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Moulin Rouge: The Ballet

Stepping in to the Eisemann Center in Richardson, Texas on Friday night was an exhilarating feeling. Entering the theatrical atmosphere, the audience saw the signature red windmill lit up and slowly spinning. It made me feel as excited as I was when I saw the Moulin Rouge in Paris. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet set the stage for an evening of pure entertainment…Parisian style.
The Royal Winnipeg Ballet theatre’s artistic director Andre Lewis and choreographer Jorden Morris teamed up to celebrate the most famous cabaret in history, the Moulin Rouge. Moulin Rouge: the ballet is Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s highest-grossing production ever.
The seventy-two year old Canadian ballet company’s of twenty-six dancers made this fascinating time period of the Belle Époque (beautiful era)come alive. The romance and excitement of twentieth-century France could be felt both on stage and en pointe. Ballets usually tell love stories, and what better than a romance from the turn of the century.

Morris’ ballet is the romantic tale of Nathalie (Amanda Green), a laundress, and Matthew (Dmitri Dovgoselets), a painter. It is a love story of two innocent lovers in Paris. Nathalie is discovered by Zidler (Amar Dhaliwal), the owner of Moulin Rouge. Toulouse-Lautrec (Nurzhan Kulybaev) is such a character in the ballet, he was known for his bohemian lifestyle. In the ballet, he was a man who could dance a jolly, jaunty, jig… especially after consuming absinthe.
Toulouse-Lautrec is a bad influence on Matthew and soon he too is drinking absinthe and is visited by three beautiful green fairies who dance with Matthew under a green Moulin Rouge windmill.
Moulin Rouge: the ballet was well composed with beautiful music from famous period artists like Edith Piaf and Claude Debussy. The music flowed perfectly with the period costumes. I also appreciated the authentic nature of the hair being down on some of the gypsy dancers because it was informal and more realistic of that free and optimistic time of the Belle Époque.
Morris’ very witty choreography earns him laughs from the audience with a funny tailoring scene when little gay men bourrée like prissy Barbie dolls on their tiptoes to change Matthew into a man of class. The best part was when the merry men lifted Matthew up and dropped him into his pants. Talk about a quick change!
Morris’ since of humor in his chorography reminded me of the musical The Producers when the doorbell rings in the (very gay) DeBris’ apartment and plays “I Feel Pretty.” It’s that same playful and sexual reference that Morris created to make the audience roar with laughter.
My favorite scene was when Nathalie and Matthew are at a bridge by the Eiffel Tower dancing a romantic pas de deux to Debussy’s Claire de Lune. It is dreamy, lovely, heavenly…and I didn’t want it to end!
The Moulin Rouge’s famous dancers, La Goulue and Jane Avril, were both painted by Toulouse-Lautrec around 1892. Red-headed La Goulue’s audacious behavior can be seen in Morris’ ballet as Royal Winnipeg Ballet dancer, Jo-Ann Sundermeier teased the male dancers. We see her cheeky and edgy movement choreographed in the ballet. Sundermeier is fiery and feisty just as I would imagine La Goulue was in her heyday.
My ballet teacher, Glenda Norcross, often talks about her former ballet teacher, Bill Martin Viscount, who was a Royal Winnipeg Ballet company member. When Glenda is teaching class, she likes to say something she learned from him, “One last time before we repeat the combination.”  A ballet class with Viscount must have been at least three hours long. I imagine the rehearsals for Moulin Rouge: the ballet would have been Viscount-style because it is obvious that the RWB dancers are exceptionally well trained and have heard the Viscount phrase, “One last time before we repeat the combination.”
One of my few complaints Friday night was that the tango scene from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet seemed mild compared to the raw and sensual tangos I’m used to seeing. A tango should be a strong dance of expression and passion. I wanted more emotion from the dancers and more steam from the choreography. But then again…ballet is not usually sensual. The tango was beautiful en pointe but I think Morris could have asked more from his dancers. They certainly had all the components to make it happen…music, costumes, long legs, a backdrop to step back in time to the Belle Époque and an audience that would have been thrilled to see more passion and energy.
Dances like the cancan and the tango are both seductive forms of entertainment that you don’t imagine ballerinas performing. That is why I really couldn’t wait to see this ballet! I love the unexpected...to find the beauty of ballet made less classical and more mysterious is exciting and something that there are few opportunities to enjoy.
The cancan en pointe is something to see. It’s not what you imagine classical ballet to be and certainly not how we might imagine that La Goulue and Jane Avril danced at the Moulin Rouge in the 1890’s.  As much as the ballet dancers disguise themselves as showgirls, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet dancers are ballerinas first.
The Eisemann audience gave Royal Winnipeg Ballet a standing ovation. As I was applauding I was reminded of a quote from Moulin Rouge! (the movie): “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to be loved in return.” I was thinking the greatest thing you could learn would be to appreciate the past and where you are in the present.  Merci RWB!
Watch this video for a taste of Moulin Rouge: the ballet  and this sample of steamy tangos (some from Moulin Rouge! the movie):

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