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Moulin Rouge counting the days until cancan returns

The last cancan was performed on 12 March 2020, the longest break since the theatre was destroyed by fire in 1915

Moulin Rouge cabaret's dancers during the 130th anniversary celebrations in 2019. Photo via AFP
Moulin Rouge cabaret's dancers during the 130th anniversary celebrations in 2019. Photo via AFP

The feathers may be gathering dust, but a year into its longest shutdown in more than a century, at least the windmill is still turning atop the Moulin Rouge. "It would be too sad otherwise," said Jean-Victor Clerico, whose family runs the Parisian landmark.

The sails are moving, but everything else has been frozen since the last cancan was performed on March 12, 2020—the longest break since the theatre was destroyed by fire in 1915.

Clerico recalls the following day, phoning round 1,600 ticket-holders to tell them the show was cancelled: "It was unprecedented and painful, and we never could have imagined that the closure would last this long."

He thought it would end in the autumn, then the spring. Now, with non-essential businesses again shut to guard against a fresh spike in infections, he would be delighted with June. "It's hard on morale," he admitted.

For one of the stars, 32-year-old dancer Mathilde Tutiaux, that means more months of trying to rehearse in her small Parisian apartment where the kitchen counter doubles as a stretching barre.

"This third lockdown is demoralising but we remain hopeful. We will return to the stage. The worst is past," she told AFP.

There are 60 members of the cast, all stuck at home now for a year, trying hard to keep in shape for when they need to resume one of the most demanding of dance routines.

"Dance is not only stretching. It's hard to keep the rhythm and maintain the shapes, so we have organised sports sessions on Zoom with our ballet teacher and I go running as much as possible," said Tutiaux.

They are at least supported by the state. "There is a little loss of income, but we can't complain in France. In London and on Broadway, it's been terrible for our fellow dancers," said Tutiaux.

The Moulin Rouge at the foot of Montmartre opened at the height of Belle Epoque Paris in 1889, quickly associated with the wild cancan dance and immortalised in the paintings of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

It has lived many lives, rebuilt after the fire, surviving through World War II, its boards graced by legends from Edith Piaf to Charles Aznavour, and then getting another global boost with the release of the 2001 eponymous film starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor.

Today, it remains a favourite with tourists, who account for half its business in normal times. Clerico remains hopeful it can work even with a limited reopening.

"Social distancing won't be a problem. Although the numbers will certainly be reduced, we are optimistic given the attraction of the Moulin," he said.

The other neighbouring temples to "nude chic"—Le Lido, Crazy Horse—are in the same boat.

Le Paradis Latin, across the river on the Left Bank, managed to reopen for a few short weeks in the autumn before another lockdown hit. "Despite everything, we saw the reopening as an act of citizenship," said owner Walter Butler. "We had to give hope to the public and the troupe." Like many cafes and restaurants, they have taken advantage of the break to spruce up and say they are ready to go.

Well, with a bit of a limbering up.

"As soon as we get the green light, we will need six weeks to get the machine moving again. The cancan requires a lot of rehearsals," said Clerico.

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