It all began in Paris – the city of light, love and the high-kicking cancan.
Director, writer and choreographer Jorden Morris couldn’t help but be inspired by the city and its 125-year-old cabaret, the Moulin Rouge.
Walking around Paris and seeing the actual Moulin Rouge and the whole district of Pigalle and Bon Marche, I thought I would really love to do a ballet that sort of took place in Paris; I’m sure a lot of artists have felt that, he says.
Moulin Rouge – The Ballet brings Morris’ Parisian rendezvous to Embassy Theatre on Wednesday.
Since the ballet’s 2009 premiere at Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the touring performance has been seen by more than 100,000 people across North America. The feature-film version of the ballet premiered in Canada’s Cineplex Entertainment theaters as part of their Front Row Centre Events series last week.
The success of it has been quite overwhelming for me, Morris says during a phone interview from Winnipeg. You don’t always know it’s going to be a success, and you don’t always know exactly what you did right to make it a success. It’s sort of that intangible, fickle essence of the art form. We try our best to do a good job, and sometimes it turns much better than you hoped you would.
The ballet begins at the turn of the 20th century when Matthew, a starving artist, meets Nathalie, a talented ingénue dancer at the Moulin Rouge.
Quickly falling in love, the couple meet their fate as they elude the cabaret’s obsessive owner, Zidler – a character based on Charles Zidler, who opened the Moulin Rouge, a shrine to women and the grandest of temples to the dance, in 1889 with partner Joseph Oller.
Morris received inspiration from books and films based on the real cabaret, including director and writer Baz Luhrmann’s high-energy Bollywood take in the 2001 Oscar-winning film Moulin Rouge starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor.
There are some definite similarities in the character arcs and the journey that the lead characters go through, he says. (Luhrmann) was able to take it to a real fantasy type of place. Whereas my production, because it’s live and it’s a dance, I chose to go a little more historically correct.
The ballet embraces comedic choreography, an Argentinean tango and early French choreography, including a traditional cancan line. Morris says that the movement and the mood of the production is inspired by an accompanying soundtrack full of French music and composers including La Vie En Rose and Claude Debussy.
There’s a great simplicity (to early French choreography), but it says a lot of complex things. It has a beautiful form and flow to it, which really matches well with the music, he says.
Although the play includes scenes of whimsy and fantasy, Morris says he wants the human element of the ballet to connect to his audience. Instead of using the classical ballet signs to identify emotions, he directs his dancers to utilize more human movements.
I tell them even though we’re dancing, you still have to have a human quality that you give through your emotional dialogue. Don’t think of yourself as a ballerina playing a character, think of yourself as a person playing a role, and you just happen to be dancing the role instead of speaking it, he says.
Seventy-five percent of all conversations between people are physical, very little of it is actually verbal. My job is to create a dialogue through movement so that people can identify with certain characters, understand what they’re going through and follow them through that emotional journey, Morris adds.
Five years since its premiere, the ballet is now a feature film. Morris worked with directors Pierre and François Lamoureux on the project throughout the two-year process.
The Lamoureux brothers are behind the Grammy Award-winning concert film Zappa Plays Zappa and the Emmy Award-winning Harry Connick Jr., In Concert on Broadway.
It was really about how we make the best product. There was never I want to do it this way, and they want to do it this way.’ They always came to me about the important elements of the story, and I always trusted them to make sure that it read on film – and it did. It was an incredible and wonderful experience.
Whether on stage or on the silver screen, Morris says he hopes all audiences remember that one night in Paris.
It’s a wonderful story that’s set in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, he says. If people could come away with some sort of connection and be entertained, that would just make my day.