D. Duguet, Courtesy Moulin Rouge

How Does the New Moulin Rouge! The Musical Compare to the Real Thing in Paris?

Last week, Moulin Rouge! The Musical, based off Baz Luhrmann's 2001 hit and choreographed by Sonya Tayeh, opened on Broadway to rave reviews.

On opening night, there were a few members in the audience with a unique perspective on the show: Dancers and artistic staff members from the actual Moulin Rouge in Paris. Samantha Greenlund, an Everson, Washington, native, spent the past three years as a dancer at the Moulin Rouge, and spoke to DM the morning after the red carpet event to offer her take on the musical.



Dancers perform the can-can at the Moulin Rouge

S. Franzese, Courtesy Moulin Rouge

How was the premiere?

I loved it. I loved the choreography—the big dance numbers were the best parts. Everyone was on their feet after those. I've always loved Sonya Tayeh's style, and was curious to see how it would translate into a big production musical. Plus, I've always loved Aaron Tveit, so it was enjoyable hearing his voice live.

How did the show compare to the film?

Some of the songs in the movie aren't in the musical, and they have a lot of new, more modern songs. They fit surprisingly well. But sometimes I found myself missing the songs I know. In the movie, there are a lot of medleys, and they're in the musical as well, but with some different, updated songs.

How does it feel seeing your job of the past three years translated to Broadway?

People are going to be very surprised if they come to the Moulin Rouge in Paris and think it's the same show they've seen in the movie or on Broadway! The show in Paris is its own thing. It's a Parisian cabaret. It's about the costumes, elegance, and the French can-can. That's not what you get in the movie or musical. But the history is the same. It still has this place in your heart.

Was is it like performing in the real Moulin Rouge?

So many people grow up wanting to be in that show—it's a dream job. But my background was a bit different. As a kid, I dabbled in everything, and I went to college at Oklahoma City University, where most of my focus was on Broadway, tap and jazz. It took me a while to learn where I was going to fit in as a dancer. I'm 5'10", and showgirls are very tall, so I started getting jobs in Las Vegas. Then, I heard about cabarets in Paris, and auditioned.

B. Royer, Courtesy Moulin Rouge

What was the audition like?

Very long! It was an all-day situation. They started with a full-on technical ballet combination, and if you get through all that, they get into a more eighties, funky routine. Finally, you do the can-can. It's all in there, and they make cuts as you go.

What were the biggest challenges of the job?

I don't speak French as well as I would've liked! Fortunately, the Moulin Rouge is an English-speaking company—you're actually required to speak English, and rehearsals are taught in English. Most people working there are Australians and Brits. Physically, everyone performs six nights a week, two shows a night. As soon as the first show ends and they get the audience out, the next audience comes in and we do it all over again. The second show never starts on time!

Was the job what you expected?

I had never even been to Paris, or anywhere in Europe—and I had never seen the show! I went in blind. My first day, I went in for rehearsal and saw the show for the first time that night. Even in rehearsal, I didn't know what the show was exactly. The first week of rehearsal is just the can-can. After the first day, my legs were dead for weeks.

But the show is what I love about the French cabaret. It's very intimate in a way, with all the tables and lighting and décor. The lights come up, and it's just a sea of sparkles. I'll never forget seeing that for the first time.

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021