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Hope, defiance at last Moulin Rouge show before virus shutdown

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Paris (AFP)

High-kicking dancers with bare chests and giant feathers sprouting from their heads enthralled a full house at the world’s most famous cabaret, the Moulin Rouge in Paris.

It seemed like business as usual at the iconic French venue which has been giving performances for over a century.

But Thursday's exuberant performance at Moulin Rouge was likely the last for several weeks after France banned gatherings of more than 100 people to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The measure is a heavy blow to the cabaret and to theatres, operas houses and concert venues across the country.

But defiance and hope reigned at the Moulin Rouge.

"Coronavirus or not, we have always been very careful," said Romane Boulanger, a French 26-year-old dancer. Physical contact between the performers is an integral part of the show.

"We need to be careful to not become paranoid. In any case, fear doesn’t prevent the danger," she added.

Between acts, the brightly made-up dancers scrupulously pass hand gel over their nail-painted fingers, standing underneath signs instructing: "Keep calm and wash your hands".

Before entering the famous red-lit arena, hand sanitiser was also on offer to the smartly-dressed audience there to see the 60 performers from 14 nations.

Veronika Jukic, a 40-year-old Russian living in Paris, was determined to enjoy her night out with friends.

"I have three children so I think I will be working from home from Monday, so we need to have a good night as it's the last one," she said following French President Emmanuel Macron’s announcement that schools will be closed indefinitely from next week.

Aron Simpson was not going to pass up on a chance to watch the French can-can while drinking a glass of champagne.

"I think the entertainment and the cultural value outweighs the risk of the virus," the 30-year-old Australian told AFP.

Shows are cancelled from Friday, but staff will continue to operate inside the famed venue to be ready to reopen the doors as soon as the ban is lifted.

"The Moulin Rouge is 130 years old, we've been through a lot!" said spokeswoman Fanny Rabasse, who has worked for the cabaret for 25 years. "It has always recovered."

The lights of the red windmill will continue to illuminate the Montmartre district as a sign of hope that better days lie ahead.

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