Thursday, October 20, 2011

Crazy Horse de Paris founder Alain Bernardin for years sold dream that fired men’s imagination

By Nancy T. Lu

Feminists during the heyday of Alain Bernardin were bound to protest his treatment of women but the Frenchman managed for years to round up some of the most attractive women of different nationalities to dance professionally every night in his highly erotic revue at the famous Crazy Horse in Paris.

Three of the 24 Paris-based regular Crazy Horse dancers visited Taipei once with Bernardin – Akky Masterpiece, Cynthia Sainte-Rose and Glory Coloratura. Bernardin compared them to “bêtes sauvages” (wild animals). “We try to tame them,” he said.

He was particular about the proportions of his dancers’ bodies. The length of the two arms combined should match that from the top of the head to the crotch. He revealed the rule of the tape he went by while actually measuring Cynthia Sainte-Rose, a Crazy Horse dancer who took a stage surname suggesting her naivete.

Alain Bernardin began girl watching when he was 14. He remained ever fascinated with the female body.

The body was not his only consideration in the selection of the girls. Bernardin liked them “ambitious and aggressive.” The Crazy Horse entertainers competed to be selected to do unforgettable solo acts that helped promote the Crazy Horse reputation.

With his often almost totally nude girls, Bernardin sold a dream that fired the imagination especially of full-blooded males from connected vaulted cellars at 12 Avenue George V off Avenue Champs-Elysees in the French capital. He started doing this in 1951, even insisting that he catered to the family.

Bernardin had his curvaceous dancers making an erotic show out of their bodies every night. Lights playfully cast patterns and designs on the nude surfaces of the dancing figures. Temperatures invariably shot up inside the cabaret as eyes perceived flashes of the female breasts, hips and buttocks.

International celebrities, by their own admission, dropped by for inspiration over the years. They included Madonna, Prince, sculptor Cesar, and Christo. Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali also used to be Crazy Horse regulars.

Bernardin baptized them all – about 300 girls – over the years. Some went on to become legends in the history of the Crazy Horse de Paris.

The stage names of the girls were indeed descriptive: Charly Commando, Smarty Canterbury, Funky Coconut, Barbara Cool, and Tally Yesterday, among others.

Polly Harper, an American who retired as dancer to work on Bernardin’s staff, used to be Polly Underground. This daughter of an American serviceman in Germany was discovered in a nightspot on Teutonic soil and invited to Paris. “I accepted the offer for I thought I could study French while working at the Crazy Horse,” she recalled.

Most girls joined Crazy Horse after graduating from high school. Akky Masterpiece, too tall to join an ordinary dance company, decided to work at the cabaret while still a second year law student. Cynthia Sainte-Rose shelved temporarily her pursuit of veterinary studies. Glory Coloratura viewed her Crazy Horse stint as a stepping stone to movie stardom.

Some of the girls had legendary romances, hooking millionaires or rather billionaires. Bernardin himself married former dancer Lova Moor. After Bernardin committed suicide by putting a bullet in his head in his office, Crazy Horse has been managed by his children.

Harper with her dancing job behind her shifted to the task of keeping the women performing at the Crazy Horse under discipline. “I have taxis waiting to take the girls safely home after the show every night,” she said. “They have to be protected in some cases from some customers.”

“The dancers range in age from 17 to 26,” revealed Harper. “Their height is between 168 centimeters to 176 centimeters. The average height is about 170 or 171 centimeters. The visual proportion is important.”

She continued: “They come with classical dance background. The newcomers must train for three weeks to two months.”

The dancers report at 8 p.m. and work until 1:30 a.m. The shows in the theater that seats 350 persons plus another 20 standing at the bar begin at 8:15 p.m. and 10:45 p.m. from Sunday to Friday. On Saturday, the performances open at 7:00 p.m., 9:30 p.m. and 11:45 p.m.. Admission price starts at 100 euro. Group rates are cheaper.

Partial changes are introduced in the program every three months. Each number usually has a theme. The dancers can affect the postures of animals behind bars in a zoo in one act. In the next sequence, only silhouettes of shapely women going through the motions of a shower are projected on the stage. Everything is orchestrated to titillate the imagination. Or so dictated Alain Bernardin, “le prince de l’imaginaire (prince of make-believe)."

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