09 March 2008
Yes You Can Can Can
When Mo declared that today's word was "CAN", my comment was, "Drat you've done it to me again! If you say "can" twice, you end up chasing your tail all over the internet to come up with Offenbach, The Merry Widow, Toulouse-Lautrec, August Renoir, Jean Renoir, Moulin Rouge, La Goulue, Jane Avril, and movies in 1952, 1954, 1960 and 2001. A little narrowing down may be in order."
Well I narrowed it down. When you say "can can", you are talking about one dance in one place in one city performed by two women painted by one genius. The can can was first made famous at the Moulin Rouge in Paris as performed by La Goulou and her successor Jane Avril both of whom were imortalized by Toulouse-Lautrec. Since then there has been a broadway play at least four motion pictures: Moulin Rouge 2001, Moulin Rouge 1952, French Can Can by Jean Renoir 1955, and Can Can the 1953 Broadway musical and 1960 motion picture. The Renoir film is the most accurate as to the history of the can can and its place in the history of art and society.
La Goulue or "the glutton" (Louise Weber, 1870-1929) was the dancer who first brought the then scandalous dance to the Moulin Rouge nightclub. Born in poverty in Alsace she moved to Paris with her laundress mother, but at 16 became the ruling talent of Montmartre, often without underwear under her ruffled skirts. Her favorite partner was Jacques Renaudin who was known as Valentin le Désossé, literally translated as "Valentin the boneless."
She fell in love with the painter Auguste Renoir (father of Jean Renoir who made the movie listed above), who introduced her to a group of models who posed nude for many artists. Through these connections she found her way to increasingly more fashionable clubs. When Joseph Oller met her, he immediately engaged her to dance at the Moulin Rouge.
Some of her famous moves included dancing on tables, displaying the heart embroidered on her drawers, and removing gentlemen's hats with her toe. Her earnings from her appearances and touring the countryside made her wealthy woman with a home in Montmartre. In 1895 she resigned the Moulin Rouge to set up her own business as a belly dancer. She believed her audience would follow her, but La Goulue without the Moulin Rouge was a failure. She lost the rest of her fortune in foolish investments and evenually became a homeless alcoholic. She returned to Montmartre in 1928 selling peanuts, cigarettes, and matches on the streets near the Moulin Rouge where she died in 1929, telling a priest that she was "La Goulue."
La Goulou was replaced by Jane Avril as the Queen of the Moulin Rouge, again imortalized by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec through his paintings. She was born Jeanne Beaudon in the Belleville section of Paris, the daughter of the passing mistress of Count Luigi di Font who was never involved in her life. Her alcoholic mother often beat her and when she ran away from home the authorities declared her insane and she was sent to Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital. Under kind care, she improved and started dancing for the hospital employees.
At the age of 16 she was released from the hospital and began working during the day and dancing at the Latin Quarter at night. Using the stage name Jane Avril, she built a reputation that eventually allowed her to make a living as a full time dancer. In 1885 she was hired by the Moulin Rouge to replace La Goulue and became a star of the cafe concerts in the area. The popularity of her can can was so great that Jane Avril travelled to perform in London.
Jane Avril gave a more graceful and quieter version of the can can of La Goulue. She became one of the most recognizable names of the Parisian nightlife, and remained a star for many more years. At 42 she entered into an unhappy marriage and exhausted her savings. Without any financial support following his death in 1926, Avril lived in near poverty on what little was left of her savings. She died in 1943 at the age of 75, and was forgotten until portrayed by Zsa Zsa Gabor in the 1952 film and reborn in a fictional form in 2001 played by Nicole Kidman.
So there you are from movies to movies and real to reel. Now that you know about a dance done by two women who were loved by Paris, I'll end with a pretty Cole Porter song from Can Can.