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Promising RB Graduates not going to RB


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#16 Simon G

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Posted 26 September 2009 - 03:20 PM

But let's simplify, and talk about the root issue behind this thread - students of a company-affiliated school not going into that company. 'Twas ever thus. Students from La Scala went to dance in Paris, Parisian students danced in London, School of American Ballet students joined American Ballet Theatre - it happened everywhere, continues to happen, and will continue as long as human nature is involved in selecting where an employee will work, and on the part of both the hirer and the hired.



Mel,

I think in the case of the Royal it's a little more involved than that. The Royal like the other great companies POB, Mariinksy, Bolshoi, RDB, NYCB has been linked intrinsically to its school throughout its history until the last decade. True the other companies have allowed in outside trained dancers from time to time (though I am aware that RDB has upped its outsider recruitment policy) but the stars of the Royal have been traditionally a product of its school, ditto its once world-class corps.

The Royal is increasingly like ABT, indeed with its overwhelming majority of Principals and First soloists trained, schooled and working in other companies the real question is the erosion of what was the Royal's style. A style BRB sees as its duty to maintain.

Ruteyo brought up this point:

Another important issue about the recent trend in hiring RBS graduates: in the past 5 years or so, it seems like those who win the Prix de Lausanne Apprentice Awards (not the Scholarship Award) are having an easier time getting into the RB rather than those who went through the RBS system. I won't name names as this may offend several students and company members. If you scrutinize the evidence closely, what does this say about the recent policy of the RB? Is it better to maximize your chances of a Prix de Lausanne medal and buy your way into the RB through a one-shot competition system rather than FULLY investing several years in the RBS school itself? Ideally, De Valois would have definitely valued the latter as the valid gateway into the company. I think the RB's recent hiring trends will cause further polemic with regards to the politics of the RB-RBS hiring relationship. I personally think it's terribly unfair to some of the RBS graduates, who otherwise could have gotten into the Royal Ballet, HAD they garnered a pseudo-company position as a "Prix de Lausanne Apprentice" in the first place.


I think though it's more a question of "fairness" - the school has most definitely been for many years NOT producing finished products, though that doesn't mean that with careful nurturing they didn't have the potential to be "stars" Jamie Bond, Robert Parker, Monica Zamora, Iain Mackay, Thomas Caley, Jenna Roberts - all dancers who at BRB found the means to achieve the technical and artistic abilities they didn't have or which were embryonic to achieve principal status.

The problem is that the Covent Garden company is a big business, expenisve business and unfortunately that business is one which is undervalued within society - ballet. The Covent Garden company needs its stars to be fully formed on entering and sadly it doesn't have the time to nurture its talent.

That notwithstanding the Covent Garden company is a draw for any young dancer, well paid, full time contracts, great health benefits and support and ostensibly a great rep and it will always be a major attraction for foreign dancers. It costs upwards of £20,000 a year to be a student at the Royal ballet school, students from poor countries of course can't afford this means of training and fast tracking into the country, hell students in the UK can't either - it's why despite the protestations that dance is egalitarian and the cheesy Billy Elliot myth, dance remains resolutely middle class, they're the only ones who can afford to train their kids.

Of course given that the training in the former Soviet countries and South America, especially, is so much better at producing the virtuosos modern ballet demands, it's far better for a young dancer to train at home and then use the Lausanne scholarship to come to prominence and attention with the Royal Ballet. It's not Cojocaru, Nunez, Polunin or McRae's fault that they were more talented than their British compatriots and used the only means at their disposal to gain entrance to the company. If the school was producing talent of that calibre the various prizes would be irrelevant, the company wouldn't need to shop around.

The other argument against the Royal's recruitment policy is when an RBS trained dancer gains fame within another company and comes back to the Royal or more often stays with their company and everyone laments "the one that got away" etc but the real issue is that that dancer hadn't achieved their potential at the school and needed the nurturing of a company which valued talent as an embryonic commidity and helped the dancer to reach their potential.

The Royal's burn out rate and injury rate amongst its fast-tracked stars is high, too high. Dancers are given back breaking workloads which cause them to self-destruct before they have the stamina to cope. Cojocaru especially I really can't see lasting another five let alone ten years given the horrendous extent of the injuries she's had to cope with. She was thrust into the spotlight far too soon, or rather she was given a seasoned ballerina's workload far too soon - Mcrae, Putrov, Bussell - all plagued by injuries from the outset. Again and again it comes down to the Covent Garden's bizarre policy of all or nothing, because it's not just artistry that needs nurturing it's a body's strength and stamina that equally needs slow progressive training to withstand a career as a principal.

#17 Mel Johnson

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Posted 26 September 2009 - 04:09 PM

Simon, I can trace the consternation with "intruders" in the Royal Ballet's ranks right back to the policy of retaining Rudolf Nureyev in the rather chimerical title of "Permanent Guest Artist". I didn't like that status then, and I still think it worked mischief against the company's longterm best interests. In the 60s, the title of "corps de ballerinas" was held in common by both the Royal and the (then)Kirov. Both have slipped since then, and nobody seems to have taken their places. While it is, on the whole, a good thing for Britain to manifest its membership in the EEC by following the Brussels Accords on Employment, those policies have worked against ballet companies throughout Europe and have diluted essential qualities which made the Danes the Danes, the French the French, and the English the English. As a citizen of one of the most ethnically-eclectic nations on Earth, which is at the same time one of the most xenophobic, I can both sympathize with and deplore the homogenization of world ballet. Strong direction in the several centers of ballet is needed, and I just don't see any strong leaders coming to the fore.

#18 CarmelaSMira

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Posted 27 September 2009 - 08:24 AM

The Royal's burn out rate and injury rate amongst its fast-tracked stars is high, too high. Dancers are given back breaking workloads which cause them to self-destruct before they have the stamina to cope. Cojocaru especially I really can't see lasting another five let alone ten years given the horrendous extent of the injuries she's had to cope with. She was thrust into the spotlight far too soon, or rather she was given a seasoned ballerina's workload far too soon - Mcrae, Putrov, Bussell - all plagued by injuries from the outset. Again and again it comes down to the Covent Garden's bizarre policy of all or nothing, because it's not just artistry that needs nurturing it's a body's strength and stamina that equally needs slow progressive training to withstand a career as a principal.


On the other hand, we can't really blame the current AD, Monica Mason for that. It was Anthony Dowell who pushed Cojocaru first of all, and Ross Stretton who heaped so many Principal roles on her. We can even look at Cojocaru's brief stay with Kiev Opera Ballet and say that this was the start of many of her problems...

Monica Mason had to continue with Cojocaru from the point where Stretton had taken her - she couldn't really stop her dancing the roles she'd already danced under Stretton and Dowell with no good reason! But look at how well Mason paced Marianela Nunez - and how remarkable her growth as an artist has been as a result. Also, how few injuries she has had compared to others...

Nunez may be an 'import' but she is really a Royal Ballet dancer by now - not a foreign star. The same can be said about many of the RB's foreign principals and soloists.

#19 Simon G

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Posted 27 September 2009 - 09:00 AM

On the other hand, we can't really blame the current AD, Monica Mason for that. It was Anthony Dowell who pushed Cojocaru first of all, and Ross Stretton who heaped so many Principal roles on her. We can even look at Cojocaru's brief stay with Kiev Opera Ballet and say that this was the start of many of her problems...


Nunez may be an 'import' but she is really a Royal Ballet dancer by now - not a foreign star. The same can be said about many of the RB's foreign principals and soloists.


I'm not apportioning blame to one AD, Bussel hardly danced under Mason at all, or at least the tail end of her career. What's endemic however is the injury burn out rate. And indeed the disparate techniques the dancers dance which whether we like to admit or not is injurious to dancers' bodies- that's one thing Guillem was hugely censorious of regarding the RB, and her refusal to dance modern/classical in the same season because of the way it ravaged her body.

Moreover, you can't call Nunez an RB dancer, she's NOT. And this is the problem a great deal of RB flag waving has the appropriation of foreign styles, techniques and training as Royal Ballet style once the dancer has been there a long time. Nunez is a South American virtuoso, from her training to technique and continuing way she approaches the classics and her rep. This isn't a necessarily a bad thing, it's great for her - but only highlights the disparity between what was once a classical company with its own flavour, style, school and technique and what it is now - an artistic and technical mish mash.

Nunez, Cojocaru, Polunin, McRae, Rojo, Soares, Lamb, Yanowsky, Samodurov, Bonnelli etc are NOT RB dancers and never will be and indeed when one puts the "home grown" principals next to them, or rather those few elevated to principal status for what seems political reasons Cuthbertson, Pennefather and Watson, what is most apparant is how lacking they are in all areas of their technique and training and how far the Royal has fallen in terms of a technique, school and style.

However, on reflection I do think it was unfair of me to bring up Cojocaru, perhaps. I feel that Cojocaru's deeper problems stem from the fact that she may not have a body for ballet. She's essentially a lyrical ballerina, with a very fragile musculature and frame, but she was pushed as a virtuoso and had developed a hyper flexible technique, especially her back - there were times when it seemed she couldn't do a straight out classical arabesque even when one was called for, everything was 180 degree penchee with a vertical spine attached. I don't think hers was a body that was destined to last the distance, even when she started at the Royal she had those horrific bunions which necessitated extra wide blocks and those stresses have seemingly continued throughout her whole body.

#20 CarmelaSMira

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Posted 27 September 2009 - 09:20 AM

On the other hand: Nunez has been at RB (plus a year at RBS) longer than she trained in South America. Her coaching in the Classics has been given to her by former RB artists and RB coaches, her time in the corps was at RB. She is arguably the best Ashton dancer in the Company (at least among the principals and soloists) and arguably the best exponent of the RB's traditional mime out of any of the female principals. Yes, she may have come to London as a South American virtuoso, she may keep those qualities still today - but it doesn't mean she can 'never' be an RB dancer, and I would definitely say that her maturity as an artist has come from the Royal Ballet. And in terms of what she does, she may guest a bit but she is very much a Company dancer - she spends most of her time and does most of her performances at London and with RB.

#21 CarmelaSMira

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Posted 27 September 2009 - 09:23 AM

Even more so - Polunin has been at RBS since he was in his early teens, he even spent time at White Lodge! He may not be pure 'Royal Ballet material', the same for Nunez, but it doesn't mean you can say they are not demonstrative of RB style, just because they have had outside influence.

#22 canbelto

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Posted 27 September 2009 - 09:33 AM

Nunez, Cojocaru, Polunin, McRae, Rojo, Soares, Lamb, Yanowsky, Samodurov, Bonnelli etc are NOT RB dancers and never will be and indeed when one puts the "home grown" principals next to them, or rather those few elevated to principal status for what seems political reasons Cuthbertson, Pennefather and Watson, what is most apparant is how lacking they are in all areas of their technique and training and how far the Royal has fallen in terms of a technique, school and style.


That's a rather harsh assessment. All of these dancers have danced with the RB for many years and taken pains to absorb the RB repertoire and yes, style. That's like saying Peter Martins was NOT a Balanchine dancer and never would be because he wasn't trained at the SAB.
I also think the "British style" was influenced a lot by its repertoire (Ashton), rather than specific training. Margot Fonteyn and the other "founders" of British ballet had disparate training backgrounds but were united by their choreographer (Ashton) and the vision of Ninette de Valois. To me, the question should be, are these dancers able to do justice to the Royal repertoire? Not whether they were trained at White Lodge.

#23 Simon G

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Posted 27 September 2009 - 11:49 AM

That's a rather harsh assessment. All of these dancers have danced with the RB for many years and taken pains to absorb the RB repertoire and yes, style. That's like saying Peter Martins was NOT a Balanchine dancer and never would be because he wasn't trained at the SAB.
I also think the "British style" was influenced a lot by its repertoire (Ashton), rather than specific training. Margot Fonteyn and the other "founders" of British ballet had disparate training backgrounds but were united by their choreographer (Ashton) and the vision of Ninette de Valois. To me, the question should be, are these dancers able to do justice to the Royal repertoire? Not whether they were trained at White Lodge.



No Canbelto, it's not harsh at all. Indeed Martins went through years of having Balanchine practically torture him until he felt that finally he WAS a Balanchine dancer, so I'm afraid your comparison just doesn't hold water. The current trend of the RB seems to be "come as you are", as long as you can turn like a top, extend like elastic homogeny and style doesn't count.

Yes, canbelto, you're right on one count, Ashton and Fonteyn were vital for the founding of the British style, just as De Valois with her Russian based and Checcetti based influences, just as Balanchine, who you did indeed mention earlier would have been nothing without his basis in Vaganova Mariinsky style, ditto Petipa, ditto Bounonville and this saddens me that you so blithely dismiss the very cornerstone of balletic schooling, training and company uniqueness - without that incredible alchemy of a bedrock of ballet schooling, visionary choreographer and directorship ballet wouldn't evolve. It's what makes a great company great - and which the Royal seems to happy to toss away and no longer invest in.

I agree that it can be thrilling to watch the latest virtuoso bash their way through a company's rep with total disregard for what that company means, and their choreographic style but it's a dead end for ballet.

Indeed I argued as well that if White Lodge isn't training dancers to be complete and able to dance a rep, what's wrong with foreign nationals using the Prix de Lausanne to gain entry to the Royal. It's just a crying shame that the school doesn't seem to armour its students with the full armoury they need and the company at Covent Garden isn't prepared to develop those dancers. Nathalie Harrison is a worrying addition to the company if that's where Mason intends the modern British ballerina to be heading - she's a British Alina Somova.

And no, Canbelto, however many times one may repeat it, Nunez is NOT a british dancer in technique, temperament or style not will she ever be, her use of time and musicality sets her apart from any of her British contemporaries, it's thoroughly Latin American and that's before we even get to her technique - yes, she's a thrilling dancer, that I don't disagree with.

#24 canbelto

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Posted 27 September 2009 - 12:50 PM

And no, Canbelto, however many times one may repeat it, Nunez is NOT a british dancer in technique, temperament or style not will she ever be, her use of time and musicality sets her apart from any of her British contemporaries, it's thoroughly Latin American and that's before we even get to her technique - yes, she's a thrilling dancer, that I don't disagree with.


I'm not blithely dismissing anything, just pointing out that the Royal Ballet has never been a completely homogeneous company in terms of schooling and training. What united it was its repertory (Ashton, and later, MacMillan, and de Valois's commitment to the Petipa classics) and that itself created a style. It's sort of like the first generation Balanchine dancers spoke that it was dancing Balanchine's ballets that made them "Balanchine dancers." If that repertory has not been maintained up to standards I don't think it's because the RB lacks talented dancers.
Having also seen Nunez both live and on video I don't really see anything "Latin American" about her dancing, other than her ethnic heritage.

#25 Mashinka

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Posted 28 September 2009 - 01:14 AM

Perhaps if the Royal Ballet went back to having Ashton's choreography as the bedrock of the company, those very diverse dancers would begin to develop some English style but it won't happen all the time there is a reliance on the MacMillan/McGregor choreographic axis.

#26 Simon G

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Posted 28 September 2009 - 07:00 AM

Perhaps if the Royal Ballet went back to having Ashton's choreography as the bedrock of the company, those very diverse dancers would begin to develop some English style but it won't happen all the time there is a reliance on the MacMillan/McGregor choreographic axis.



This is the ultimate crux of the matter, a great company is great because of what it is, the people who defined it:

Without Ashton, the Royal Ballet would never have existed; ditto New York City Ballet with Balanchine, ditto Royal Danish Ballet with Bournonville, ditto Bolshoi, Mariinksy, Paris Opera with Petipa.

Take out those ballets and works, water them down, neuter them and in less than a generation those compaines become faded parodies of what they once were. The attrition of POB after Nureyev built it into a phenomenal classical company happened remarkably quickly as successive AD's took out the classics and made the companies rep a bizarre hotch potch of contemporary and euro-trendy dance styles. NYCB, suffers under Martins' insistence on programming endless new works by himself and the company becomes ill versed in Balanchine's language.

There's nothing to be ashamed of in holding on to the style and school which made a company great. And I'm not saying that the RB should be UK-centric. Under De Valois, Ashton and Lambert there was a huge influx of foreign nationals who came to the school and entered the company because the training and schooling were second to none, the company was the absolute pinnacle of classical style, filtered through a uniquely British temperament. The stars created by the school and company reads like a who's who of ballet in the latter half of the 20th century.

When I say Latin American for Nunez I don't mean some kind of West Side Story spitfire, I mean her approach to music, tempo, technique and style is unmistakably forged in the Latin American virtuoso schools, she's a lovely dancer sure but when she leads the company all that one can see is the huge gulf between herself and her RBS contemporaries who more often than not are relegated to corps, crowds and demi caractere. The same for McRae, who I just can't stand as a dancer, it's flashy technique and pugnacious teeth-n-tits stage presence.

A quick look at the RB rep for the next six months is pretty depressing, Sleeping Beauty, that awful after-Messel bowlderized version now in the rep, a Christmas Nutcracker, a Fille and then a predominance of MacMillan to bring in the crowds. The Royal is now so much like ABT it's scary.

#27 Mel Johnson

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Posted 28 September 2009 - 09:51 AM

I still have to return to my earlier point about strong leadership with regard to national companies' identities, and the Birmingham discussion exemplifies my point. Leadership is stronger there than at Covent Garden, it would seem, and the identity of the company seems more unified. Perhaps a revised hermeneutic for the Royal Ballet(s) is in order. Birmingham is a national ballet company, Covent Garden is an arm of State?

Alas, we cannot order up genius. Even though we may pine for an Ashton, a Balanchine, a Bournonville, a Staats, we can't do much more than to afford talented possibilities an environment in which genius may be nurtured, and then, maybe, develop.

#28 kdubzz

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Posted 28 September 2009 - 10:22 PM

Off-topic for the thread on the RB's Cuban tour, from which this topic was split. If you don't see a topical thread, feel free to open one.

Unless she said something to that effect in a published interview, I'm not sure we know that Nutnaree -- or anyone -- wasn't offered a contract with RB. That's usually private, between dancer and company. Any number of factors could have influenced a dancer's choice -- repertoire, proximity to family and/or friends, coaches.


Carbro, the reason why I cited Nutnaree as an example was because she has stated in at least two different published interviews that she was offered contracts with a number of different companies, including BRB, ABT Studio, Hamburg, and SF Ballet - but specifically never has included RB amongst them.

#29 kdubzz

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Posted 28 September 2009 - 10:51 PM

I apologize to anyone who took offense to my initial post which began this thread, as I in no way meant to give short shrift to BRB or other smaller companies. I of course completely understand why some dancers would choose a contract with a smaller company than RB even when given a choice, especially if given the opportunity to join a wonderful company like BRB. The root of my question was partially that, being an American, I didn't know much about the current relationship (if there is one) between RB and BRB - which is why I posed the original post as a question and not a statement of fact or opinion. I remembered that in the past, BRB (which was known as Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet) was the smaller, touring arm of the Royal Ballet and acted as a sort of sister company that often fed dancers into the larger company after they'd gotten some experience under their belt. I simply wanted to know if this was still the case - I wasn't trying to suggest that the current BRB was inherently inferior to RB. Again the reason why this question arose was that I recalled that Darcey Bussell, despite being a top RB School student who was already being eyed as a future star of the Royal Ballet, had first gone into Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet following graduation - not into RB. For her and others, the smaller company was, indeed, a 'stepping stone' (and I mean to imply nothing pejorative about that term either). Nadia Nerina, Lynn Seymour, Leanne Benjamin, Miyako Yoshida, and Isabel McMeekan are also amongst those RB dancers who began their careers at what is now known as BRB before moving to RB.

Since making the original post, I have researched and found that the official relationship between RB and BRB ended in '97 but was wondering whether on some informal level, at least from the RB's and/or the dancers' standpoint, aspects of the prior relationship may still exist. Aside from Delia Matthews, I noticed that another of the school's top recent grads, Dusty Button, has gone into BRB. In published interviews Button has stated that her dream company is RB and that this is why she turned down a contract with ABT Studio in order to continue studying at the RB School - in hopes of getting into the company. Given that she ended up going into BRB right after graduation, presumably she did not get offered that RB contract despite having gotten principal roles in RB School performances, etc. My idea was that perhaps some young dancers who DO aspire to RB view BRB as a place in which to gain experience while remaining in close enough proximity to the RB that the latter's directors may keep an eye on them for future RB corps positions. I was simply wondering if anyone with more knowledge of these companies could tell me whether there's some validity to this theory.

Beyond BRB, though, my original question also stemmed from the following quote from Johann Kobborg in an interview with the Telegraph (the full article is here: http://www.telegraph...l-Ballet.html):

"Kobborg disagrees with those who claim that there is a shortage of British native talent. On the contrary, he thinks the Royal Ballet doesn't move fast enough to capture it. 'Some amazingly talented English girls and boys have been snatched by American and European companies.'"

If what Kobborg says has some basis in truth, I was trying to find out the reasons behind RB 'not moving fast enough'; seemingly having these dancers in the RB School should afford the artistic leadership at the RB what we refer to in the film business as a 'first look' at the dancers; one would assume that the RB would do everything in their power to snatch up the prime talent from the school before, as Kobborg suggests, the other companies swoop in. Of course we can't know for certain which dancers would have WANTED to be offered an RB contract. It's hard to believe, though, that all or most of the top young dancers who have graduated in the past few years from the school but who ended up elsewhere -- including Adeline Kaiser, Matthews, Buttons, Pipit-Suksun, and others -- were offered corps contracts with RB but turned them down (I realize btw that none of these girls are technically UK born, but they trained at RB school). It's possible, but does seem highly unlikely, and concrete evidence points to the contrary in the case of Button and Pipit-Suksun in particular. Again, this is not to imply in any way that the other companies like BRB are inferior; that's missing the point of my original inquiry entirely. Here in NY, dancers coming out of SAB who are offered NYCB contracts rarely turn them down, although they often move onto smaller companies after a couple of years if it looks as though they'll have the opportunity to shine more in the smaller co (among other, varying reasons). This does not imply in any way that those smaller companies, like MCB, PNB, et.al., are at all inferior to NYCB; it's just a fact that the majority of dancers who are offered a contract right out of SAB accept such an offer -- at least initially. It may be much more common for RB School grads to turn down contracts with RB than for SAB grads to do so at NYCB, but I find it hard to believe that they do so as commonly as some are suggesting.

Also, with regards to Pipit-Suksun, as mentioned earlier, I based my conclusion that she was not offered a contract with RB on the content in her interview at ballet.co.uk (full article here: http://www.ballet.co...pit-suksun.htm) and in particular the quote below, in which she addresses how she decided to go to SF Ballet and lists the other companies where she was offered a contract...RB is not mentioned (also note that she lists the same exact set of companies, sans Royal Ballet, in at least one other published interview as well). While this doesn't 100% exclude the possibility that RB offered her a contract, it's absolutely reasonable to assume that they did not based on this and other published information:

"Asked when she was offered the contract, she [Pipit-Suksun] replied, 'Actually, I was offered contracts by Houston Ballet, American Ballet Theatre Studio, Birmingham Royal Ballet, La Scala, and Hamburg. During the Easter holiday, I took a trip to America, to Houston and New York, taking classes. While I was here, Mr. Jolley called me to say ‘San Francisco wants you to fly, see them, and take classes.’ I said, ‘My flight is already booked back to London—what am I supposed to do?’ He said, ‘Don’t worry. The ballet will organize everything, the hotels and stuff.’ I took three classes.'"


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