"Fancy Footwork" - a review of Crazy Horse, the Iconic Parisian cabaret

Published in MQ Magazine July 2018

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Crazy Horse review in MQ Magazine

The curtain is lifted to reveal a small stage, and 3 large, slowly spinning chrome wheels. Something, or someone moves, and I blink, trying to let my eyes adjust. Two women are balanced inside each wheel, their backs deeply arched, pointed toes propping them up. As one, they begin to move in time to the retro music - fluid, and languid, like a slowly turning kaleidoscope. Powerful lights beam from behind me in the back of the dark room, painting shapes on the blank canvas of their naked bodies. They spin and flip with the surges of the music. Psychedelic patterns spin lazily, synchronized to their movements. I am entranced.
 
The Crazy Horse is not your average cabaret show. I’m in a small, plush theatre on a major leafy avenue that crosses the Champs Elysees. We are in the so-called “Golden Triangle” of Parisian luxury and commerce, an area I generally never visit. As beautiful, petite and doll-like Crazy Horse dancer, ‘Mika Do’ tells me in a pre-show tête-à-tête, “on est loin de Pigalle”. We are far from Pigalle, where neon lights flash on the roofs of multi-story sex shops and sequin-flashing, high-kicking Amazons dance on the stage of the famed Moulin Rouge.
 
Even at first glance, the Crazy Horse is a different affair altogether. As we enter,  I am struck by the intimate size of the theatre. Instead of rows and rows of seats in a huge hall, the room is small, dark and cosy, seating for 250, max. We are guided to plush booth seats and almost immediately a waiter appears to serve us champagne. As the crowd chats in hushed voices, ‘George’, a brylcreem-haired, pencil-moustached crooner in a lounge suit straight from the 1950’s, sashays his way around the room.
 
Soon, the lights dim and the stage explodes with sound and girls as the much anticipated dancers make their first appearance. Bare chested, and wearing suspenders, knee high boots and furry hats, they march up and down in the style of sexy Buckingham Palace guards. The number is kitsch, fun and cheeky, but to be honest, I am not moved. As the song comes to an end, I find myself wondering what a striptease cabaret founded in 1951, really has to offer today. In this age, the naked female form is almost impossible to avoid, so can the Crazy Horse, after 60 years, make a strip-tease exciting, daring, even fascinating?
 
Martha von Krupp, a statuesque dancer of English descent, whom I met before the show will give me no leads. “Just keep an open mind”, she says and “go and see it, and fall in love” she adds, with a knowing smile.
 
Working here is not a job for your typical chorus-line girl. With only eleven dancers on the stage at any one time, everybody is in the spotlight. The intimate theatre brings the audience close to the dancers but their quirky, suggestive aliases, mod-style wigs and costumes set them apart. They are, in the words of one "untouchable creatures in another dimension".
 
Developing a reputation for elegance, sophistication and modernity is something that Managing Director Andrée Deissenberg has deliberately developed over the 10 years she’s been at the helm of the company. In that time, she’s forged collaborations with the biggest names in fashion and performance. Dita Von Teese and Pamela Anderson are both former collaborators, and the iconic red-soled creations of high-fashion shoemaker Christian Louboutin, shod the feet of each and every one of the Crazy Girls.
 
Sensuality and attention to detail rules here. “You must live the feelings that you have” says Mika Do. Rather than mindlessly going through the motions night after night, the dancers, I am told, are encouraged to express themselves.
 
The stage is dark again. Another number begins and the curtain slowly rises. A naked girl perches on a chaise-longue, high-heels in the air. Suddenly the lights cut and she disappears from view, only to reappear an instant later rendered in sharp silhouette against a light background. With practiced ease and the confidence that comes form knowing that the entire room is breathlessly following her every move, she draws shapes in the air, and beams of smoky light follow her movements precisely.
“We are clothed in light” Mika Do says, laughing.
 
The story goes that the creator of the Crazy Horse was watching a film in his cabaret when the projection screen was accidentally removed, revealing his dancers rehearsing behind. Delighted by the effect of the film on their bodies, he decided to turn it into a feature of his already iconic cabaret. Decades later, the mastery with which this mysterious woman paints with shadow and light, concealing her body and face with patterns that fade like wisps of smoke keeps us all in suspense, constantly on the edge of a great discovery.
 
The set transforms again and again as the dancers take over the stage, sometimes many, sometimes few. The tone is light and playful one moment then moody and deadly sexy the next. In one number, an almost naked red-headed dancer paces like a trapped cat around a giant spinning cog, in a spine-tingling, powerful and erotic one-woman show. In another, no faces are seen at all, just magnificent legs and derrieres that dance and play behind a large mirror.
 
In number after number, the Crazy Girls dress and undress, command the stage and dare you to hold their gaze. We in the audience fill up our champagne glasses again and again, drinking up the bubbly as we drink up the performances that lead one by one to the exhilarating finale.
 
So does the Crazy Horse still have something to offer in 2017? Find out for yourself, when they bring their world-famous tour to Australia.