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Remembering Patricia McBride

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I think it wasn't responsible, even if it was possible, to think about NYCB without reference to Farrell, while she was there. It's not exactly that Farrell set the standard, but if anything, she happened to exemplify Balanchine's... approach. (I was going to say his philosophy.)

You could say that Balanchine chose Farrell to set that standard and exemplify his approach. Which is not to take anything from McBride, but she didn’t hold that kind of symbolic role in the company or the Balanchine repertory, as important as she was to both.

McBride was Edward Gorey's favorite ballerina.

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I didn't know that about Gorey. It's great to hear and I'd love to learn the reason why. She's so different from the stick-thin, neurasthenic, slightly demented ballet women that he often drew!

http://storyculture.typepad.com/blog/image...y_ballerina.jpg

Robert Garis's detailed and very personal book, Following Balanchine, is interesting on the the period when Farrell was competing with stage time and audience attention with other ballerinas who had established themselves either earlier or about the same time. This was right about the time of Jewels, 1967.

If Farrell was the ballerina, Verdy, Paul, and McBride were firmly identified as principal ballerinas as well, and the differences between the four were accentuated and made exciting.

"Emeralds" was Verdy and Paul; "Rubies" was McBride; "Diamonds" was Farrell. There was something for everyone, since each of these ballerinas had her own loyalist fan base in those days. (I don't think that the fan groups overlapped very much, at least not for McBride, Verdy, and Farrell).

It was later that "Farrellitis" set in and began affecting company morale. According to reports, Paul and Verdy seriously considered leaving. Did McBride ever think of leaving, I wonder? Somehow I imagine her as just braving through, and taking solace in were own special Balanchine ballets, where Farrell could not hope to compete.

It was after THIS that Balanchine created Swanilda for McBride. Here's Garis on the early performances of Coppelia. I've put a couple of key phrases in bold-face because I think they reflect some of the difficulties that we had/have in remember and categorizing McBride.:

{ ... ] above all shone McBride's performance. Coppelia carried on my education in her dancing, which I had experienced some trouble bringing into focus.. I had found her splendidly clear and strong in A Midsummer Night's Dream and in Hayden's roles in Liebeslieder Walzer and Allegro Brillante, but she stayed just outside the circle of my special interest until I felt her nervous power in "rubies." Her nonrhetorical eloquence in "The Man I Love" from Who Cares? was becoming a deeper experience the more I saw it: it defined and explored a whole new area of dancing for me, and I saw beyond her terrific competence to something more individual. But it was, in fact, not her individuallity but her lucid and vivid normalcy that made her the right vehicle for what Balanchine was exploring in Cooppelia -- the relation between mechanical movement and natural movement; the discipline of clasic ballet; the relation between dancer and chroeographer.

Garis has an epiphany at the moment when she, "as a flesh-and-blood Swanilda pretending to be the doll Coppelia, pretended to come to life to an oboe melody that resembled a Bellini aria." But the ephiphany is not really about McBride, although she triggers it. Garis finds himself, as he watches the dancing and interactions between Coppelius and Swanilda, thinking about parallels: Coppelius and his dolls; Pygmalion and Galatea; Frankenstein with his monster, a chain of thought that leads him to .... (surprise !) .... Balanchine with Farrell."

It's the same pattern we've seen before: even among those who adore McBride, somehow we tendss to end up with musings about Farrell.

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(I don't think that the fan groups overlapped very much, at least not for McBride, Verdy, and Farrell).

Not for me, I have always been a huge fan of all three, more Farrell and McBride probably because I saw them both a lot more--although my few memories of Verdy in the 70s were thrillling. But usually so, I'd imagine, as you say, because fans love to compare much more than I think is necessary. Or, if they compare, I wish they could consider loving all the 'comparees' a bit more, because only then can you see it as the artists themselves do. Balanchine loved Farrell the most, but look who used all the others so well too--he wasn't really 'comparing', just being profession most of the time, resopnding to his desires and emotions at others. He didn't spend all of his time on Farrell, just was more obsessed with her and made more ballets for her.

It's the same pattern we've seen before: even among those who adore McBride, somehow we tendss to end up with musings about Farrell.

Not nearly always. I expect many people to do it, but I started out as more of a fan of Farrell, and still am a big fan. But if I have to choose between the two, McBride wins for me. I only found that out recently, but it's set by now. The special gift of her happiness and her delight in her male partners is much more my idea of sexiness and sensuality by now than a 'worshipped goddess'. I used to be a LOT more into diva worship than I am now. Diva worship is mostly a camp affair to me at this point. So by now, I only compare them because everybody else is always talking about Farrell no matter what, and that has to be dealt with. I wouldn't say that if she weren't one of the most important ballerinas in my ballet-going life, but she's not my favourite anymore. I do not agree that one always has to talk about Farrell when you're talking about Balanchine in those years; you have to do it a LOT of the time, but not all the time. The Farrell Myth frankly detracts from the great dancer Farrell was.

And so, while it is appropriate that Jewels leads to the top of the hierarchy with Farrell in 'Diamonds', YES, the hierarchy is set in THAT BALLET as Suzanne as apotheosis and pinnacle, but that does not take into account all the other pieces in the repertory, or the subjective feeling we eventually define as the one that means the most to us, in dancers (or any kinds of performers or creative artists), if they are up on a comparable technical and artistic level. In terms of reputation, Farrell is probably at the very top of the Balanchine hierarchy of ballerinas in most people's minds, even when they look back to stars of the 40s and 50s, but McBride and Verdy are, as you say, many people's favourite ballerinas, and, face it, that is what the balletgoer cares most about, who he/she loves most. We are not mostly concerned with the external, with the facade of the WHOLE New York City Ballet apparatus and edifice as it is erected in some kind of inner hallucination for us. We look at a lot of work, and decide 'that means the most to me for reasons I can point to.' And we are all the better equpped to do this when it is a matter of performers who are on an already very high level. That's why Croce kept looking back and forth, one to the other. It could be that, as a man, I am ultimately attacted to McBride's feminine charms in her dancing than I am to Farrell's 'goddess qualities'. I don't tend to worship people, even great artists. And don't think I don't know Farrell is a great artist, I do. Just, in a sense, 'not my type'. I prefer women who let men be as much a part of the action as they are, and you always get that with McBride--always.

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McBride was Edward Gorey's favorite ballerina.

I found a few references to her in an article by Anna Kisselgoff in the Times on 11/13/73, collected in Ascending Peculiarity: Edward Gorey on Edward Gorey.

After seventeen years of nightly viewing, he can visualize the entire repertory, he says, "like a movie in my head." "I can see everyone doing everything now," he adds. "I have now reached the point where I can see Patty McBride doing every ballet, even those she hasn't danced."

And later

Mr.Gorey can remember when his favorite dancer, Patricia McBride, first stepped into the role of one of the bourgeois waltzing ladies in Balanchine's Liebeslider Walzer. She was, he said, "like a governess who had been invited because someone else didn't show up. Now she's the grandest."

Elsewhere in the book, in an inteview with Tobi Tobias in Dance Magazine, 1974, he says

Well, currently, Patty McBride is surely the greatest dancer in the world. Of course, my favorite dancer of all time is Diana Adams . . ."

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(I don't think that the fan groups overlapped very much, at least not for McBride, Verdy, and Farrell).

Not for me, I have always been a huge fan of all three, more Farrell and McBride probably because I saw them both a lot more

I shouldn't have put it that way, Patrick. I guess I was thinking of "FANS ! :wallbash::angry2: " as we see them today in certain quarters and as you refer to as "diva worship." They were once very prominent in opera, less so in ballet. But they were there. I'm going to try to find out how to draw a line through that silly statement. I've seen it done occasionally on BT and it's a good idea when we have second thoughts.

Balanchine loved Farrell the most, but look who used all the others so well too--he wasn't really 'comparing', just being profession most of the time, responding to his desires and emotions at others. He didn't spend all of his time on Farrell, just was more obsessed with her and made more ballets for her.

This has the ring of truth to me. I would love to hear how other NYCB history people feel about it. Especially the "he wasn't really 'comparing'" part.

The Farrell Myth frankly detracts from the great dancer Farrell was.
I REALLY want to hear what people have to say about this. As before, it has a ring of truth. "Myth" -- for me at least -- enriches reality but also distracts us from it. I agree that the serious fan looks at the whole company -- and focuses on the works and how they're performed. If we love X and detest Y it adds spice, but, speaking only for myself, it's not what makes ballet so important to me.

Thanks, kfw, for finding that article. I note that Gorey could never get over Diana Adams. I'll bet Adams was one of the first ballerinas he saw when he realized how important ballet (NYCB) was to him. We tend to remember the dancer(s) who made the first big impression on us when we were novices.

Adams is certainly a candidate for our next "remembering" thread, :( But even I have only the dimmest memories. Agon with Arthur Mitchell is one, but frankly it was the work -- and the bi-racial casting -- that bowled me over at the time. I knew they were dancing well, but I had no idea how well because I had (literally) nothing to compare this choreography to.

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Adams is certainly a candidate for our next "remembering" thread, :wallbash: But even I have only the dimmest memories. Agon with Arthur Mitchell is one,

Yes, please! I hope someone will post memories of Adams, and of that first cast of Agon.

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Did McBride ever think of leaving, I wonder? Somehow I imagine her as just braving through, and taking solace in were own special Balanchine ballets, where Farrell could not hope to compete.

I don't think so. Because of her partnership with Villella, and Robbins' return to the company later, she wasn't as affected by the ascendancy of Farrell as other ballerinas. I remember her quoted saying that Villella was her 'savior' during those years, although she also felt the ballets made for the two of them were more creations for Villella than for her.

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Did McBride ever think of leaving, I wonder? Somehow I imagine her as just braving through, and taking solace in were own special Balanchine ballets, where Farrell could not hope to compete.

I don't think so. Because of her partnership with Villella, and Robbins' return to the company later, she wasn't as affected by the ascendancy of Farrell as other ballerinas. I remember her quoted saying that Villella was her 'savior' during those years, although she also felt the ballets made for the two of them were more creations for Villella than for her.

That's good. I had thought it would read something like that, so that these extra details are very good to get; and this all does demonstrate still further the singularity I see her as inhabiting.

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... but that does not take into account all the other pieces in the repertory, or the subjective feeling we eventually define as the one that means the most to us, in dancers (or any kinds of performers or creative artists), if they are up on a comparable technical and artistic level ... that is what the balletgoer cares most about, who he/she loves most. We are not mostly concerned with the external, with the facade of the WHOLE New York City Ballet apparatus and edifice as it is erected in some kind of inner hallucination for us. We look at a lot of work, and decide 'that means the most to me for reasons I can point to.' And we are all the better equpped to do this when it is a matter of performers who are on an already very high level...

A little OT I know but I wanted to say...

Thank you for the above accurate and wonderful description of both a balletomane and why my answer to most who ask me which dancer(s) I prefer is, "It's not that one dances better than another, but rather, dances differently." It's the difference(s) that matter to me. And only after I've thoroughly analyzed the how & why of those differences, do I finally figure out whether I prefer one dancer more than another. Like you said, "We look at a lot of work, and decide 'that means the most to me for reasons I can point to.'"

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my answer to most who ask me which dancer(s) I prefer is, "It's not that one dances better than another, but rather, dances differently." It's the difference(s) that matter to me. And only after I've thoroughly analyzed the how & why of those differences, do I finally figure out whether I prefer one dancer more than another.

Great point, 4mrdnr. The New York City Ballet when I attended regularly was a marvelous institution for watching those differences and learning how to appreciate them. Everyone had favorites, but I don't recall this getting out of hand or out of touch with reality.

This thread is teaching me something about McBride's range. Of COURSE she was most striking in the roles Balanchine created on her. But, she also did second-cast work -- as did everyone else -- in roles for which she was probably not perfectly suited, but to which she brought her own personality and style.

Question: Patrick, can you tell us more about your memories of McBride in Liebeslieder Walzer?

Also, does anyone know if McBride ever danced the Balanchine Swan Lake?

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Question: Patrick, can you tell us more about your memories of McBride in Liebeslieder Walzer?

Also, does anyone know if McBride ever danced the Balanchine Swan Lake?

Will fill in later on Liebeslieder, it was great all right, that perf, want to reiterate before stepping out what you've just said about McBride in Swan Lake, also interested in Farrell and Verdy in it--I imagine they all did it, and I wish I could have seen all of them. Mainly because the only performance I ever saw Hayden in was 'Swan Lake', and that alone puts her all the way to the top with the others I've seen more. I just won't ever forget that one apparition-like appearance of Melissa.

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Yes, bart, she did: I opened my copy of Nancy Reynolds' Repertory in Review, and there across the bottom of page 131 was a performance photo, with not quite a dozen corps "swans" behind them all down on one knee, arms back, of her and her frequent partner, Edward Villella. "Mid-60s (new production)," says the caption, "...(Photo Martha Swope)" We see her bent deeply back toward downstage and our right over his supporting right arm, her left foot on pointe, the right raised back, her arms outstretched, palms outward, and elbows bent. As Odette, she could well be struggling a bit for her freedom here; it's a dramatic shot, enhanced by being spread across the bottom third of the page in a book where many of the pictures are rather small for their best effect.

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Wow! You're right! Thanks, Jack. I had noticed Villella in this photo but hand't troubled to read the caption. So that's McBride! Different make-up, untypical pose, unexpected context: who would have thought? :wub:

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Well, yes, in this picture we see her face in profile, more or less, and upside down at that. But, not to chide anyone, I'd argue that she's pretty recognizable just by the way she holds herself. Which reminds me of the time she and Helgi Tomasson came to Chicago to headline the first performances of Ruth Page's annual Nutcracker. When the curtain went up on the second act, there she was at the back of the stage in her pink Sugar Plum costume, holding her fairy wand up in the air. She stood still better than anybody had moved in the whole first act! And then of course, after a while, we would see her and Helgi move and show us Balanchine's pas de deux! And all I'd had to do was hop on a train to McCormick Place, no airplanes, no hotels. When I showed up for their subsequent three shows, arriving at intermission, the guy in the ticket window thought I was nuts. (A good judge of character...)

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Thanks, 4rmrdncr, for your kind words and the excellent addition you made to mine.

Bart, yes, Croce has something, I'm pretty sure I read it there, in 'Writing in the Dark' on that same period of 'Liebeslieder' casting, but this is what you were talking about the more tranquil, contemplative, serene Patricia McBride. In this, from 1985 performance, I remember her face more than I do the rest of her dancing. It was uncanny, and I saw the expression one other time on her face as she left Juilliard from rehearsal. Several dancers made a strong impression in that performance, and Farrell was also marvelous in what I recall is a much more extroverted role, she is very youthful. These remind me a bit, these differences in character types, of the Women in White, Red and Yellow in Graham's 'Diversion of Angels', which is one of the more balletic Graham pieces but still not ballet in the strict sense, of course. Not that the contrast was quite that strong, but Farrell's is slightly like the youthful 'Woman in Yellow', who is really more a girl, that's about 'young love'. McBride's character here is more like the Apollonian 'Woman in White' who ultimately prevails over the erotic 'Woman in Red' in 'Diversion'. There is not really 'prevailing over' in the Liebeslieder Walzer, I think, in the same sense, and no parallel at all to the Woman in Red, as I recall, and didn't notice anything of that sort when I saw it in 2006 either. I do remember being equally dazzled by Bart Cook's dancing, there was this 'dancing fiend' about him that day, and maybe very often. I also recall Jock Soto was dancing that day, and Maria Calegari, but memory doesn't serve quite as well, except that Calegari was, as always, very elegant.

But McBride and her serenity is definitely the primary image I retain from that performance, but then this always then recalls Farrell's seeming 'excitement to dance'. when she was seated there was this sense that she couldn't wait to get up and dance again, a youthful quality. This could be an incorrect impression, but if so, I did have it at the time, not invented years later. And then always follows how fabulous Bart Cook was and how wonderful the men's costumes look in that.

Thanks for the info on 'Swan Lake' and McBride, Jack.

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In her article for the Summer 2009 Ballet Review on Todd Bolender and Kansas City Ballet, she notes that for the closing performance of his first season, guests Patricia McBride and Alexander Godunov danced pas de deux from "Giselle" and "Le Corsaire" and Balanchine's "Pas de Dix".

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In her article for the Summer 2009 Ballet Review on Todd Bolender and Kansas City Ballet, she notes that for the closing performance of his first season, guests Patricia McBride and Alexander Godunov danced pas de deux from "Giselle" and "Le Corsaire" and Balanchine's "Pas de Dix".

In the film "A Portrait of Giselle" there's a sequence of Anton Dolin coaching Mc Bride and (I think) Helgi Tomasson in Giselle, act 1.

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sandik, a long time ago I saw a very brief part of this on YouTube, right before the end of one of the clips. thanks for the refereance. I'll have to locate the entire film (or the next clip in the series).

4mrdncr, on another thread you wrote:

But of course I remember ... PMcB (whom I did see live when she did "Bugaku" with her husband in Amherst.)
I'd love to hear your memories of this. What was the occasion? At the College or UMass? What did you think? What DID the audience make of it?

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You misread the caption. Please, note error where error is due. :)

Stravinsky Festival '72

New York City Ballet dancers
Helge
[sic] Tomasson & Patricia McBride rehearsing for production of "The Afternoon of a
Swan
" [sic] at the Stravinsky Festival at the New York State Theater.

I have noticed so many errors in the Life photo posts, it's ridiculous. Embarrassing, actually.

This may have been in '72, but as I recall (and unfortunately I wasn't there) the Stravinsky Festival was wall-to-wall Stravinsky. No fauns -- or even Swans.

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New York City Ballet dancers Helge [sic] Tomasson & Patricia McBride rehearsing for production of "The Afternoon of a Swan" [sic] at the Stravinsky Festival at the New York State Theater.
:D You mean the stuff we find on the internet isn't always accurate? :)

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Just to mention that I finally looked through 'Writing in the Dark', and I can't find what she said about McBride and Farrell in 'Liebeslieder'. I don't know where I saw it in that case, because I was sure it was here. Well, I wasn't, was I?

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One of the comparisons in Writing in the Dark is on pp. 543-55.

There's another an essay, "Love Song Waltzes," in Croce's Sight Lines, dated June 4, 1984. Although she does not compare the dancers here, she puts them in context of the Liebeslieder revival which you attended.

Liebeslieder is the grand apotheosis of the Balanchine pas de deux, and it is fertile territory for any student of Balanchine's view of women. The four women who hold the ballet together are like four planets revolving round each other; the four men ae satellites. Originally, the ballerinas were Diana Adams, Melissa Hayden, Jillana, and Violette Verdy -- a balanced cast that has been miraculously duplicated in Suzanne Farrell, Patricia McBride, Stephanie Saland, and Kyra Nichols.

[ ... ]Out of the whole group, which includes two different [female and] male casts, only Farrell and McBride have danced their roles before. We cannot help seeing them through the lens of Vienna Waltzes, in which Farrell dances the Rosenkavalier sequence and McBride recreates an image of Fanny Elssler. Farrell's Liebeslieder role is much lighter, and she compensates for it by playing young. For McBride, no adjustment is necessary; she has grown back into the role but not past it, and she's as exciting to watch as Farrell.

Earlier in the thread, I think someone referred to another comparison. Given my bad day-to-day memory, it was probably me. :)

In the meantime, I thought the following casting comparisons might be interesting, especially for those who know the original 1960 dancers.

Original Cast ....... First cast 1984 ........... Second cast 1984

Diana Adams ...... Suzanne Farrell ........ Maria Calegari

Melissa Hayden ... Patricia McBride ..... Heather Watts

Jillana ............... Stephanie Saland ..... Judith Fugate

Violette Verdy ..... Kyra Nichols ........... Valentina Kozlova

It's a kind of revelation to think of Farrell and Diana Adams inhabiting the same choreographya quater of a century apart. In fact, Croce refers to the "Adams-Farrell" role later in the essay. I was rather pleased to find McBride associated with Hayden, since both were great favorites of mine. McBride substituted for Hayden in 1961 the season following the premiere. 23 years passed between her first performance in this ballet from the one Croce reviewed in 1984. What a trooper. What a career.

Even though this is off-topic -- it's intriguing to think of Verdy and Nichols in the same breath, as well.

Verdy ... played a gifted self-dramatist, whose emotion is no less real for being insincere. With Nichols, though, the tragedy is real. She sees and accepts her fate. She is gong to die.

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It's a kind of revelation to think of Farrell and Diana Adams inhabiting the same choreography a quater of a century apart.

Farrell danced the role in the sixties, when Adams was phasing herself out of the company - she assumed many of Adams' old roles. Von Aroldingen took over the role in Liebeslieder when Farrell left, and Balanchine didn't revive it when Farrell returned to the company in the seventies.

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There's another an essay, "Love Song Waltzes," in Croce's Sight Lines, dated June 4, 1984. Although she does not compare the dancers here, she puts them in context of the Liebeslieder revival which you attended.
Vienna Waltzes[/u], in which Farrell dances the Rosenkavalier sequence and McBride recreates an image of Fanny Elssler. Farrell's Liebeslieder role is much lighter, and she compensates for it by playing young. For McBride, no adjustment is necessary; she has grown back into the role but not past it, and she's as exciting to watch as Farrell.

It's a kind of revelation to think of Farrell and Diana Adams inhabiting the same choreographya quater of a century apart. In fact, Croce refers to the "Adams-Farrell" role later in the essay. I was rather pleased to find McBride associated with Hayden, since both were great favorites of mine. McBride substituted for Hayden in 1961 the season following the premiere. 23 years passed between her first performance in this ballet from the one Croce reviewed in 1984. What a trooper. What a career.

Bart--GREAT! That was it. It all comes back that 'playing young' of Farrell and the 'she's as exciting to watch as Farell', which was why the performance seemed to have an extra charge to it; but also good to be clear on the rest of the cast, which I'd gotten confused. I do think I was reading it standing up at the library a few years ago, but it must not have been THIS volume.

What I like is the earlier paragraph, because I saw the original production as well, so that means I saw Verdy twice, Hayden twice, and probably Diana Adams the one time. But I was there primarily because a friend was one of the pianists, and was not aware of what ballet was at all then. Still, I'm glad to know I was in the presence of those dancers more than I knew, and one that I never had thought I saw.

Wait, no. What I saw was in the early 70s, maybe that was the continuation of the 1961 original? I thought that Liebeslieder had been early 70s, but I'm wrong there, it's early 60s. Maybe it's that my friend was just beginning to do the piano, I think there are two, along with Gordon Boelzener. But I really can't remember right now.

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