Australian Marissa Burgess spent 18 years working 12 shows a week as a showgirl at the Moulin Rouge in Paris. She talked to Nicky Park ahead of the Cabaret de Paris New Zealand tour, which began last night.
Sunday is always a late start. I will be up at 10 or 11am from a really heavy Saturday night. I am on stage somewhere singing until 2am. I get in the car by 2.30 and I drive up to an hour to get home. I live in a rural area, in the Gold Coast hinterland. On Sunday morning I make a nice brunch at home with my hubby and we go all out – bacon, pancakes, crepes, bircher… I’ll try to do as little as possible. I’m not in a hurry to go anywhere. I’m a bit shattered, a bit beaten up, a bit tired.
I am a night owl. Ever since I became a professional dancer at 16 that’s the life I have been leading. I love it. I never have to put the alarm on in the morning.
I started working at 17 in Paris. I was underage, so I had to have a note of permission from my parents to work at the Moulin Rouge. Ignorance is bliss and you’re not really scared. You’re gung-ho. Annoying when you can’t speak French, but you make your way through it. I stayed there until I was 32.
I used to will myself to be older. I wanted to be 36. I didn’t want to be 18; 36 to 40 is when you start hitting beautiful marks. You’ve lived enough, but not too much. There’s still a future, but there’s a lot of past… I could see how men could gush over these women and I could see how attractive these women were. I’d have boyfriends leave me for older women.
I’m a showgirl. The word “showgirl” gets very misconstrued because it’s been forgotten in recent times, given that the golden Hollywood era is over. That’s when showgirls were prominent and theatrical venues like the Lido and Moulin Rouge were very widespread around the world. It’s dissolving away with the internet era and also movie stars and pop stars and other people have taken off with our sector. Everything used to be pure and now there’s all these fusions. For example, Kylie Minogue will have a “showgirl” show, and Pink will have “showgirl” section in her show.
In its pure form, a showgirl is a mix of a ballerina and a model. She has to be those two things combined. She has to have absolute grace and poise, be ultra classy, and she has to be able to dance very well, but she’s not necessarily required to. At the base, that’s who you are. And that’s why I gravitated towards it. I’m a purist.
I don’t tell people what I do for a job. I have to be very careful to whom I divulge everything. I will assess if the person is worthy of hearing my story or not. I don’t trust people. People have hurt me. I’ve spent my whole life building an iconic and wonderful career and to have someone shut it down with an ignorant comment based on something they don’t understand hurts too much. I don’t set myself up for that.
The life we were leading could make your head spin. If you can make it there you can make it anywhere. Australians or New Zealanders over in France, doing what they do, are there because they are at the top of their game. With that, you get put on a pedestal and celebrated and people just want to celebrate your youth, your beauty and your skill. It can get very heady.
I’ve always needed the land and countryside to ground and level me. That’s my Australian side. I used to come home to Australia every year. I would put my toes in the dirt and put my bikini on and drop all my makeup and just remember where I’m from and what’s natural and real.
I’m pretty much Parisian. When I first came to live in Australia it was a huge culture shock for me. I was no longer Australian. I had all my formative years in Paris so I had become a Parisian. That means always pushing to make sure every part of life is ceremonious and beatified… whether it be cooking or dressing or speaking to someone you meet. Just making sure there’s a finesse to life.
I have a natural sex appeal. I can turn up the volume or turn it down. It’s an innate sensuality you kind of do
“I don’t tell people what I do for a job... I will assess if the person is worthy of hearing my story or not.”
need to have. It can be created if you don’t have it. I’m a mentor to dancers and showgirls and I can create it from scratch… it’s a combination of movement, of ways of looking, of posing, of moving i your bd body. S Some people l naturally have it, I believe I do.
We have a lifestyle that we don’t let ourselves ever go. Really letting ourselves go means having two wines and a Mars bar. That’s a party. I envy other people. If I indulged the coming back would be so arduous that it would just make me regret so much. It’s not worth it. It’s easier to live a very tight and disciplined life – our work is a party and afterwards we get to socialise and people tend to gravitate towards us and it feels very lovely. So if we have to put ourselves through a tough lifestyle the rest of the time, that’s the pay off.
I cannot switch off. It’s exhausting. I hate being in my brain sometimes. I can’t make it go away. It’s a godawful trap that the more you know, the more you want to know. I exhaust everybody around me, but if I stop being creative I will lose my identity. I won’t be able to live with that.
The Cabaret de Paris tour visits Wellington on August 25 and Christchurch on August 28.