PBT’s Danielle Downey Stays on Pointe for the Cancan

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Swishing skirts, high-kicking choreography…and the rond de jambe? Surprisingly, the chorus line staple, the Cancan, incorporates classical ballet influences from the quick circles of the lower leg to the flying splits of the grande ecart. Today, all Moulin Rouge® performers must bring a solid base in classical ballet training. PBT dancer Danielle Downey offers her take on staying on pointe for Moulin Rouge®  – The Ballet.

By Danielle Downey 

Moulin Rouge® – The Ballet features high kicking legs, frilly skirts, and the familiar sounds of beautiful Parisian music. It comes with no surprise the Moulin Rouge® was the birthplace of the modern Cancan dance. The Cancan is a very high energy dance that was performed on the stage of Moulin Rouge. At the time, the choreography was considered scandalous and seductive. Today the Cancan is recognized worldwide as an evolved form of entertainment, but the choreography used in Moulin Rouge® – The Ballet includes many iconic choreographic moves that were performed on the actual Moulin Rouge® stage.

As a member of the corps de ballet, I have been spent many years training to dance in unison with other dancers and stand in a perfectly straight line. I thought these skills would prepare me well for the Cancan, but it proved to be much more difficult than we anticipated.

I consider myself to be one of the more flexible dancers, but every rehearsal, choreographer Jorden Morris reminds us that our legs aren’t high enough until we are kicking our noses. When I saw a picture of another one of his Cancan dancers doing just that, I started stretching my hamstrings multiple times throughout the rehearsal days.

The notorious Cancan music brings with it an effortless energy, but its fast tempo has been one of my biggest battles as a tall dancer. Getting my legs all the way up (to my nose!?…) and back down in time with the music is quite a challenge. We are also in pointe shoes, which is an added element of difficultly that the dancers in the cabaret most likely didn’t have to deal with. Getting on and off of pointe with every kick takes a little extra time and coordination, but I think it is aesthetically appealing and if done right could make our legs look longer.

We have spent many hours and weeks perfecting our lines, our kicks, and the infamous pinwheel, but I am now beginning to incorporate the performance aspect of it in the way I think a cabaret showgirl would present herself at the Moulin Rouge®. I think that once we trade our mesh practice skirts for the costumes, the bright lights above the stage and the shaking of big frilly petticoat skirts will better help us transform into Cancan girls of the Moulin Rouge®.

The Cancan show in Moulin Rouge® – The Ballet is one of my favorite scenes in the performance. I really hope that when the audience watches this fun and flirty scene of kicks, screams, and top hats, that they will feel transported from the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh to the Moulin Rouge® in Paris.

In the spirit of the Moulin Rouge of Paris, Moulin Rouge® is a registered trademark of Moulin Rouge S.A.