Marissa Burgess, the glittering diamond in the 'Cabaret de Paris' crown, first sparkled on the Moulin Rouge stage at the tender age of 17. There she remained for 18 years, accumulating an encyclopaedic knowledge of the nuances of French cabaret while remaining “g-string ready at all times”. She brings her glamourous ensemble to Adelaide.
While Marissa began working at the Moulin Rouge before she had reached adulthood, hers was not an overnight success; she began dance lessons as a child in Newcastle. Even so, her identity was indelibly shaped by her arrival in Paris, as she explains.
“Going over there in such formative years and not knowing anything prior to that, I couldn’t even compare it to anything. I just thought it was normal to have champagne every day of your life and fine dining was the only way. It wasn’t all glamour; the lifestyle was extremely gruelling but when it was on, it was really, really on and when we did fabulous things, they were truly fabulous.”
The cabaret is so entwined with Parisian culture that dancers are akin to Australian sports stars; they are publicly recognisable and everyone knows what team they are from.
Image © David Watson
“The dancers in the shows are treated as minor celebrities and you wear your brand everywhere you go; whichever cabaret you are at, you’re representing them the whole time and you get invited to everything, so it’s sort of ‘oh god, where are we going tonight?’. You think, can’t I just put my thongs on and go the beach?”
Although Baz Luhrmann and Nicole Kidman brought new levels of fame to the red windmilled landmark that Marissa called home, the French revue dance scene was a thriving ecosystem in the 1980s, offering a diversity of entertainment. Marissa laments that often the uneducated will unduly simplify and stereotype her art form. 'Cabaret de Paris', therefore, is show that pays homage to the various hues within the French cabaret palette, with Marissa and her coterie of feathered enchantresses skilled in the styles of the Crazy Horse, The Lido and the Moulin Rouge. Marissa explains the characteristics of each venue.
“If you went to the Crazy Horse, for example, you’d get pure, high-end burlesque; they’re the kings of it, queens as it were, in the whole world. You’d go to The Lido and you’d get an Americanised version of sophistication and snootiness; you’d come to the Moulin Rouge and it’s fun and it’s uncomplicated, it’s Cancan, it’s wild. So all of these places have their own style but it’s all the one genre.”
Image © David Watson
While, for Marissa, dance is a consuming passion, she is aware that audiences crave spice and variety.
“I think it’s a mistake that a lot of people make to get very bogged down in their own craft. I’m a dancer, I love my dancing, I love my dancers, I love choreography but I’m the first person who says ‘let’s get off stage now and bring on a comedian.’”
“You just can’t dance for two hours; that’s not how we do it in France. We have the variety, there’s a little bit for everybody. More often than not, a lot of people come out talking about our comedians. We’re sort of the eye candy, the beautiful girls and the lovely costumes and everything.”