www.milonga.co.uk - A word of Lunfardo


- a women who is supposedly singing or dancing but is really just showing off her body.

Bataclan theatre Jacques Offenbach The origins of the word bataclana go back to the Paris of the 1860s. Ba-ta-clan is the name of an "opera bouffe" (light opera) or Musical Chinoiserie by Offenbach, a one act farce concerning the difficulties of four Frenchmen mysteriously (some might say ludicrously) adrift in the court of an obscure Chinese province, where Ba-Ta-Clan is the National Anthem. The work received its first performance in Paris in 1855. It was Offenbach's first real hit. Although not amongst his most famous works it was nevertheless enough of a success that when, in 1864, Madame Petit had a theatre built in the style of huge Chinese pagoda, it was decided to name it Ba-ta-clan. The "Grand Café Chinois" was what the French termed a "café concert". Luxurious by any standards, the theatre's exotic style was exactly in the fashion of the day and the theatre was a success from the word go. Its program consisted of vaudeville (musical comedy), operettas, chansonniers and numerous reviews.

The Bataclan was built on what is today the Boulevard Voltaire in the 11th arrondissement, at that time on the very outskirts of Paris and a long way from the centre, a factor that would be instrumental in its decline some sixty years later.

By 1892 the Bataclan was being called the king of the "caf' conc'". It's 2,500 seats were filled every night with fashionable crowds, keen to enjoy its reviews. However, at the same time the new Music Halls were opening in the centre of town. Three in particular were to enjoy outstanding success. Like the Ba-Ta-Clan, all are still open today. The Casino De Paris, just down from Pigalle, and The Moulin Rouge (1889) enjoyed long residences by artists such as Mistinguett and her protegé and long time lover Maurice Chevalier. Then of course there was the infamous Folies Bergere in Montmartre, where women were appearing in the all-together as early as 1893 after a contest for the best legs got out of hand. Ah, Paris.

In 1910 the theatre was sold to Madame Bénédicte Rasimi. Under its new owner the Ba-ta-clan was to achieve its greatest heights. The re-opening, which featured no less a personage than Maurice Chevalier, was an exceptional success. The sumptuous decor and costumes, which were designed by Madame Rasimi herself, overwhelmed the public. Collette performed there in 1911 and again in 1912.

The outbreak of the First World War was by no means detrimental for the Ba-Ta-Clan. Au contraire - they put on no less than 18 reviews. Mistinguett, who herself toured South America in the autumn of 1923, appeared along with Chevalier.

Poster The poster on the right was the work of the Spanish born José de Zamora, one of the most extravagent costume designers for revues such as the Folies Bergere and others. It is for the French adaptation of Lehar's La Danza delle libellule which had opened in Milan in September 1922.

After the war Madame Rasimi began organising tours of South America. In 1922 her show Bataclán de Paris opened in Buenos Aires [1]. The trip was a sensation, with the chorus-girls, who were called batacláns, arousing particular interest. This would appear to be the first time that the word bataclan was heard in Argentina and so we can speculate that it was at this time that the word passed into lunfardo.

By the mid 1920s revistas (magazines) began to appear with titles such as Mariposas de bataclanas by Romero and Seis bataclanas en busca de un autor by Ballesteros. The first occurence of the word in a tango, according to the Argentine tango historian José Gobello, is in the 1927 tango Garufa [2]. However it may have been Juan Bauer's marvellous tango No Te Quiero Mas. This was performed by Bianco & Bachicha in Paris in the late 1920s where its significance would surely not have been lost on the public.

The performances inspired many imitators who were trying to create a new kind of musical comedy, among them Ivo Pelay, Canaro's long time collaborator.

A tour of the Carribean in 1926 found the region in turmoil and Madame Rasimi was ruined. The Bataclan went into a rapid decline. Madame Rasimi was forced out by a creditor and the Ba-Ta-Clan was converted into a cinema. The golden days were over.

In the 1950s tough new safety standards meant the removal of the dome and a number of the balconies. In the 1960s the rise of television coupled with its poor location led to increasing financial difficulties and in 1969 the Bataclan closed its doors, seemingly forever.

bataclan logo

Happily though this was not the end for the Bataclan. In 1975 the Bataclan re-opened once again as a theatre and concert hall. The wonderful wooden pagoda may be gone but much of the sumptuous interior remains. The Gotan Project played there in 2002. Click on the logo to visit their website

[1] Julio Viale Paz, "Esplendor y ocaso de la revista portena," in the magazine Lyra (1959)
[2] José Gobello - Tangos, letras, y letristas (I-184)

Valid HTML 4.01! © Mike Lavocah
I would like to express my thanks to the historian Professor Donald Castro for his help in preparing this article.
Last updated 24/4/2004