Folies Bergère: A Daring Spectacle

Travel back in time to the golden era of variety shows in Australia!

In 1952, the legendary Folies Bergère made its way to the shores of Australia, courtesy of the visionary producer David Martin. Arriving in Sydney, this grand spectacle captured the attention of audiences across the country for 15 months. It was very daring for its time and featured talented performers that showcased the best of Paris and London.

The Folies Bergère tour featured “les nus,” daring nude models who pushed the norms of the time. The nude models were only allowed to appear unclad on stage providing they did not move. A sneeze might mean the lowering of the curtain. The show was the talk of the town. It was so cold on stage that the women sat in the wings in overcoats waiting to go on. Parisienne star Sonya Corbeau said that before and after each show she always had a strengthening cup of hot Bonox!

One of the most captivating scenes was the Harem Spectacle. The stage was transformed into an opulent and exotic setting. With a cast of beautiful showgirls, this scene transported the audience to a world of mystery and allure. The lavish costumes, sensuous choreography, and mesmerising set design left the crowd in awe.

Other acts were less risque but equally awe-inspiring. The acrobatic act of the Dancing Darescos, the “Le Regiment des Folies Bergère” was a heart-pounding performance that combined strength, flexibility, and precision. These acrobats performed daring feats of balance and contortion, leaving the audience on the edge of their seats.

A moment of pure novelty and hilarity came from Renita Kramer, who dazzled the audience with her unique and side-splitting ostrich dance. She also appeared dressed on her left side as a woman and on her right as a man, Renita’s performance was a comedic masterpiece. Her seamless transition between the two characters and her amusing ostrich impersonation left the audience in stitches.

Cherry Emerson, 17, formerly of London’s Windmill’ Theatre, said: “I don’t like men who get in the front row with binoculars. Whenever I see one I tell the stage doorkeeper and he asks the man to put his glasses away. Once or twice girls have walked off the stage because of this” (The Courier Mail, Brisbane, 11 June 1952).

The unique spectacle brought mixed reactions from church leaders and government officials. While some were shocked and critical, others were supportive.

Church leaders in Sydney and Perth opposed the performance. Bishop Hilliard said it was most important that the minds of young people should be protected from displays that were indecent and likely to be immorally suggestive: “we are drifting into strange ways these days, and such things as this cannot but fail to have a bad effect on the community in its standards of taste and morality” (The Daily News, Perth, 8 Sept 1951).

However, church leaders and authorities in Melbourne were not so bothered. Reverend Lyall Dixon took to the stage at the Tivoli Theatre to deliver an “epilogue,” emphasising the beauty of the human body and the importance of appreciating it as God’s creation (The Age, 10 Feb 1953). After seeing the show, the Chief Secretary and who was the Government Minister responsible for Law and Order, Mr Galvin said: “there is more indecency in the shop windows in Bourke Street. If anyone came here expecting to find indecency he would be entitled to go to the box office and demand his money back” (Barrier Miner, Broken Hill, 26 Feb 1953).

Let’s raise a toast to a performance that dared to be different!