File spoon-archives/avant-garde.archive/avant-garde_1996/96-11-03.013, message 21

Date: Sat, 14 Sep 1996 15:27:21 GMT
Subject: Naked Ambition 1

   Financial Times, September 14, 1996, Weekend, p. III. 
   Naked ambition to be exploited 
   The inheritors of the Crazy Horse Saloon in Paris want to 
   increase business, Andrew Jack reports 
   One of the world's most valuable collections of naked women 
   resides in a discreet building near the Champs Elysee in 
   central Paris. 
   The Crazy Horse Saloon may not be the most conventional of 
   small French businesses, and its product is hardly the most 
   politically correct, but the controlling family believes 
   its unusual way of generating profit offers tremendous 
   scope for growth. 
   Every night, streams of visitors pay FFr560 (L70) each to 
   pass through an unassuming shopfront on the chic Avenue 
   George V, the only distinguishing characteristic of which 
   is a doorman dressed as a Canadian Mountie who lingers on 
   the street outside. 
   The patrons descend into a small theatre to watch a 1 3/4- 
   hour long show, largely consisting of groups of dancing 
   women who, even if they are not extremely scantily clad 
   when they first appear on stage, certainly are by the time 
   of the curtain call. 
   A recent spectacle involving 14 acts began with a dozen 
   women dancing "God save our Queens", marching around the 
   stage in a performance apparently inspired by the changing 
   of the guard at Buckingham Palace, dressed in little more 
   than busbies and suspenders held in place by buckles in the 
   shape of the pound sterling symbol. 
   "The Crazy Horse is not just another nightclub. It's an 
   extraordinary place, like an octopus that draws you in," 
   enthuses Didier Bernadin, one of the three children of the 
   founder who own and manage the venue. 
   "Other shows in Paris are either a rip-off or rubbish. Ours 
   is refined, elegant, subtle, erotic. It is seductive. There 
   is real choreography." 
   It is also entirely the work of Alain Bernadin, his father, 
   who launched the club in 1951 after variously training in 
   the hotel trade, working as a waiter in London, and doing 
   his military service before buying a bar in Paris at the 
   end of the second world war. 
   Bernadin's idea was always US- rather than French-inspired. 
   He decided to open a theatre offering a variety of singing 
   and dancing acts, with a wild west saloon bar feel, and 
   named it from the start after the American Indian chief 
   Crazy Horse. The then fledgling singer Charles Aznavour was 
   among his turns. 
   Within two years - inspired according to different versions 
   either by Bing Crosby or by pictures in a US girlie 
   magazine he had created the origins of the current show, 
   experimenting with what was then believed to be taboo in 
   France: dancing nudes. Things have evolved since. 
   Solo dancing has been supplemented by groups of up to 15. 
   Many of the acts project images on the women's bodies. Any 
   real voices of performers have been replaced by 
   "lip-synching" of songs. The refurbished theatre now 
   clearly separates the public from the dancers. 
   But much has remained constant. Bernadin always refused to 
   provide meals to accompany the show, arguing that customers 
   could not eat and enjoy the performance at the same time. 
   He ran the Crazy Horse with a paternalistic hand, paying 
   for taxis home after the shows for all the dancers, and 
   even, until a few years ago, putting aside a fifth of their 
   salary - now FFr600 a night - in special savings accounts 
   for when they eventually "retired", normally by the age of 
   Each of them had a unique show-name, recorded in the 
   archives along with their date and place of birth - many 
   coming from eastern Europe and the UK and their 
   astrological sign. He had a strict policy that performers 
   did not mix with customers or with staff - although that 
   did not prevent him from marrying four of them successively 
   over the years, the most recent being the well-known Lova 
   Molly Molloy, the choreographer and a former dancer, sounds 
   almost like a horse-trader as she describes the 
   characteristics Bernadin set down for their selection. "We 
   look for an intelligent eye, a certain spirit, a well 
   proportioned figure, and small breasts - otherwise it would 
   be easy to fall into vulgarity," she says. 
   "They must be medium-sized, with real bums, and distinctive 
   jaws, eyes, and small ears - like a sculpture," adds Didier 
   Bernadin. But he is keen to play down any suggestion of 
   connections between the shows at the Crazy Horse and the 
   rather seedier versions that play to audiences in other 
   parts of Paris, such as in the city's Pigalle red light 
   district a little further north. 
   "I'm a man; I adore beautiful women," he says. "But whether 
   or not the dancers are nude is not the subject of the 
   conversation." He rejects suggestions that the style of the 
   show looks more than a little sexist today. "Even feminists 
   are fascinated by the idea of sublime women, who dominate 
   men as our dancers do." 
   While many may take a rather different view, the Crazy 
   Horse has continued to attract large numbers of visitors 
   and generate profits. The most recent challenge has come 
   instead from the death of Alain Bernadin, who shot himself 
   two years ago tomorrow aged 78. 
   Until now, his three children and heirs have left things 
   all but unchanged, not daring to touch their father's 
   creation. "He didn't want to take the idea elsewhere," says 
   Didier. "He was bashful. He was king in Paris. To export 
   the concept would have put it all in peril." 
   But now he and his siblings are seeking franchisees and 
   partners for a range of spin-offs: exploiting the Crazy 
   Horse's comprehensive video and picture archives, its logo 
   and concept, with the possibility of creating new venues in 
   other cities around the world, as well as itinerant 
   The real value of the club's unusual assets could soon be 
   put to the test. 

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