Moulin Rouge is best known as the 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, the Moulin Rouge is a
tourist attraction, offering predominantly 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 present at the opening of the Moulin Rouge. The Expositions Universelles of
1900 are symbols of this period.
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, retained a bohemian village atmosphere; festivities and artists mixed with pleasure and beauty as their values.
Creation and early success
On 6 October 1889, the Moulin Rouge opened as the Jardin de Paris, an outdoor garden
café-conçert, 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, local residents, 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
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;
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: 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 cofounder, 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 Rouge". This gave Paris a reputation as a city of decadent pleasure. In many other countries imitation "Moulin Rouges" and "Montmartres" sprang up.
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
Casino de Paris, 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 was born in poverty and 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 World War I,
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.
In 1923, composer and conductor Raphaël Beretta, who directed the
Folies Bergères, the
Olympia and the
Casino de Paris, proposed to rebuild the
music hall of the Moulin Rouge in a large construction. The mill rose in the middle of the facade supported by a round part decorated at the top with oval dormers.
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
An incident occurred during the 1927 show when female dancers were meant to pop out of huge multi-tiered artificial cakes covered in real
frosting. When the girls descended to the stage, the soles of their
high heels got doused in cake cream which proved extremely slippery and caused them to constantly slip and fall on stage, ruining the whole show.
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
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 Blackbirds, 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.
Cotton Club, all the rage in New York, is put on at the Moulin Rouge; Ray Ventura and his Collegians also appear.
1939–1945 Second World War. The German Occupation Guide aryien counts the Moulin Rouge among the must visits in Paris. Its famous stage shows continued for the occupation troops, which are mentioned in various autobiographies of German officers, such as
Ernst Jünger, Gerhard Heller and others. The Germans used the motto "Jeder einmal in Paris" (everyone once in Paris) to provide 'recreational visits' in Paris for its troops. The intensive prostitution during the occupation made way for the Loi de
Marthe Richard (1946), which closed the bordellos and reduced stage shows to dancing events.
1944: a few days after the
liberation of Paris,
Edith Piaf, who had been a frequent performer at German Forces social and bordello gatherings during the Second World War, and had been considered a traitor by many, performs again at the Moulin Rouge, with
Yves Montand, a newcomer chosen to appear with her.
Vu, issue N°77, Wednesday, 4 September 1929, front cover, with
Adelaide Hall star of Blackbirds at the Moulin Rouge, titled "Au revoir Black Birds !", saying farewell after a production run of four months
Moulin Rouge Cinema at night, 1936.
Two German soldiers, with two women, in front of the Moulin Rouge, during the
Nazi occupation, June 1940.
22 June 1951: Georges France, called Jo France, founder of the
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, has lasted and is still in place.
The evening dances, the acts, and the famous French cancan are 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
Le 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, the troop has eventually grown to sixty.
1959: the Moulin Rouge is transformed with new kitchens.
1960 The Revue Japonaise, entirely composed of Japanese artists, launches the Kabuki in
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, created an original ballet by Maurice Béjart at the Moulin Rouge.
20 February 1988: Although the original building had burned down in 1915, the Moulin Rouge turns 100. The premier of the revue Formidable is a "Royal Variety Performance in Paris", a prestigious official event 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 Princess Anne, on 20 February 1988 Prince Edward was the guest of honour.
Spring 1989: one-off performance by the Moulin Rouge in London before the Prince and Princess of Wales.