days after the liberation of Paris, Edith Piaf, whose talent is already evident, performs at the Moulin Rouge, with Yves Montand, a newcomer chosen to appear with her.
22 June 1951: Georges France, called Jo France, founder of the Balajo (rue de Lappe, Paris), acquires the Moulin Rouge and starts major renovation work. He gives architects Pierre Devinoy, Bernard de La Tour d’Auvergne and Marion Tournon-Branly the task of improving and fitting out the new auditorium. The décor envisaged by Jo France and largely realized by Henri Mahé, one of the most fashionable designers of the day, still delights today's visitors to the Moulin Rouge.
The evening dances, the acts and of course the famous French cancan are all back at the Moulin Rouge.
19 May 1953: the 25th "Bal des Petits Lits Blancs", organised by the novelist Guy des Cars, takes place at the Moulin Rouge in the presence of the French President, Vincent Auriol, and it includes, for the first time on a European stage, Bing Crosby. The evening attracts 1,200 artists and stars from around the world, including Josephine Baker who sings "J'ai deux amours".
1955: Jo France transfers the Moulin Rouge to the brothers Joseph and Louis Clérico who already own the Lido. Jean Bauchet becomes Manager. The famous French cancan is still performed, soon to be choreographed by Ruggero Angeletti.
1957: Doris Haug creates the "Doriss Girls" troop at the Moulin Rouge. Initially four girls, today there are sixty.
1959: the Moulin Rouge is transformed with the creation and fitting out of new kitchens so as to offer the increasingly international clientele a dinner-show with a gastronomic menu and revues that soon acquire a worldwide reputation.
1960 The "Revue Japonaise" makes news. Entirely composed of Japanese artists, the revue launches the Kabuki in Montmartre
The Moulin Rouge at midnight
1962: Jacki Clérico, son of Joseph Clérico, takes control of the Moulin Rouge. It is the start of a new era: Enlargement of the auditorium, installation of a giant aquarium and the first aquatic ballet
1962: Revue "Cancan", devised by Doris Haug and Ruggero Angeletti.
Since 1963 and the success of the "Frou-Frou" revue, out of superstition Jacki Clérico chooses only revue titles that start with the letter F. Naturally, the famous French cancan is performed at every revue.
1 December 1986: the world's most famous classical dancer, Mikhail Baryshnikov, creates an original ballet by Maurice Béjart at the Moulin Rouge.
20 February 1988: Dazzling at 90 years old, the Moulin Rouge was to be even more amazing at 100. The premier of the revue "Formidable" is a "Royal Variety Performance in Paris", one of the most prestigious official events in Britain, attended each year in London by a member of the Royal Family. For the second time, the show took place in France, at the Moulin Rouge. Presided over in 1983 by Her Royal Highness Princess Anne, on 20 February 1988 His Royal Highness Prince Edward is the guest of honour.
Spring 1989: one-off performance by the Moulin Rouge in London before their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales.