Le Moulin Rouge is as emblematic of Paris as the Arc de Triomphe or the Eiffel Tower.
The world’s most celebrated nightspot, the model for cabarets across Europe and beyond, has an outrageously colorful and turbulent history spanning 132 years. Immortalized in the art of Toulouse-Lautrec and the inspiration for novels, films, musicals and even a Canadian-made ballet, the Moulin Rouge has survived fires, near bankruptcy, the German occupation of Paris in World War II and most recently the pandemic.
It has welcomed patrons from all walks of life, from royalty to below. The historical list of top attractions includes legends such as Josephine Baker, Edith Piaf, Maurice Chevalier, Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra, and Liza Minnelli. Even ballet superstar Mikhail Baryshnikov has stepped onto the shelves of his sacred stage.
What many of the 600,000 visitors who pass under the iconic red windmill entrance each year probably don’t know is that the Moulin Rouge isn’t as quintessentially French as you might think.
It is owned and operated by Jean-Jacques Clerico, grandson of the man who, from 1955, reinvented the Moulin Rouge for modern times. Most of its collaborators are French, but the 60-strong cast of leggy showgirls and their tall, handsome partners represent 14 different nationalities from around the world. Currently, four of them are from Canada.
One of them, 23-year-old Allie Goodbun, is from Woodstock, Ontario. In a lengthy interview, Goodbun offered the star a fascinating account of her trip to the Moulin Rouge and a backstage perspective on what she describes as “an incredibly well-oiled machine.”
Goodbun started dancing lessons at the age of five. She went to a Woodstock studio, Elite Dance Center, which taught just about everything: ballet, contemporary, jazz, tap, hip-hop, you name it. She was also tall by dance standards.
“I was always the girl who stood out above the others in my group,” she said.
At an adult height of six feet, a conventional ballet career was probably not an option. But along the way, Goodbun started thinking about how those long legs could work to her advantage.
As a teenager, she attended summer camps in New York, where she was taught by Radio City Rockettes. At the age of 16, she moved to Toronto, where she completed high school online, intensified her professional dance training and explored opportunities in the film and TV industry. She played the gossip Cassie in the fourth and fifth seasons of Family Channel’s “The Next Step” and, after graduating from high school, enrolled at the U of T to study kinesiology.
Then she learned that the Moulin Rouge was auditioning in Canada.
“At the time, I thought it was a bit bizarre that they came to Canada, but every opportunity that comes my way, I go for it,” she said.
Goodbun flew to the audition in Vancouver. She arranged for Janet Pharaoh, the company’s artistic director, to hand over her resume in person.
“I introduced myself and then took a front-center spot for Janet to notice me. There must have been a hundred to begin with. She had us cartwheels across the floor and crevices. At the end of the day there were ten of us.”
Goodbun and Vancouverite Laura Renstad were offered contracts to start in February 2020. A month later, the Moulin Rouge closed due to the pandemic, a shutdown that lasted 18 months.
Goodbun planned to take a two-year break from college to perform in Paris. Instead, she was able to complete her bachelor’s degree. Looking for ways to supplement the income she earned from TV appearances, Goodbun launched Flex, her own online fitness company. By the time she was finally able to move to Paris last November, she had over 500 students.
The first thing Goodbun discovered was that, apart from the Canadians and quite a few Australian dancers, most of the others are from Europe and have studied English, which is practically the most widely spoken language of the Moulin Rouge. She also found that while expectations are just as high as those famous cancan kicks, the company treats its dancers really well.
“The way they help the newcomers individually is incredible. The Moulin Rouge owns several apartments, so you already have a place. They help with everything from getting a phone line to doing your taxes. I’m just a text message away from help with a problem.”
The Moulin Rouge has been offering the same one hour and 45 minute show, “Féerie”, since 1999. There are two performances per evening. You can combine dinner with the first and champagne with both. The show is interspersed with spectacular dance numbers with special acts that give the dancers a short break from an athletically demanding performance.
The most famous dance routine is, of course, the cancan, but it’s one of many routines, meaning there are many costume changes, as frilly skirts are swapped for sequined dresses and more ostrich feathers than you’d see on a good day in Australia. outback.
“There are about a thousand costumes in the show,” Goodbun said. “I have nine or ten changes, so more than two shows a night, that’s a whopping 20 changes.”
In addition to learning the choreography that the audience sees, an important part of preparing to dance at the Moulin Rouge is learning the backstage choreography. Goodbun shadowed one of the line dancers to teach every detail of makeup and costumes.
Costume changes often have to be completed within 90 seconds. A small army of dressers is mobilized to assist, but each dancer must know exactly where to go and how to get there. If not, there would soon be total confusion.
“It’s a system they perfected over many years,” Goodbun says.
Goodbun has a one-year contract, but now that she’s settled in her own apartment in the Montmartre district, she hopes to stay longer. She takes French classes three times a week so she can explore the city beyond the Moulin Rouge. Since her workday doesn’t start until evening, Goodbun also hopes to keep her Flex business as active as possible.
“I love Paris and I love the job. All in all, it’s a dream come true.”
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