How a young dancer from Rothwell became the artistic director at the iconic Moulin Rouge

The world famous Moulin Rouge in Paris returns to Leeds to hold auditions for a new wave of dancers.
The world famous Moulin Rouge in Paris returns to Leeds to hold auditions for a new wave of dancers.

Janet Pharaoh was considered a late starter in the dance world as she joined a dance school in Churwell at the age of five.

However, it certainly doesn't seem to have been a hindrance as the now artistic director of the world famous Moulin Rouge in Paris returns to her home city of Leeds to hold auditions for a new wave of dancers for the iconic cabaret show which delights and thrills audiences in the French capital every night of the week.

Janet Pharaoh

Janet Pharaoh

For the last 20 years it has been the job of Janet to oversee one of the world's most famous shows from costumes, to dancers, to choreography, to the craftsman that makes the feather boas while navigating the French bureaucratic system.

But how did she get from growing up in Rothwell to dancing on stage in Paris, Barcelona and Monte Carlo?

She says: "I started at about five years old but there were kids that had been dancing in competitions at two and three years-old so I was a late starter. It started as a hobby but you almost get sucked into this world if you are at a good dance school and it becomes a family.

"You see more of your dance teachers than you do your parents. I was quite tall and early on I knew I wasn't going to be the greatest ballet dancer."

However, she kept attending the Mullen Theatre School and recalls taking the plunge to ring for an audition that would put her in touch with the old school greats of dancing.

Education or dancing?

"I was 16 and sat in the hallway on the stairs with the phone number. My mother said 'do it' and dialled the number. It was for the Bluebell Girls, I auditioned and they wanted me to start straight away in America. I was doing my A-Levels and there was the big debate about never getting another chance and what happens if you don't finish your A-Levels. It was a hard decision but I took my A-Levels and the gamble."

It paid off though, as two days after her final exams at the then Rothwell Grammar School, Janet was asked to go to Paris - and that weekend she went.

She danced in Le Lido on the Champs-Élysée and danced in Barcelona before being asked by her Moulin Rouge predecessor, Miss Doris, to dance in Monte Carlo.

"She gave me a phone call and offered me a job at 19. I got on the night train to Paris and went to the Moulin Rouge. I had a reputation in the dance world and thought it was great. The job was in Monte Carlo so I went straight there."

Janet danced at Monte Carlo for two years before asking to work in Paris. It was an unusual request as she says dancers usually wanted to work in Monte Carlo. However, she became the dance captain in Paris and when Miss Doris retired in 1997, Janet became the artistic director.

To this day she is still mesmerised by the aura of the dance hall. She says: "The set up is not like a normal theatre, people are sat at tables, there is a dinner first, a live band, dancing, champagne, people are relaxed, the decoration is amazing and then the lights go low."

Her day could easily start at 9am and finish at 2am and involves overseeing the 400 strong workforce that makes up the Moulin Rouge from costume, to stage, sound and lighting, the kitchen, offices and of course the dancers.

Janet, now 60, says the French law and human resources system is the hardest part of the job but the best is what she is doing right here in Leeds this weekend - searching for new talent.

Auditions

"Finding all these lovely, young people and being able to give the chance to somebody whether it be in Australia or Leeds and when you give them the job that they dreamt of as a child."

Auditions for Moulin Rouge dancers are being held at Yorkshire Dance tomorrow (Sunday) at 2pm.

The audition will be based on special requirements such as strong classical dance training as well as criteria specific to the Moulin Rouge. Minimum height is 5'9'' for girls and 6'1'' for boys, well-balanced figure but also and mainly the personality, the charisma and the capacity to assimilate choreographies with class and distinction.

The Moulin Rouge will welcome successful artists into the current show ‘Féerie' where they will travel to Paris for a month of rehearsals and will join the team of 80 artists, from 14 different nationalities.