Cabaret conjures up images of scantily clad women throwing their legs over chairs and their inviting smiles at lovestruck gentlemen. But this is far from the original intent of cabaret.
When Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat) opened its doors as the first cabaret in Paris in 1881, it did so as a place for French artists and intellectuals to gather, share ideas and socialise. But it soon became an art form characterised by its ability to push the boundaries. Cabaret clubs began to mushroom in major cities around the world, spawning the likes of Moulin Rouge and Le Lido in Paris to the Café Carlyle of New York City, Tropicana in Havana, the Butterfly Club in Melbourne, and the Jockey Bar in Berlin. Even as far as South Africa, the cabaret influence reached the stages of Sun City and the great extravaganzas of the 70s and 80s.
And cabaret spawned a host of great artists including Edith Piaf, Shirley MacLaine, Marlene Dietrich, Nina Simone, Bette Midler and Peggy Lee. And of course, it was as risqué as it was revolutionary.
The famous French footwear designer Christian Louboutin recalled his own memories of cabaret as such: “I always loved fish for the colours and birds for the plumage. In the same way, I loved those women of the cabaret. They were birds of paradise.”
As any great cabaret MC will tell you, “In here, life is beautiful. The girls are beautiful. Even the orchestra is beautiful!”