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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 26 OCTOBER 2009 — Since its creation in 1951, "Le Crazy Horse" has been a synonym for "gay Paree," a place to see and be seen in. But gradually it lost its piquancy and became just another cabaret for foreign tourists and tired businessmen - a club whose reputation exceeded the dull reality of cute but bland-faced showgirls, seemingly more bored than their audience, strutting mechanically through their paces. Two shows a day, seven days a week, with three spectacles each Saturday, how could it be otherwise?

Visiting the nightclub some years ago, I watched a dozen or so identical young women, stark naked but for their shiny black wigs, red lipstick and high-heeled shoes, crawl out of shells, waggle their asses, and march around the miniscule stage saluting like robots in a Horse Guards number. Physically, the women were quite perfect - with their painted faces, small high breasts and perfectly rounded buttocks, no taller than 1m 72, and quite different from the statuesque Amazons who prance around at the Lido with feathers sprouting from their heads and bottoms - but the actual show they offered was out-dated and unremarkable.

Philippe Decouflé at Le Crazy Horse
Photo: Richard Aujard

Consequently, when Andrée Deissenberg took over as general director of the Crazy Horse group in 2005, she decided it was time to shake things up a bit. For starters the place itself - with its caryatid flanked stage, soft lighting, discreet small tables and red plush armchairs for just 250 "guests" - was renovated. Guest stars such as Dita Von Teese and Arielle Dombasle were invited to perform and perked things up, particularly the former. Now in an attempt to seduce a newer, younger audience, she has asked Philippe Decouflé, the most inventive and adventurous of French choreographers, to re-vamp the show.

Decouflé, who sprang to fame with his spectacular staging of the opening and closing ceremonies of the winter Olympic Games in Albertville in 1992, has never made a secret of the fact that his aim is to entertain people. He has an innate sense of the overall show, and his only comment on his work at the Crazy Horse was that he couldn't resist the challenge. His one requirement was that the girls were to work, and work, and work, which they did the whole of the summer.

Philippe Decouflé: Crisis, What Crisis?
Photo: Richard Aujard

Several pieces seemed devised to bring out the personality, beyond the wig and sophisticated make-up, of a certain girl, but what to do when, each time he arrived for rehearsal, a different girl turned up for the choreography he'd devised for her colleague? Used to the space of the airy theatres of Bobigny and Chaillot, what room for manoeuvre did he have on a stage barely 2 meters by 8? And having formed his own company of strong personalities of all ages, sizes backgrounds and professions, what to invent for 18 nearly identical young women used to routine, that killer of poetry and magic?

Decouflé has always credited members of his company, many of whom have worked with him for over twenty years, for the success of much of his work, considering it an exchange of ideas. Yet at the Crazy Horse, he had to work hand in glove with a man he barely knew, the suave and sophisticated Ali Mahdavi, the Iranian-born artistic director - a man intransigent on the prospect of changes to the traditions of the show: the sacred high-heels, the black-fringed wigs, the luminous red lipstick.

Philippe Decouflé: Crisis, What Crisis?
Photo: Richard Aujard

Nevertheless, after a hectic summer, Désirs, the new show opened in September. The spectacle - inspired by the theme of femininity - consists of a series of ten original, aesthetic and visually attractive tableaux. While Decouflé could do nothing about the opening number of the strutting Horse Guards, considered the cabaret's signature piece, he did plenty about the rest, particularly as regards the presentation of the dancers in silhouette on stage.

The most successful tableau is Upside Down, conceived with mirrors, with first one leg appearing, then two, then four reflected abstractly in the mirror, and then with one woman's bottom, then two, then four materialising, with textured lighting projected onto the dancers' bodies and culminating in flashing lights imitating the movements of fabric, a piece directly inspired from the choreographer's work with Alwin Nikolais.

Philippe Decouflé: Upside Down
Photo: Richard Aujard

An inventive strip-tease entitled, Crisis, What Crisis?, featured a business woman liberating herself from the financial crisis by flinging her hair loose, kicking off those high-heeled shoes and gradually gaining her freedom as she divested herself of all her clothing, while stock-market results were being projected onto her body with its scanty covering. And Decouflé amused himself further by setting another short piece, Venus, in a sort of submarine where a woman's leg appears at the port-hole, her foot in its precarious Louboutin stiletto resembling some weird and wonderful sea creature.

It was all mildly entertaining.

Decouflé's work only really came into his own in the linking material between the tableaux. On one occasion, five women in Chanel-style black dresses, their curvaceous little behinds cocked provocatively to one side, were projected onto a screen, while on came a maid, feather duster, sniggers and all. With a flick and a whorl each dress disappeared, and the women were revealed as nude as the day they were born.

Philippe Decouflé: Venus
Photo: Richard Aujard

But with only one or two exceptions, the girls didn't join in the game. Their eyes didn't sparkle, and their smiles were glued on. So each tableau, as aesthetically perfect, clever and intelligent in its conception as it was, simply stayed on the ground.

Decouflé did what he could within the limits that were given, but lacked the room (literal and artistic) to move and take off. His poetry, humour and irony were absent. This was pasteurised Decouflé and pasteurised sex. But then, what is the point of the Crazy Horse? Chic glamour, clean sex, and naked ladies. It's what the audience pays to see. All a gifted showman like Decouflé can do is to decorate each fantasy, but the magic is missing.

Staged by Philippe Decouflé and Ali Mahdavi
Music by Fred Pallem

Crazy Horse Paris
12, Avenue George V
75008 Paris, France
Tel: (33) 1 47 23 32 32
Shows at 20:15, 22:45; Saturdays 19:00, 21:30, 23:45

Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for

Related Culturekiosque Archives

Philippe Decouflé and the Theatre of Shades

The Decouflé Phenomenon

An Interview with Philippe Decouflé

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