25 Apr 2014

From Liza to Ladyboys….The Origins of Cabaret

From Liza to Lady Boys….The Origins of Cabaret

The sights, the sounds, the girls, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the infectious atmosphere of a blazing hot cabaret performance, the place where audience and show meet in the middle to create an intimate, one of a kind experience. Cabaret shows may give off an air of contemporary culture, such risqué and seductive performances couldn’t have been popular in the past, when lips were stiffly locked in an upright position. Well cabaret is in fact an art form steeped in history, evolving and changing throughout the last century to culminate in the Lady Boys of Bangkok show you know and love.Etymologically speaking the word cabaret’s first recorded use was in 1655, likely derived from the Middle Dutch word for tavern ‘cambret’, this is because cabaret actually refers to the performance venue such as a restaurant, night club….or the one and only Sabai Pavilion.
 


 
The word in modern times resonates with connotations of Liza Minnelli straddling a chair donned in ashyly cocked bowler hat, red lipstick and a lavish helping of mascara, but its origins were a much more sombre affair.It all started in 19th century Pariswith the opening of Le Chat Noir in 1881, noted as being the first modern cabaret club and a name popularized in present culture by the famous Art Nouveau style black cat poster. Located in the bohemian Montmartre district, it was more of an amalgamation of artist’s salon and lively music hall, as opposed to heart pumping shows we are accustomed to today. Artists and intellectuals such as Claude Debussy and Erik Satie frequented the club to share ideas, and ultimately test new ventures on the patrons, who would indulge in food and drink throughout the performances. This new type of informal, more relaxed entertainment proved a huge success, leading to many other establishments following suit. By the 1900’s world famous places such as the Moulin Rouge and the Folies-Bergère started springing up throughout Paris.
 


 
Throughout the 20th century cabaret continued to grow in popularity in Europe, it began to develop into its own particular style of performance associated with intimate venues, varied entertainers and an emcee who led the show. The intimate nature of these shows was something that had never really been seen before. Audience members would sit comfortably and have their fill of food and drink whilst the performers worked around them; this ultimately led to audiences becoming part of the show. Spontaneity and versatility flourished in these shows as every audience is unique, leading to much more honest and dynamic performances. This is why you may see some of our audience dancing in isles, or up on stage with the Lady Boys, the audience are as much a part of the show as the Lady Boys of Bangkok themselves.



Cabaret quickly became associated with liberalism throughout this period; this palpable anti-establishment ambience was particularly prominent in post WW1 Germany. Relaxation of censorship laws meant that people could now express themselves in new and exciting ways, and is when transvestism became popular within the Cabaret scene. This was mirrored in America were many cabarets became speakeasies (venues that sold alcohol illegally) during the prohibition and which later converted to supper clubs where singers such as Frank Sinatra would perform. Drag queen culture thrived in this open-minded setting, and many of these avant-garde performances are why we have such a diverse range of cabaret shows in the UK today, including the Lady Boys of Bangkok.