MARRAKECH: You will not see g-strings, revealing leotards, or nudity at Claude Thomas newly-created cabaret revue in Marrakech. Instead, dancers bodies are demurely hidden and kisses are only allowed on the cheek.
Les Folies de Marrakech, launched earlier this month, is an unusual blend of Western decadence and Islam.
This is the first time I have so many beautiful bodies to show and I have to hide them. Here I am doing a cabaret in the Muslim style because the goal is to have an end result that is 100 percent Moroccan, but also 100 percent Folies, said Thomas.
For the producer, the change was a radical one. Throughout the past 15 years, he put on music-hall performances – first in the northern French city of Lille, then in Japan, Canada, Reno and Las Vegas.
Now it is time to create a new category of such shows for Muslim audiences, he said.
This is not Moulin Rouge because we are not in Paris, this is not the Cirque de Soleil because we are not in Las Vegas, here I m offering a dream while still respecting the country s culture, said 49-year old Thomas.
After facing tough French social laws and unforeseen challenges, he sold his cabaret in France in May 2006, and came to spend a few days in Marrakech where he found a new Las Vegas.
Advised by the Moroccan consul in Lille to call the event a music hall instead of a cabaret , Thomas production lasts an hour and a half and takes the audience on a world tour with magicians, acrobats, pirates, a falconer, magic fountains, dance, music and comedy.
While Thomas may be the creative force behind the show, it is Islam that really lays down the law here. As such, his performers also serve as in-house consultants who let him know during rehearsals what will fly with local mores and what will not.
When she tells me the costume could shock I modify it while still keeping its magic, said Thomas.
Along with his cousin, he bought five hectares of land and constructed a 2,000 square meter hall to host an audience of 1,100 for a dinner show costing 550 dirhams (?50, $78).
Thomas auditioned 300 acrobats, flame throwers, acrobats and break dancers from across the country – finally selecting 47 from among them, of which 12 are girls aged 17 to 32.
They come from all walks of life, from the Casablanca bourgeoisie to street kids from Sale, he said.
Thomas also recruited five choreographers to train the troupe for 14 hours a day for nine months. While the grueling physical training was a challenge, perhaps harder still was overcoming mental obstacles.
The most difficult thing is that Moroccans do not think they are capable of feats and so are astonished when they succeed, said Canadian choreographer Santiago Martinez.
He has also had to adapt his choreography to the rules of Islam. One day, I had asked them to hold their arms in second position (resembling a curved cross), but they refused because they said it was too much like the Christ. So I told them to lift their arms higher, said Martinez cheerfully.
However, on issues of gender equality, Thomas won t budge and refuses to have only women clear the tables.
I respect your religion and I ve even created a prayer room, but here everyone is an artist regardless of their gender, he said.
Nineteen-year-old Imad Al Machriki was a tightrope walker at a circus school in Sale before joining Thomas troupe. Now, while training, he is also taking up school work again, after having dropped out at 13.
It was very hard to become a professional, but today I think we are about to succeed, said Machriki.