I watched this rather fascinating documentary on the French channel in my cable package called Le Crazy s’enflamme about the Parisian cabaret Le Crazy Horse. It featured the process of putting together one of their artsy nudey shows, from the auditions for new dancers to the finished product. The rigors these girls went through were amazing, from the relentless rehearsals to the necessary sacrifice of personal relationships. It made me wonder why these women dedicated themselves to their dancing to the detriment of all else, almost the way nuns marry Jesus. Why go through all of this just to become a disposable piece of unrecognizable ass to be discarded at the first signs of aging?
There was a bit of background on the cabaret, how it came about during France’s mid 20th century explosion of love for all things American. The founder was Alain Bernardin, and he was of course banging a great number of his dancers. He looked a bit like the French Hugh Hefner. If there is a single visual that thoroughly embodies the patriarchy, it would be a jolly-faced older man enjoying a parade of gorgeous young duplicate women, an undifferentiated mass of nubile female flesh without end. The individual female can’t stay long in the spotlight; the moment a laugh line or ass dimple shows up on her, she disappears. So why would an individual female subject herself to this treatment?
In the case of Hugh Hefner’s mansion show ponies, the answers present themselves easily: a shot at fame, a comfortable life, money. For the girls at the Crazy Horse the motivation is less obvious. They do not get paid much (following one home, we got to see her modest apartment in the banlieue), and they will not be famous. The whole point of the show is the multitude of perfect identical bodies, these girls do not get individual faces. Is it just that they want to be admired? But the audience is not admiring them, it is admiring an idea.
Perhaps it is the idea, then, that draws them. The mythos of the place, the artistry of the shows, what it means to be one of the bodies that form The Body. At some point in their formative years they saw in the cabaret a picture they wanted to be in, like a boy who sees a line of upright men in tidy uniforms and wants to be in the army when he grows up. The singular desire to embody an idea drives them through the strain of their daily grind. Certainly, they are artists. But the simile I used two sentences ago highlights the fluidity of what the word “artist” means–are soldiers, too, artists?
Some images, for they are indeed quite lovely: