- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2001

The cancan dancers may have been canned, but the spirit of French cabaret remained alive at the Washington Chamber Symphony's Moulin Rouge-themed fall gala at La Maison Francaise Thursday night.
The twinkle in Maestro Stephen Simon's eyes and his assurances that "something special is planned tonight" proved all too true, as he later donned a pretzel vendor's costume to deliver hot baked goods to guests in the audience.
"It's meant to coincide with Halloween and be a costume-type event," said Rhonda Halverson, the symphony's executive director. "Over time it has changed. We try to fit the theme to the embassy."
Guests may not have been wearing Halloween masks, although the men showed up in black-tie and many of the ladies donned their best boas to fit in with the lively belle epoque theme.
As guests such as Rep. John Dingell, Michigan Democrat and dean of the House of Representatives, and political commentator William Kristol sipped cocktails and sampled French hors d'oeuvres, they also had the chance to bid on more than 50 silent auction items, including a week in Aspen, Colo., dinner at the Four Seasons and even a chance to wear an elf costume at the Washington Chamber Symphony's holiday concert.
Proceeds from the evening will go to the symphony's educational programs for children. In place of the cancan (deemed a bit too frivolous for these somber times), local singer-actress Robin Phillips Knop roamed through the crowd in a ostrich-plumed black dress singing sultry renditions of "Milord" and other immortal Edith Piaf songs.
The symphony's next concert takes place Friday and Saturday at the Kennedy Center, with a program highlighting the music of Ludwig van Beethoven and Aaron Copland.



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