Gay Paris, the City of Light, is one of those destinations you will need little encouragement to visit. It didn't take us long to make all the necessary arrangements when receiving an invitation from the legendary cabaret, Le Crazy Horse on Avenue George V, celebrating its 70th-anniversary last year, having been completely redesigned and renovated. Although one might argue that it isn't for the gilded cage one visits but what one finds inside on stage, the new layout, conceived by architect & designer Benoît Dupuis was impressive, representing the cabaret's first significant makeover in 26 years. In some way, it honours the venue's history and highlights its artistic heritage, paying tribute to past collaborations with some of the world's renowned artists (César, Marcel Duchamp, David Lynch and Dali).
The anticipation started to grow as we departed on the Eurostar from St. Pancras International and grew ever stronger during our extremely comfortable journey to Gare du Nord, enjoying the amenities on this easy crossing. Travelling by train sets the scene for whatever joy Paris holds in store for you. It is as if the lobby's soft, new curves and colours hint at what may be revealed when the spectacle has started, all the way to the theatre with its ultra-glamorous 'Polly Underground' bar, named after the legendary dancer from the club's early years. You feel the excitement brewing as the new Crazy Horse Paris rolls out the red carpet for its visitors. The theatre, located below ground – in what used to be a series of coal cellars – offers audiences comfort and intimacy. The new layout includes 220 plush and diverse seating options, including two private alcoves, which allow patrons the opportunity to experience the show and the evening in, dare we say, an even more unique and original way.
Champagne does not seem out of place as we take our seats and something to nibble on. However, we hope the anticipated visual feast on stage will soon distract our attention from a somewhat stale collection of delicacies. As the show starts, it is evident that the state-of-the-art sound and light systems help create a mesmerising and immersive atmosphere, dissolving the boundaries between stage and theatre. 'People come to Crazy Horse Paris to enjoy an extraordinary evening, to escape from everyday life to dream', explains Andrée Deissenberg, Chief Creative and Brand Officer. And Philipp Lhomme, CEO, adds: 'The new Crazy Horse Paris is an exceptional place that will surprise and astound.'
But despite innovative elements, the evening opened with an act like every show since its premiere in 1989. Twelve dancers, in high boots and Bearskin Hats, Royal horse guards with a twist, march in military step, looking neither left nor right, in a strictly regimented, superbly timed number. This world-famous opening scene, mounted with the help of an authentic officer of the British Royal Guard, is the house's trademark. Showing no signs of a well-earned retirement at the respectable age of 70, it is worthwhile reminding us of some of the highlights in the life of this enduring horse. Alain Bernardin opened the original Crazy Horse Paris cabaret at the prestigious 12 avenue George V, in the heart of the Golden Triangle, opposite couture houses YSL and Givenchy and next door to Balenciaga. Setting a new bar for the classic burlesque show, Bernardin integrated elements of the New Wave, New Realism and Pop Art movements into his creations, taking modernity in his stride and continually redeveloping his show to reflect these cultural changes.
Here, Miss Candida took her bath on the Crazy Horse stage more than 500 times some 50 years before Dita Von Teese paid tribute to her in a cover number called "Le Bain". In 1960 a unique and new genre featuring naked women dressed by light in acts was inspired by current events. Three years later, Dali, whose work influenced the surrealism movement, is at the origin of the sofa in the shape of a mouth, an essential accessory of the Parisian cabaret Crazy Horse. In 1966, from a mould of the breast of a Crazy Horse dancer, the artist-sculptor César created 'Le Sein', a work that would serve as a support for a larger-scale creation, cast in bronze, for the decoration of the courtyard of honour of Rochas perfumeries in Poissy. And during the iconic and tumultuous year of 1968, Crazy Horse Paris, the temple of burlesque in Paris, sees its shows evolve after legalising the integral nude.
There is a rich history of inventiveness here, with the new management of Deissenberg and Lhomme introducing items of novelty and creativity into the show after 2006. Crazy Horse dancers Nooka Caramel and Baby Light participated in the 'Fetish' series, collaborating with American filmmaker David Lynch and shoe designer Christian Louboutin. And there have been controversies, scandals if you like. Alain Bernardin staged a wanton nun in 1985 in a number entitled 'The nun', performed by the dancer Frenchy Lunatic, creating a scandal and prompting an immediate removal from the poster of the famous Parisian cabaret. And of the numerous guest acts, one could highlight the muse, singer and gay icon Arielle Dombasle, performing select songs from her album "C'est si Bon" in the Crazy tradition 2007, the performance of Pamela Anderson on Valentine's Day 2008, the guest appearance of Conchita Wurst in 2014, the savvy blend in 2016 of Dita Von Teese's numerous earlier performances at the cabaret and her favorite acts from the cabaret's repertoire or indeed the contribution of the renowned creator of Parisian lingerie Chantal Thomass that year.
After the excitement of the new opening has calmed down, there will undoubtedly be an opportunity for yet a fresh take on burlesque cabaret. Maybe then it will be time, once more, to visit La Ville Lumière and mount the Crazy Horse, hopefully as untamed as ever.