BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE LIDO, PARIS, CHAMPS ELYSEES | by Szabolcs Ivan
Performers and dancers, shows, the electric atmosphere from the stage and the glamour that goes with it have always fascinated me. I have always wanted to capture and document this magical world, to have a glimpse behind the curtains, and to photograph the mysterious and secretive world of backstage and the show itself.
I approached a number of performing organizations, dance shows, and ballet companies, until through a personal contact I was given the opportunity to photograph the breathtaking and iconic Parisian cabaret show – The Lido.
The Lido’s prestige is deep rooted in history and dates back to 1928, when the first Lido with artificial beaches was created in the basement of a townhouse on the Champs-Élysées. By day it was a pool where parents could enjoy refreshments while their children played. The doors then shut but reopened around midnight, when the Lido really came to life: a casino, musical shows, performances in the pool and gondolas appeared.
Throughout the century the show has reinvented itself numerous times and the famous chorus line of Bluebell Girls created: strictly selected, talented, long legged, legendary showgirls that dazzle the audience with their elegance, beauty and dance skills. Since this time, the show has grown into a multi-million Euro sensation. Pyramids appear rotating from below stage; dancers and acrobats perform on ice rinks and in swimming pools. It is a spectacle with incredible water scenes, costumes and iconic stunning showgirls.
When I arrived, the dancers were in the middle of rehearsals. I was introduced to Jane Sansby, the ballet mistress who told me that I would only have one opportunity to photograph the rehearsal, show and backstage. The atmosphere at rehearsals was surprisingly friendly and relaxed. The dancers worked very hard and rehearsed every little move numerous times. I was witness to the legendary Bluebells: agile, charismatic, stunning, excellent dancers, with amazing height, averaging 180 cm.
The next night it was time to take pictures from front of house, the show itself. It was a great help I had seen the show before, so I knew where to focus my attention.
The following evening, the main focus of my photography project – documenting the rarely seen, backstage life. The dancers slowly drifted into their dressing rooms, to sit in front of the mirror to apply their makeup. On mirrors were sentimental lipstick written messages, crowded with personal photos, surrounded by light bulbs. The narrow passageways were cluttered with costumes, gloves, make-up products, and towels.
Pre show warm up lasted around an hour. Both the dancers and the surroundings were extremely fascinating: unusual poses, lovely lines and curves, atmospheric lighting, quirky costumes projecting glittery patterns in the background as they caught the light.
A minute before curtain up there was an intensive buzz in the air. Performers appeared from the yellow-lit corridors, put on their headdresses, rushed up the stairs onto stage and made the final adjustments to their costumes. Strong spotlights lit up, huge swarms of colourful feathers, a loud voice announcing the start of the spectacular, wide beautiful smiles on the dancers’ faces, loud energetic beats of music, the curtains open and bang, the show begins.
I was constantly accompanied by a member of staff – it was integral I be in the right place at the right time, movement off stage also had to be carefully choreographed and there was potential to get lost as backstage was on three levels. Behind the scenes was hectic and very dark. Tall showgirls rushed on and off stage, space was tight and there was no room for mistakes. I had to make sure that I was out of the way; otherwise I could easily be knocked over by a rushing performer or a moving set piece.
It was a challenge to shoot in that environment, I had to push the ISO up, slow down the shutter speed and focus manually as the autofocus refused to work in the extreme low light conditions.
Dancers, costume changes, revolving stages, huge props, live horses, watershows, ice-rinks, glitter, feathers, crystals and jewellery all made up the backstage environment. I was lost in my creative zone, where only lines, tones, movements, glitter and shapes existed, the time flew by quickly and before I knew it, the curtain came down.
On my way back to London, my head was spinning, my ears were ringing and I was still under the spell of the show behind the curtains. I knew that I was a part of something very special, something out of this world that can only be experienced by a few, and I was grateful to have documented the whole enchanting and unforgettable performance.