THE stage of the Crazy Horse is flanked by two golden statues of partially nude goddesses. Red is the dominant colour, while vanilla is the scent of the room which is decorated with velvet seats, cushions and comfy sofas arranged around lacquered tables.
The softly lit bar stands at the back of the intimate room. Champagne is not an option and guests settle in under the photographer’s lens.
Later, they will have a chance to buy their individual photo-souvenir of the extraordinary night about to start.
When the sequin curtains open, the filles du Crazy stomp on stage dressed as Buckingham Palace guards with bearskins and leather boots but close to nothing else on for the show’s traditional opening God Save Our Bareskin.
These women are the crème de la crème of glamour dancers. Black bob wigs, vertiginous high heels, blood-red lipsticks and extravagant outfits are helpful accessories but the centre piece remains the body.
From Russia, Bulgaria or Australia, the artists have come from all over the world to perform in this elite troupe. Their pseudonyms have an exotic ring and an energy characteristic of the venue’s style: Nooka Karamel, Jade Or, Psykko Tico or Zula Zazou. Between 500 and 1,500 aspiring dancers apply annually and auditions can be held several times a year. Among the attributes sought are classical ballet training and acting talents.
They must also conform to rigid height and weight requirements, look beautiful and have avoided two key sins in the eyes of the Crazy Horse managers – tattoos and surgery.
Once they are part of the team, the new recruits follow two months of training until their first performance: a night of baptism where they receive their own stage name.
This is not entertainment for the faint-hearted and in this sense, the Crazy Horse is unique. Traditional French can-can dancing does not have its place here and the performance distances itself from more family-oriented shows you may see in the Moulin Rouge. Here, close up scenes of nudity are cast on the curtains to fill gaps between acts.
The routines tackle different aspects of feminine aesthetics but rely on common fantasies. Striptease is the standard number but can be carried out in various ways: for instance, one of them takes place behind a multicoloured canvas screen letting only the women’s silhouettes appear. Another act plays around the reflection of the dancers’ legs in a mirror where you cannot see the rest of their bodies.
Some performances keep in with the more typical cane and top-hat cabaret style but others don’t hesitate to transgress the genre’s barriers.
Overall, this is a show which very much suits our time: energetic, electrifying and quirky. Boldness is perfectly balanced with sensuality and impertinence with taste. Ultra-modern sophistication makes for an unforgettable Parisian night.
Old wine cellar now venue for style, nudity, stars and bubbly
When Alain Bernardin, a man obsessed with femininity and the United States, bought an old wine cave in 1951, there was nothing about the place which could have predicted its future success. Apart from one very clear advantage: the location. Just steps away from the Champs Elysées, the cabaret-to-be was always going to fall on the path of tourists and high-profile Parisians.
Right from the beginning, the place made a name for itself with an innovative and risqué approach to cabaret and the striptease. It kept ahead of trends, attracting a variety of artists both to the stage and the audience. Singer Charles Aznavour made his debut here.
By the mid-90s the club was flagging and after Bernardin shot himself in his office, it passed to his children before being sold on in 2005 when former Cirque du Soleil boss Andrée Deissenberg became the new managing director.
To renew the venue’s flame, Deissenberg invited its first celebrity guests.
After Dita Von Teese, Arielle Dombasle and Pamela Anderson have taken to the stage. Anderson performed a tribute to Brigitte Bardot, dancing to her hit Harley Davidson. Stars are back in the audience including Steven Spielberg, Christina Aguilera, Bono and Kylie Minogue.
Fashion designers such as Jean-Paul Gaultier, Sonya Rykiel, Paco Rabanne, Karl Lagerfeld or Christian Louboutin have also visited.
Louboutin particularly holds a special relationship with the cabaret since he designed many of the most extravagant heels worn on stage.