Forget about the sleazy tourist traps in Pigalle, there’s only one place to see burlesque in Paris: the Crazy Horse, opened in 1951. Eleanor Aldridge spent the night at the city’s decidedly contemporary cabaret to see for herself.
The room is dark, illuminated only by glowing champagne buckets at the centre of each red velvet booth. Then, to the strains of a sultry Britney Spears cover, the curtains open.
Launching the second half of the show at the Crazy Horse tonight is Undress to Kill, a striptease like no other, designed by Dita Von Teese. The dancer is completely nude, dressed instead in Le Crazy’s signature projections – a backless red dress slowly morphs into an intricate veil of lace as the performer leans in and out of the light.
This is Totally Crazy, the cabaret’s new show for 2017. Modern burlesque meets high fashion; it’s a riot of spectacular lighting, barely-there costumes, beat-perfect choreography and angular fluoro wigs. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun.
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Today, the Crazy Horse is the most famous cabaret in the city. The artistic vision of Andrée Deissenberg, previously of Cirque du Soleil, it’s become a Parisian institution, renowned for its celebration of femininity and beauty. Under the guidance of Creative Director Ali Mahdavi, they aim to glorify “the powerful, dominant, insubordinate female” – essentially women who like to run the show.
Since Andrée took the reins ten years ago, Le Crazy has gone from strength to strength, with Dita Von Teese by no means the most famous collaborator. The last few years have seen famous faces such as Conchita Wurst take to the stage, and the star-studded audience range from Rihanna and John Legend to Cara Delevingne and Jean Paul Gaultier.
If some of the acts look familiar, it could be because Beyoncé modelled her video for Partition on some of Le Crazy’s signature performances. Her hypnotic fan of legs above a mirrored stage, and pole dancers illuminated bit-by-bit as if scanned by a sliver of light, are close to carbon copies of the originals.
Yet the cabaret’s most enduring collaboration is with Christian Louboutin, who has worked with the team since 2012. His contribution to Totally Crazy is a dancer shown only from the waist down, her legs daubed bit-by-bit in glow-in-the-dark paint as she dances in neon Louboutin stilettos.
The cabaret is an “iconic Parisian monument, a monument to dance” Louboutin says, “a modern and dreamlike conceptualization, celebrating women in honour of women”.
Tonight, like most, this outlook is reflected in a predominantly female audience. Tourist heavy it may be, but there’s not a hint of sleaze. Instead, the show is infused with humour and personality. Segments such as But I Am A Good Girl are playfully cheeky, while the mock salutes and marches of God Save our Bareskin kick off the night with plenty of Le Crazy’s trademark attitude.
Competition to become a “Crazy Girl” is fierce. More than five hundred performers apply each year, with only a couple making it through to join the troupe. The show relies on a distinct aesthetic and body type, and only girls with a slim and athletic build are chosen. This may make for beautiful choreography, but a lack of diversity is one of the few things to detract from the message of empowerment.
Being on stage at Le Crazy is, however, by no means purely about beauty. Dancers are required to be classically trained, and then undergo five months further instruction before they’re allowed to perform live. It’s only then that they receive their nom de scène, such as Lolita Kiss-Curl or Venus Oceane.
It’s an impressive operation in numbers, too. Every performer has six pairs of made-to-order heels and costumes are handmade, taking up to a week apiece. Each year, the troupe also uses 2500 pairs of stockings, 500 litres of make-up and 300 lipsticks (the show has a bespoke red hue).
This set-up may sound extravagant, but as we leave the second of two packed-out nightly consecutive shows, it’s clear that Le Crazy has hit on a winning formula.
There’s simply nowhere in Paris that can compete, and with the international Crazy Horse tour, Forever Crazy, now appearing everywhere from Singapore to Seoul, they’re certainly not resting on their laurels.
Yet while new audiences may go crazy for Le Crazy, something will always be missing if you see the show abroad. You simply can’t beat a night of cabaret in its spiritual home. Stepping out onto Avenue George V after a performance, the Eiffel Tower’s night-time illuminations glittering across the river, is an unforgettable Parisian experience.
Inspired? Plan your trip with The Rough Guide to Paris and The Rough Guide to France. You can book tickets for the Crazy Horse on lecrazyhorseparis.com. And don’t forget to compare flights, find tours, book hotels and buy travel insurance before you go.
Photos from top–bottom (left–right): Antoine Poupe; Alberto Baracchini; Vlada Krassilnikova; Antoine Poupe; Emilie de la Hosseraye; RiccardoTinelli.