It’s a tough job but someone has to do it, conceded Janet Pharaoh, associate artistic director of Paris’s much-celebrated Moulin Rouge.
“I’m looking for good strapping lads,” Pharaoh said in a thick Yorkshire accent despite her 38 years service with the Moulin Rouge (she began as a dancer).
She was talking before Monday’s auditions at the Village Performing Arts Centre in Alexandria, where scores of hopeful dancers – mostly female – endured up to five hours of intense scrutiny to prove whether they can (or can’t) crack the cancan.
Pharaoh has come on this recruitment drive to Australia five times – “it’s a very good source of beautiful, long-legged girls” – and has already held similar auditions in Perth and Brisbane. The Moulin Rouge is associated with high-stepping women flashing their petticoats (and more) in the risque dance that emerged in the 1830s.
But Pharaoh revealed it’s much harder to find an Australian male up to the Moulin Rouge standard, Cubans, Spaniards and Italian men tend to dominate.
“The boys have to be tall because our girls are often 180 cm,” Pharaoh explained. “They need to lift the girls. And like the girls, they need good classical training. But they also need to be good at funky dancing and hiphop.
“Guys have to have a great body to appeal to the 50 per cent of our audience who are ladies. They need good looks and charm. They should be guys who would make me feel proud walking into a Paris restaurant on their arm.”
Over five hours, Pharaoh and resident choreographer Erik Sorensen put the young hopefuls through an exhausting series of cartwheels, splits and ear-high kicks.
As usual, there were far more “boys” than “girls”, though 14 male dancers feature in the 60-strong cast each night on the Moulin Rouge stage – and they, too, have to perform the cancan.
It’s harder for men, Pharaoh admitted: “Sometimes if a dancer is muscled enough to lift a girl, they don’t have the suppleness to do the splits or raise their leg to their ear.”
On the positive side, “the boys don’t need to wear the cancan dresses”.
Pharaoh won’t offer anyone a job until the final audition is over but her final picks will earn the dancing equivalent of a postgraduate position at the Sorbonne.
“If you have the Moulin Rouge on your cv, jobs open up for you,” Pharaoh said.
But, for dancers, it’s not all about the romance.
“It’s a good steady job. You know you’ll be working, so you can start having a normal life. Perhaps put down a deposit on an apartment.”
All the men, and those women who choose to, appear bare-breasted. But today every dancer has to be able to do a credible cancan and sport suitable underwear.
It’s a myth, Pharaoh explained, that the original cancan dancers appeared sans culotte.
“If you look at the photographs you’ll see the girls always wore their bloomers,” Pharaoh said. “But with all those high kicks, the bloomers often split.”