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Wall to Wall Balanchine: reviews, comments


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#1 Hal

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Posted 20 March 2004 - 11:18 PM

:ermm: Well I guess I am the first reviewer for this extravaganza. I got there promptly at 11am, ducked out for a quick bite around 2pm and stayed until 8pm when we finally left. 9 Hours of Balenchine. Couldn't last the full 12.

To start at the beginning, Suki Schorer ran a Master Class for the Advanced Womens Class from SAB. This was one of the most intersting aspects of the day. Not having been a dancer, it was wonderful to see what went on behind those classroom doors. Fascinating. And the 9 SAB girls pretty much all had terrific foot work. And Suki looked great and was very informative and charming as she put the girls threw their paces and kept the audience informed of what she was doing.

Next the Education Department had a group of students perform exerpts from a number of ballets. One of the kids acted as the moderator. She had this squeeky over the top delivery. She was a hoot - but I don't think she meant to be. The performances were excellent. I love watching the SAB students. They always seem so good to my untrained eye. The exerpts included short pieces from Apollo, Slaughter, Who Cares, Agon, The Nut, Midsummer Nights Dream, and Tarentella. This had the feel of a traveling show they do in school auditoriums. The costumes were real. Some kudos: Daniel Appplebaum in Slaughter, Mallory Welsh and Giovanni Villalobos in Embraceable You, Jennifer Manzi in Agon, Courtney Muscroft and Lateef Williams in the Donkey pas de deux from Dream, and Jan Burhard and Michael Breeden who were spectacular in Tarentella.

Then Merrill Brockway was interviewed by Barbara Horgan about Mr. B's films. To be honest I dont remember what she said.

Lynne Garafola showed some slides and talked about Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.
Missed some of that as we ran out for a qucik bite.

We also missed most of Gotleib and Horgan talking about Mr. B up close.

Then came some video of various coaching sessions. It was interesting to see the different things that the coaches emphasized. The video coaches included Markova, Tallchief, Franklin, Bolender, and Alonso. Then came the second super highlight.... Violette Verdy coaching Maria Kowroski in the Firebird. :unsure: Maria was wearing this ridiculous fringed schmata around her waist that obscured her fantastic line. Nothing should evey hide or distract from her legs. Fortuantely at the end Maria got in costum and did the exerpt that Verdy was coaching her in so all was not lost.

A Film program is planned for September and Joanna Ney showed a ten minute exerpt from the work in progress of the film she preparing for September for the Film Society of Lincoln Center. All of the films featured Vera Zorina. The feeling I got was that B was very proud of these films as well as his broadway work. I can't believe he wouldn't have loved Double Feature.... but that is another thread.

Elizabeth Kendall, Charles Joseph and Jonathan Sheffer discussed Stravinsky and Balanchine. Interesting how while Balanchine was much younger than Stravinsky, Stravinsky treated him as very much of an equal. Because Balanchine was so well trained musially that he and Stravinsky had this affinity that led to their collaboration. If Balenchine needed some portion of a work extended, Stravinsky would never rewrite or add anything, he would just have other parts of the score repeated in those sections.

Alicia Graf and Kip Sturm of Dance Theater of Harlem did the pdd from Agon. These are world class dancers. Alicia especially struct me with her proper angular attack.

Then Edward Villella introduced Tarantella danced once again by Jan Burkhard and Michael Breeden of SAB. Keep an eye out for these young dancers.

Then a panel led by Isaiah Sheffer with Edward Bigelow, Lourdes Lopez, Violette Verdy and Edward Villella talking about NYCB. Lopez, Verdy and Villella are all excellend speakers and though there was not very much time some interesting items were brought out. Lopez spoke of Mr. B's complete generosity with his ballets. When company members wanted to perform at recitals or whatever he always granted them permission and never charged for it. They also said the Balanchine fees are 1/5 to 1/3 the fees charged by other choreographers. It is still that way as the Trust has maintained that stance. He also very freely encouraged other companies to use his ballets. Villella also spoke of his generosity with providing them to Miami City Ballet. The mentioned the many other companies that he encouraged to use his ballets such as Pennsylvania and Boston.

More coaching archives with Allegra Kent, Melissa Hayden, Arthur Mitchel, Suzanne Farrell and Helgi Tomasson. Then the next fantastic feature of the program. Meilissa Hayden was supposed to coach Ansanelli and Askegard in Stars and Stripes. Hayden and Ansanelli couldn't appear so we were "stuck" with watching Merril Ashley coach Ashley Bouder and Asegard!!!! What a delight. It is interesting to see the nuances that the coaches emphasize. She went through a section of the ballet and then they changed into cosutmes and did a complete run through of the exerpt. The more I see Bouder the more I like her. She is already a company star IMHO.

The next came the only real stinker on the program. David Hays was to talk about Designing for Balanchine. They should have pulled the hook. He was poorly prepaired, disjointed, incoherent, a wast of time on the program. He had one mildly amusing anecodote about Lincoln Kirsten thinking that a ladder that was on stage was part of the set. Other than that a wast of what was probably 10 minutes but seemed interminable.

Then came a panel lead by Kisselgoff with Edward Bigelow, Marin Duberman and Nancy Reynolds to talk about Lincoln Kirsten. Duberman was awful. He never met Kirsten and is doing research on a book but he only seems to know anything about LK's life until he was 17. Not very illuminating on his relationship with Mr. B. Reynolds and Bigelow were more interesting, even if I can't recall what they had to say at the moment.

Memories of Balanchine were readings from books about him. First up was Allegra Kent reading from her autobiography. Then two actresses read from the autobiographis of Tamara Geva and Alexandra Danilova. The Geva book sound like it would be very interesting about the earliest years of B's carreer. Then Villella read from his biography.

Solomon Volkov read some comments that Balanchine had made about Tchaikovsky.

Virginia Brooks, who is filming the Nutcracker Project, a record of the selection of students for the NYCB annual Nutcracker performances. She also had Jennie Somogyi on stage (with crutches - she has a torn tendon) who was shown on film as she was selected as Maria in 1986 and 1987. Then Morgan Fairchild did an exerpt from the Sugar Plum Fairy. Morgan has just been promoted to Soloist.

We then left, quite exhausted from this most wonderful day. There were 3 more hours to go and a line waiting to get in. We felt that we had no complaints and felt good about letting others in. And it was free! Ok, they passed the hat.... but it was voluntary. So kudus to Symphony Space. The had terrific first 9 hours. Hopefully someone will report on the final 3. :)

Oh, a final thing that stuck in my mind. Ballet must be very good for you. ALL of the older ballet dancers looked just great. Maybe it was that those who appeared have stuck to working in it and have kept in shape. But they all just looked great.

#2 bobbi

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Posted 21 March 2004 - 04:57 AM

Thanks, Hal, for starting off with post-marathon comments. I did last the entire 12 hours so I'm a bit tired, but am a thoroughly happy camper. It was quite a day. I'll just comment on some of the live dance and coaching portions, but please don't think I'm giving short shrift to the other portions of the program. (And I even enjoyed the David Hays!!)

First of all, the producers of this event had to do some fast shuffling because neither Hayden nor Tallchief was able to make it. So Merrill Ashley -- as she has done so many times during her dancing career -- filled in and did yoeman duty. She coached Ashley Bouder (BE STILL MY HEART!!) and Askegard in the pas from Stars & Stripes. (There was no explanation, or I didn't hear one, why the scheduled Alexandra Ansanelli was not able to make it.) Anyway, Merrill pointed out and made some small corrections for some connecting steps, which Ashley B, picked up right away. Merrill noted that there were a variety of ways to do certain combinations in the Stars pas, as Balanchine gave dancers leeway to to do what makes them look best. In any event, the part that was coached went smooth as silk, but the beginning of the pas (which Merrill did not coach) had a few snags only because it was so last minute that Askegard and Ashley B. had not rehearsed at all. In fact, Nancy Reynolds commented at the end that timing in partnering was so important. But it was a joy to watch. Ashley B. also appeared in the closer Who Cares.

But the extra special, special treat for me was seeing Violette Verdy coach Maria K. in firebird. (And, Hal, I agree about the rehearsal costume.) If you didn't "know" Verdy by her roles, after listening to her, you know that this lady exudes charm, charm, charm. She gave corrections in the most sensitive yet constructive way. Seeing Verdy was one of the highlights of the marathon. Other highlights: seeing and hearing from Allegra Kent, Jacques D'Amboise and Eddy Villela again!!

There was so, so very much more that was wonderful, but it was exhausting. . .

#3 Dansuer85

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Posted 21 March 2004 - 09:25 AM

Was this the performance were Renard was performed?

#4 bobbi

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Posted 21 March 2004 - 12:57 PM

Yes. The Renard was performed by dancers from the Kansas City Ballet: Christopher Barksdale, Sean Duus, Matthew Donnell and Paris Wilcox. Again, Balanchine always surprises me; there I thought I had seen all his combinations for men and yet those in Renard were totally different from any other Balanchine ballet I can remember. Each one was quite in character with the animal named (fox, rooster, cat and ram). Special mention must go to the rooster (Christopher Barksdale); whether it was the costume or the way he moved his head (i.e., the choreography), the dancer really came off as a rooster!! It is a charming and engaging piece that could be paired with Steadfast on triple bill program. Kids would love it.

By the way, the Apollo of Rasta Thomas from the Dance Theatre of Harlem was very interesting and I thought well done. This was a "premiere" of the old uncut version of Apollo, which was introduced by Jacques (who set it) and Arthur Mitchell. Thomas danced it more as a demi-character fashion before the "becoming a god" segment. You really saw the growth of child to man before Apollo's apotheosis.

Other things that are coming back to me:

(1) How spectalur the television and archival footage looks on a big screen; you almost got the feeling of a live performance.

(2) Suki Shorer's class with SAB level C girl students was a delight. She is a treasure (and there quite a few very talented "comers" to look forward to, particularly one tall blonde whose name I think is Caitlin).

(3) The final clip of Patricia McBride and Jacques in Stars (although black and white and a bit grainy) was very special because it was performed on the opening night of the State Theater. The clip included a brief interview of Balanchine, Kirstein, and Philip Johnson on the promenade of the Theater: a priceless treat.

(4) The clip of Alicia Alonso coaching Herrara and Corella in T&V. Alonzo was trying to get Herrara to move her arms in the spirit of the music. Alonzo demonstrated it perfectly (but I'm not so sure Herrara really absorbed the lesson). But just seeing Alonzo do that one particular arm movement (even while sitting down) was memorable.

There was so much going on at this event that I hope other Alertniks chime in, but I wish it had been seen by all the Balanchine-lovers on this board.

#5 Farrell Fan

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Posted 21 March 2004 - 01:19 PM

I wish I'd seen it too, bobbi, but your reports (and Hal's) are the next best thing. Also hope others chime in. Brava Bobbi for lasting the whole 12 hours!

#6 Alexandra

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Posted 21 March 2004 - 02:07 PM

I wish I'd seen it too, bobbi, but your reports (and Hal's) are the next best thing. Also hope others chime in. Brava Bobbi for lasting the whole 12 hours!

Me too :wink: (I've aways wanted to post that!)

I think they should have given out T-shirts for those who lasted the whole 12 hours, the way they do in marathons.

#7 cargill

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Posted 22 March 2004 - 11:15 AM

I lasted about 6 hours, and unfortunately had to miss the evening, which sounded like the best. I loved the coaching sessions, but of course they were far too short. I thought Ashley was so interesting in Stars and Stripes, stressing that it should not be cute, that is was a classical pas de deux. It was so interesting to see it in practice costume (before they changed into the costumes), and to hear it on a piano rather than the brassy (in a good way!) orchestrations. It is a beautiful pas de deux, and would be facinating to see, I think, danced to classical music--I'm sure some Drigo could be made to fit! The more I see Stars and Stripes, the more it looks like Petipa to me--thoses trumpets and batons seem so close to Medora's trumpet or Kitri's fan.

#8 Manhattnik

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Posted 22 March 2004 - 01:44 PM

I loved it that a few hours (day? weeks? it's a blur) after Merrill Ashley told Ashley Bouder (Ok, this is getting confusing) to make Stars a straight, classical pas de deux, Jacques d'Amboise showed that kinescope of himself and Patricia McBride dancing Stars at the NY State Theater's opening-night gala hamming it up and and mugging to the heavens. And speaking of heavens, how about those times he tossed McBride about 12 feet off the floor for those entrechats? Wow!

#9 Juliet

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Posted 22 March 2004 - 06:54 PM

Askegard tossing anyone what-to-him-seems-like-UP would be about 12 feet off the floor! I remember when Ashley learned it for SAB Workshop they played it straight; of course she was absolutely splendid in it! I think it's vastly more effective this way....in Boston last October it was also especially wonderful because the mugging was kept to a minimum, but not the panache.

#10 Amy Reusch

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Posted 22 March 2004 - 08:08 PM

First of all, I can't thank Lourdes Lopez enough for suggesting this wall-to-wall to Symphony Space... I looked at the list of previous wall-to-wall festivals and they all seem to be music (...though I'm not sure whether "off-the-wall" was music or performance art). What a fantastic smorgasbord for FREE!!! (How did all this come off, did everyone donate their time?)

Renard:

Special mention must go to the rooster (Christopher Barksdale); whether it was the costume or the way he moved his head (i.e., the choreography), the dancer really came off as a rooster!! It is a charming and engaging piece that could be paired with Steadfast on triple bill program. Kids would love it.


Christopher Barksdale was terrific, but as the fox rather than the rooster. He has such wonderful leaps, it must be a pleasure to be a Kansas City Ballet subscriber and watch him in different repetoire. Sean Duus was the marvelous rooster (didn't you love how he shook the epaulettes of that costume? Leaping off that platform was no mean feat either; I forget now how much higher I heard the original platform was, but it seems a lot to ask of any dancer). I believe Duus had retired from dancing immediately after the reconstruction of Renard premiered in Kansas City, and returned just to do this performance.

I think Renard is more of a fascinating curiosity rather than a piece for children. Some of the dialogue about the rooster and his wives is a bit off color.

Balanchine choreographing animal movements... how many of these are there? This seems more mike Prodigal Son to me... kind of expressionist?

I shot the premiere in Kansas City. Unfortunately, this meant not really seeing the live production but rather a miniature black & white through-the-viewfinder version with major technical distractions, so my comparison of the two performances may be a bit off... but... I think being produced on a smaller stage helped cameo the movement better... I missed the live music, of course, and the backdrop... but this performance was so much more brightly lit, and I was so much closer to the stage, that I think I might have liked it better... even if it meant not having the backdrop. I believe some things were altered slightly between the performances as well... I thought the Fox had a more elegant opera cape in Kansas City, and asked Mr. Barkesdale if my memory were correct... he said Mr. Bolender had thought the cape wasn't quite right and changed it.

The costumes and the music are almost reason enough alone for the production to exist. Some of the movement is very interesting. Reconstructions are curious animals... very interesting, but can we judge the original from them? It seems there must be gaps or blank spots... could any one person really remember exactly every step?

#11 Amy Reusch

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Posted 22 March 2004 - 08:52 PM

The live coaching was such a delight.

But it must be such hell for the dancers, no one could possibly thank them enough. Here they come, for instance Bouder & Askegard, doing the Liberty Belle pas from Stars & Stripes, never having danced it together before we see them on stage... and then having their flaws pointed out to the audience... and we sit there envisioning what the coach is trying to get from them, and watching whether they achieve it or not... They don't even have a mirror to work with... I'd like to see this sort of special rehearsal before any production... it's so enlightening... but I can't imagine but the dancers would revolt. The coach gives us something to look for that we might not have noticed before. Dance is difficult to describe, but the audience likes being given details to look for (confess, how many of you at some point in your life counted the fouettes in Swan Lake? Such a dull detail, in comparison)...

After watching Merrill Ashley coach the pas, it was fascinating to see the d'Amboise/McBride kinescope. This was perhaps for me the highlite of the evening, as I had never before seen d'Amboise in his prime (7 Brides doesn't really fill that requirement for me)... Wow!!!! I often make disparaging remarks about how much is lost when a dance is transposed to the screen, but when I think about how many great dancers have impressed me with their televised performance and how very very few times I've had the chance to see them live, I have to take it all back and beg for more dance on screen. It perhaps wasn't McBride's best performance, and d'Amboise graciously apologized for being something of an ____ to her back then... apparently at the time he was miffed not to be dancing with Hayden who had been too injurred to perform). I was very happy to see Bouder in Who Cares later so I could understand what all the fuss was about (mostly this coaching session made me really wanted to see her do Tarantella rather than Liberty Belle, does she?). It seemed the Liberty Belle pas had been sort of trivialized... I know, it's hard to say that about a piece like Stars & Stripes, after all... but I think the points are made better if they're done subtley... hmmm... how to describe.... it's almost (but not quite) like watching dancers who have been given something comic to do without their realizing it until the audience tells them it's funny... when they reprise the roles and are selfconsciously comic, it's never quite as effective... There's Jacques up there, never quite managing to fully point his feet and yet so incredibly elegant and dashing all the same.... the way he tossed McBride up so high... so thrilling! Has anyone danced this pas de deux as well? And those promenades where the man darts in and out dodging the belle's foot... d'Amboise managed to look military smart/dashing and the joke was still in the movement... others doing it seem to do something pelvically to make it rather crude/coarse so that the audience focus is all on whether the family jewels have been preserved.... the joke is there without having to ham it up.

And then there was that issue of the slow developpe a la seconde... it's kind of related to the flexibility issues Arthur Mitchel was talking about in Agon... this flexibility is so easy for these dancers, some of the original interpretation is missing... We have such flexible dancers these days, with such good placement... sometimes it seems like it's so easy for them that they don't know how to make it interesting to the audience? Ballet is supposed to look effortless, right? Except when it isn't.

I loved the bit about how a simple placing of the foot had drifted over time into a grand battement! We should come up with a term for this in dance... it's kind of like the way linguists describe how pronunciations drift over time... I'm not even sure we have a word for how dance is passed down... it's not truly an "oral" tradition...

I wish I wish I wish I wish they had Villella & McBride coach the Tarantella! It made me wonder. Who fits the Villella niche today? My guess the answer will be one of the Cubans. This is not a rhetorical question, I don't see enough dance these days to know the answer, and I would dearly like to see a performance where the danseur is as feisty as Villella.

#12 carbro

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Posted 22 March 2004 - 09:02 PM

I was there almost as long as Bobbi -- physically. Unfortunately I lost focus ( :yawn: :sleeping: ) more than once -- certainly no fault of the planners or participants. It is useful to think of the day as four separate programs, all but one wonderfully planned to show a variety of styles and media. The first program, if you will, was the SAB segment. I felt badly for the SAB student in civvies, the one who "was a hoot - but I don't think she meant to be." Yes, her voice was squeaky and her presentation stilted, but the audience's laughter was rude, and I fear, hurtful.

I've seen a lot of the Works & Process evenings of coaching sessions done under the Balanchine Foundation's aegis, and I must say, none of the dancers has absorbed and produced the corrections as quickly and comfortably as Maria Kowroski in Firebird at the WtW. It does a lot to explain her rapid rise through the ranks. Her coach here, Violette Verdy :wub:, gave imaginative images for Maria to try for. That was one of the highlights. A little bit of Nichol Hlinka on film, learning the original Baiser from Frederick Franklin, was fascinating, too, in that Nichol asked very specific questions, as if to tell Franklin, "I know what I need to learn to make this right," rather than waiting to be corrected. I imagine that Balanchine prized that assertiveness.

It was interesting watching Merrill A. coach Ashley B., in that I found MA stressing elements that I found unsatisfying in her (MA's) dancing -- namely port de bras and musicality. It is as if she were advising the younger dancer not to duplicate the elder one's mistakes.

I loved Megan Fairchild's SugarPlum pas. Alicia Graf and Kip Sturm from DTH brought a clarity of detail to the to their majestic Agon pdd that I rarely see. And, as for the future, I will keep my eyes open for the oh-so-engaging Michael Breeden, who had the right blend of fire and insouciance in Tarantella.

Amy, to the best of my knowledge, all previous Wall-to-Walls have honored composers. This was the first one I attended, but I am under the impression that those are constructed very much like the Balanchine -- with discussions, film clips and live performances interspersed.

What a day! What a night! And Lourdes has my abundant thanks for her foresight and resourcefulness in proposing Mr. B as a Wall-to-Wall subject.

Editing to add:

1) Thank you, Bobbi, for staying so alert throughout! :) I am in awe.

2) Favorite quote: When Violette was asked if she and Eddie (seated beside her) had ever danced together, Eddie exclaimed, "She taught me phrasing!"

#13 Amy Reusch

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Posted 22 March 2004 - 09:06 PM

I think they should have given out T-shirts for those who lasted the whole 12 hours, the way they do in marathons.


I think they could have done brisk sales in these if they had them!

I couldn't get there until just before 2pm, but by the time it was over I felt like I'd been sitting through a Wayang Kulit... dazed and processing the material in front of me with a different part of my brain... Actually, I was still dazed by the next day... took advantage of being in the city the next day to take class with Christian Holder and couldn't hold a single simple combination in my head... must have still been in overload!

I loved the David Hayes reminiscences... And I was fascinated by the Kirstein biographer (perhaps because I've been wondering if there were a biography out there... this is one book I'll definitely run out and buy) What I would have lost were the actresses reading the biographies... even Allegra Kent, whose dancing and autobiography I loved, I would rather have heard interviewed than listen to her reading her book. Villella managed a good read of his book, but still... I've read those books already... and interview might have turned up something new... of course, we couldn't exactly interview Danilova or Geva.... I figure when they first came up with the wall-to-wall Balanchine concept, the "Selected Shorts" shows they've done naturally suggested this to them. It just seems weird to me to have actors portraying people who haven't been gone all that long... I need more Hollywood magic if that's going to work for me...

Speaking of Hollywood magic.... Those Vera Zorina segments... trust Hollywood to think penche was all about cleavage!

#14 Amy Reusch

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Posted 22 March 2004 - 09:14 PM

Amy, to the best of my knowledge, all previous Wall-to-Walls have honored composers. This was the first one I attended, but I am under the impression that those are constructed very much like the Balanchine -- with discussions, film clips and live performances interspersed.


I hear that they're notoriously full of glitches... and that there were fewer technical glitches in this wall-to-wall than in many of the previous ones. All the same, regarding the tape & DVD problems... Bad technology shouldn't happen to nice people.

#15 Amy Reusch

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Posted 22 March 2004 - 09:29 PM

For those of us unfortunately unable to attend, does anyone know if any or all of it will be filmed for posterity and future viewing?


There was someone up in the balcony shooting video... I don't know who it was or for whom they were shooting.... You would think the NYPL Dance Collection, but perhaps it was just for Symphony Space's archives... They must have been pretty dazed by the end of it... I eventually stopped trying to see who it was through the dark, but I didn't notice a change of camera operator. I'm not sure they were there through the performances.

It was packed, by the way... but I didn't encounter a line outside at 2pm, nor later when I ducked out for five minutes hunting for food... but I think at 8pm there might have been a line... periodically the ushers would come by with flashlites trying to find places to shoehorn people in.... Unfortunately there must have been a miscommunication during the Virginia Brooks segment because just as the Sugarplum variation began they let in a whole horde of people who stood in the aisles looking vainly for seating meanwhile blocking the view of everyone else who had been patiently waiting for this performance for ages.


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