North Vancouver dancer Laura Renstad (left) with fellow Moulin Rouge dancer Allie Goodbun of Toronto. PHOTO BY PHILIPPE WOJAZER /PNG
By Gordon McIntyre, Vancouver Sun.
Like many, Laura Renstad first heard of Moulin Rouge from the Nicole Kidman movie.
“That put it on the map for me growing up,” Renstad said via Zoom from Paris. “I was big into musicals and dance shows.”
Now she’s dancing professionally at the iconic Paris revue.
In 2019, Moulin Rouge came to Vancouver to audition dancers, the first time the theatre had been to Canada in five years. Renstad has just graduated from Laine Theatre Arts School in London with honours in dance and musical theatre, and had flown home from England just in time to find out about the auditions.
“I thought, ‘What? This is so cool! I have to go just for fun.’ And I’m so glad I did because that’s what started this whole crazy adventure.”
Moulin Rouge has a minimum height requirement for its dancers of 5-foot-8, and Renstad measures in at 5-foot-8 1/2. There are 60 artists in the current show, ranging from 14 countries.
Her mom put her in dance when she was 10 — she couldn’t stop moving as a kid and she took to dance immediately.
The young dancer had a passion to perform, she beamed on stage from such a young age, exploring the full range of her body’s movements, said Sarah Ahmadi, executive director at Pro Arte Centre in North Vancouver, where Renstad danced for a number of years when she was younger.
“She was an exceptional young lady, absolutely lovely,” Ahmadi said. “She had such a sense of humour and was so community oriented, one of those people you love to have around.
“Certain students — and we love all our students dearly — but a few stand out for going out and beyond and for how they care for and nurture others.”
Renstad immediately caught the eye of Janet Pharaoh when the associate artistic director for Moulin Rouge began holding the Canada-wide auditions for Moulin Rouge in September of 2019 .
“Laura attracted my attention with her enormous smile and bubbly personality,” Pharaoh said.
“As the audition progressed I was very happy to discover that she is also a very good dancer, with all the prerequisite dance technique needed to hold a position at the Moulin Rouge and perform in its famous cancan.”
Renstad, 23, attended Carson Graham Secondary in North Vancouver part-time, attending classes from 8 a.m. to noon and then danced from 1 to 9 p.m.
She was meant to join Moulin Rouge in early 2020, but because of COVID her debut was delayed until this autumn when the cabaret reopened after being shut for 17 months — the first time the house where the cancan was invented had been closed since a big fire in 1915 burned down the original 1889 building.
Renstad lives in a place next door to the famous 1889 windmill — Moulin Rouge means red mill in French — visible out her Montmartre window.
She did all she could to stay flexible and strong during the almost two-year delay getting to Paris. She arrived on Nov. 1 to spend a month in six-day-a-week intensive rehearsal sessions to learn the choreographies, and is now performing in the show Féerie two times a night, six days a week.
Féerie is a two-hour show with over 1000 costumes made up of feathers, rhinestones and sequins, sumptuous settings in shimmering colours, a 60 tonne-water aquarium and the famous French cancan, according to Moulin Rouge.
Growing up Renstad studied every type of dance available to her, which comes in handy now on stage with all the circus-like elements at the famous cabaret.
“The show is incredible, it has lots of different styles,” she said. “Such an array of movements, it’s quite spectacular.”
It also shows you cancan, she joked, make a living doing what you love.
“The Moulin Rouge to me represents an opportunity to transport people into a world of beauty, fashion, French history, dance, music and sensuality.”