Feb 1st, 2019, 05:42 PM

The Spectacular Disappointment of Lido

By Jane Addington-May
Lido Paris Cabaret
Image Credit: Lido de Paris - Opening Number
Is the Parisian Cabaret Exhausting Itself?

The diversely talented and ever-shifting cast of Lido de Paris has been gracing the stages of the Champs Elysees for the past 70 years (first at 78 Avenue de Champs-Elysees, and now at 116 Avenue de Champs-Elysees). In 2019, the company has increased their cast to more than 50 performers, including 40 Bluebell Girls, 12 Lido Boys (noticeably fit male dancers who provide partnering or simply stage dressing), and a supporting ensemble of circus performers, singers, figure skaters, and, the male lead, former Martha Graham Dance Company's principal dancer, LaMichael Leonard.  

Lido's newest Paris Merveilles revue is the work of Belgian theater writer and director Franco Dragone, who is widely known for his work with Celine Dion and Cirque du Soleil. His Paris production welcomes its audience into the splendor of the Parisian mythos, with tributes to the city's architecture, romance and history. This newest installation opened in 2015, following the close of long-running Bonheur, which followed a bird of paradise through a four act search for happiness.   

Image Credit: Lido de Paris/Labarrer - Bluebell Girls

The Lido Bluebell girls are, as according to the program, "the perfect incarnation of the Parisian woman, known the world over for her sensuality and sophistication." In this depiction of the "Parisian woman," the statuesque Bluebell Girls consistently appear in some state of undress.

The welcoming number features more than a few topless women. The company insists that “the show, however, is very respectful of women and never succumbs to vulgarity. There is nothing that is designed to be shocking," and in that they are correct. The nudity, by the middle of the show, is almost sexless, losing any sense of eroticism or excitement, it is merely present, and certain pieces seem to serve no other purpose than showing off the dancers' figures, rather than their skill. (And for the number of naked breasts we see in the opening alone, it is hard not to be let down by how fully clothed the male cast remains in comparison. The Bluebell girls, it seems, are the only ones we are supposed to ogle.)  

The real value of the show is in its production, its extravagance-- thanks to the work of the set and costume designers (both of whom, like Dragone, worked on Cirque du Soleil). Costume designer Nicolas Vaudelet, who has previously worked with Jean-Paul Gaultier on Madonna's Confessions tour, as well as Christian Dior, Givenchy, and Louis Vuitton, is responsible for the 600 costumes, 250 shoes, and 200 headpieces that cross the stage in a single performance. His pieces feature all the feathers, sequins and tulle one could hope for, as well as some decidedly charming touches. The same can be said of Jean Rabasse’s spectacular set design, which includes a working fountain, ingenious shadow play, and a crystal chandelier. Unfortunately, the weight of the show rests almost entirely on their shoulders, as Dragone’s concept (the Wonders of Paris) fails to lend itself to anything besides technical showboating. 

Image Credit: Lido de Paris/Labarrer - The Fountain

The choreography has some stellar moments, thanks in part to its richly talented cast. Acrobats, Igor and Iuliia, treat the audience to a partnering that reaches a striking and challenging balance between being visibly athletic and tenderly loving. Circus artist Masha Terentieva and dancer and mime Mansour are both absolute joys to watch. Not to spoil all the surprises, but there is even a fantastic pair of figure skaters on hand. The larger chorus numbers, however, fall a bit flat. The Can-can, without question the most famous of the French Cabaret staples, is a bit lackluster. Despite pulling out all the tricks you could ask for, the piece is disorienting and disjointed, with so much happening at once that, if indeed there were any particularly splendid moments, they were largely lost in the fray. It also lacks a certain crispness, the same of which can be said of many of the larger chorus numbers, the dancers seemingly just a tad out of step with each other. There is also a street scene at the start of the show which aims at representing an erotic, illicit flirtation, but instead calls to mind the very real problem of street harassment that Paris struggles with. (And no, Lido, that’s not sexy.)  

Image Credit: Lido de Paris - Shadow Play

For all the glitz and shine of the production, it is, at its core, just another cliché. The show, in its intention, is perfectly representative of la Belle Époque, or beautiful age, of Paris. The phrase refers to fantasy, or romanticism, of a time when the women of Paris's lower echelons were susceptible to exploitation at every turn. Think of Degas's dancers: young women who came to the Paris Opera Ballet seeking prestige and an escape from destitution, and who were in turn sexually exploited by the ballet's wealthy patrons. The women of La Belle Époque have been largely lost to obscurity, preserved as a subject of nostalgia; it is not necessarily a time to miss. 

Image Credit: Lido de Paris/Mairet - The Chandelier 

Lido, and indeed all Paris cabarets, capitalize liberally on the fantasy of the sexual freedoms of the Belle Époque, and the Bluebell Girls invited to showcase their talents (and their bodies) are representing a familiar cliché of not just the Parisian woman, but the Parisian cabaret girl. This is just the tip of the iceberg of the problem with Lido's Paris Merveilles. The romanticized Paris is a familiar Paris, and the revue fails to breathe any new life into the fatigued tropes. It has some dazzling numbers, certainly, and the production as a whole feels larger than life in the relatively cozy theater, but once the rush of the live performance wears off, there's very little left to dream about. 

All this said, however, if you haven't yet tired of the Parisian fantasy, a night at Lido is a lovely, but brief, distraction from day-to-day life. Until February 20, 2019 the company is offering a promotion of up to 20% off selected dates, which includes a dinner show complete with champagne! The venue itself is warm and intimate, with crisp white table clothes, plush red velvet seats, and, most importantly, an always unobstructed view. 

See the trailer for Paris Merveilles below! (Be advised, this video contains some nudity)

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