Moulin Rouge strikers kick up a storm

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The Independent Online
The cancan has become, temporarily, the can'tcan't. A week after the ending of the lorry drivers' strike, the French disease has spread to the Moulin Rouge, the Paris night-club beloved of Toulouse-Lautrec and coach-parties of pensioners from Bognor.

Nineteen technicians are on strike - and have been fired - in a dispute over bonuses. Performances continue, after a fashion. In fact, they are, arguably, more startling than ever.

During one show, the management spitefully lifted the back-drop during the "grand spectacle" of the Doriss Girls. In the midst of the naked buttocks and boobs, the striking technicians were shamelessly exposed, sitting in on the rear of the stage in their blue overalls. A member of the management then strode onto the stage with a microphone and gave a short speech to the bemused audience, in French and in English, excoriating the strikers.

The technicians' union roundly condemned this humiliation of its members yesterday as an "act of brutality". Patrick Ferrier, secretary general of the national union of theatre technicians, said that his men were "beyond anger" that they had been made to appear involuntarily (albeit fully dressed) in the show. "It is a question of dignity and human respect," he said.

The theatre management, with the help of a few non-striking technicians, is putting on two performances a night, at a minimum of pounds 75 a head. Many of the elaborate light effects and scene changes for which the Moulin Rouge is famous have been cancelled or reduced. The tank of live crocodiles, introduced to spice up the act recently, is still appearing, however.

So are the one hundred Doriss Girls. Union officials say the dancers are sympathetic to the strikers' cause but they are all on short-term contracts and cannot afford to annoy their bosses. Much the same applies to the crocodiles.

The Moulin Rouge (red windmill), on the Boulevard de Clichy in the now seedy Pigalle area of Paris, remains a popular spot. Its great days - chronicled by the painter Toulouse-Lautrec and ornamented by le petomane, the man who could fart in tune - are long gone. Few Parisians would dream of going there any more: the capital has far more exotic and extreme spectacles to offer. But the Moulin keeps turning with the support of foreign tourists and nostalgic visitors from provincial France.