The Woman Who Inspired Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge”

March 10, 2023 | Sarah Ng

The Woman Who Inspired Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge”


Jane Avril was the famous can-can dancer who inspired the character Satine in the musical film Moulin Rouge—and her life was just as tragic as Baz Luhrmann’s fictionalized interpretation of her.


A Troubling Childhood

Born in Paris in 1868, Jane Avril had a turbulent childhood. When she was only two, her father, an Italian aristocrat, left her courtesan mother, Léontine Clarisse. After the split, Avril lived with her grandparents in the countryside for a time. However, her mother eventually took her back—and she had some dark intentions up her sleeve.

Not only did Clarisse want to transform Avril into a courtesan, but she also treated her horrifically. Tired of her alcoholic mother’s brutality, a teenaged Avril fled her home, only to end up admitted to a hospital for a curious reason.

The Woman Who Inspired Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge”Wikimedia Commons

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A Shocking Diagnosis

In 1882, doctors diagnosed Jane Avril with “St Vitus Dance”–a movement disorder characterized by nervous tics and jerking movements. After being discharged, she incorporated these mannerisms into her signature dance style. However, it’s unclear whether she actually had the disorder or adopted it for marketing purposes.

After her release, Avril pursued dance and made a name for herself, garnering nicknames that reflected her unique style: L'Etrange meaning "The Strange One", Jane la Folle meaning "Jane the Crazy", and La Mélinite (an explosive mineral).  She was even described as “an orchid in frenzy.” However, it wasn’t until 1889 that she began working at the Moulin Rouge nightclub.

The Woman Who Inspired Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge”Wikimedia Commons

Her Rise And Fall

Jane Avril’s notoriety skyrocketed after Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec painted her for a poster advertising a major concert. But that wasn’t all. By 1895, she had replaced the most famous dancer in Paris, Louise Weber, becoming a major star of the Parisian nightlife. But the turn of the century was not kind to her.

The last half of Jane Avril’s life was filled with heartbreak and struggle. She faced lung disease and a divorce, but her circumstances became especially dire after the Great Depression bankrupted her. Sadly, though Avril had shone so bright in her heyday, poverty plagued her final years and she died in complete obscurity.

The Woman Who Inspired Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge”Wikimedia Commons

Source: 1


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