Set on the most famous avenue in the world bookended by the Arc de Triomphe, my friend and I turned into the discreet passageway off the Champs Élysées. A gentleman in a bow tie checked our bags, his colleague checked our reservations and we were escorted into the depths of Le Lido. My date squealed, “It’s gorgeous!” as I caught my breath, stunned by the beauty of the light fractured into a prism of dazzling colour in the hundreds of crystal chandeliers that adorned the room.
Le Lido entrance
We settled into our midnight blue velour seats, cosy, our intimate table for two had a bottle of Lido champagne waiting on ice. We were overcome with silence, needing a few moments to absorb the scene: a crowd of over a thousand had gathered, everyone dressed in their chicest party attire and ready to celebrate. Laughter spilled across the room and a cover band began to play familiar songs from the 1980s and ‘90s to the present. It was all too festive to ignore and we were soon on the dance floor mixing among locals honouring a birthday, a bachelorette, and visitors from across the globe.
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A performance at Le Lido, from Le Lido archives
Cabarets, as they are known today, first hit the stage in Montmartre at Le Chat Noir in 1881. They drew a diverse cross section of society, everyone looking forward to a memorable evening on the town with music, dancing, sensual women, dashing gentlemen and a bit of comedy to enjoy over a satisfying meal and a coupe of champagne.
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Danser, Paris Merveilles
Le Lido opened in 1946 and over the years welcomed international stars Edith Piaf, Laurel and Hardy and Maurice Chevalier. In 2014 the world-renowned cabaret closed its doors for a four-month renovation and the preparation of a new show: Paris Merveilles. Drawing on his experience with the Cirque du Soleil and years in Las Vegas, Italian director Franco Dragone has succeeded in spinning together a sophisticated, spiralling ode to the City of Lights, bursting with light and sheer joy.
Dansers, Paris Merveilles
The Lido dancers, the ‘Bluebells,’ wear this joy as proudly as their outrageous, reworked feather-laden costumes. Exuding glamour, the dancers hailing from across the globe are surreally beautiful and talented; they seem to have arrived on stage from another world, elegantly high-kicking their way across the room in peacock feather crowns one moment, cascading down a staircase adorned with two million Swarovski crystals the next. The costumes are risqué and sexy, without ever being vulgar, which has taken costume designer Nicolas Vaudelet as much balance as the Bluebells need for dancing in their stiletto heels.
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Manon Trinquier, the charismatic singer of Paris Merveilles, photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
If the Bluebells are the silken threads that create the fabric of the Lido, singer Manon with her husky seductive voice is the feathers and lace as she sings a series of original compositions throughout the evening. Songs ranging from swing to pop set a tone that is as rich and diverse as Paris herself. In the true tradition of 19th century cabarets, the show includes Mansour, an entertaining mime, the divertingly funny Housch-Ma-Housch, and Lucky Hell, an exotic sword swallower. For the first time ever, the Bluebells dance the iconic Cancan, their red, feather flounced dresses flashing and flipping in exuberant commemoration of the most enduring of Parisian cabarets. The crowd was dazzled by the romantic pull of acrobats You and Me and an audible gasp was heard when Maxime spun on seven square meters of ice, fearlessly leaping with his partner Solène, tossing her daringly into the air, the audience just metres away.
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Dancers of Paris Merveilles
A light gourmet dinner served throughout the show was finished off by Lenôtre mandarine praline macarons. The evening was coming to a sweet end. We slipped through the beaming crowd and grabbed our coats to glide out on to the avenue. Our feet barely touched the paving stones and the marvellous spectacle of the evening stayed with us, promising a dreamy night as we strolled home through the sparkling streets of Paris.
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Lido dancers, from Le Lido archives