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Current Aesthetics: Mariinsky Ballet


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#1 Catherine

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Posted 22 May 2011 - 07:08 AM

[Admin note: the first posts on the thread have been moved from the Oksana Storik "Swan Lake" rehearsal video" thread in the Kirov-Mariinsky Ballet Forum]


Cubanmiamiboy - thumbs up to you.

Speaking generally about ballet -- the reason it is not rhythmic gymnastics and the reason it is not a sport: There's a reason for technique and proper alignment. The Russian school is built on 200+ years of history. Vaganova solidified it in the 1930s, which I discuss in my book. There is a "correct" way for each step, each pose, and each transition. Distorting them is distorting the classical school. If you want high legs, or positions that are arrived at "any which way", "go to the circus," as the Russians say.

#2 Azulynn

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Posted 22 May 2011 - 08:41 AM

But Catherine - surely the Mariinsky itself is promoting this type of "distortion" with dancers like Somova and Skoryk, among others? I look forward to reading your book in any case, and I hope it sheds some light on the contradictions of the company.

#3 Catherine

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Posted 22 May 2011 - 09:17 AM

Hi Azulynn,
Well it's a long long discussion, not one for a forum. I do address this issue in my book.

One point of view however, could be this:

The Mariinsky isn't promoting so much as it is responding -- to the audience. Unfortunately you have a chicken/egg effect going on. When unskilled/untrained/uneducated audience members go for the first time and happen upon a ballerina who is whacking her legs, or giving inappropriate dramatic additions in the wrong roles (ie a flirtatious look as Queen of teh Dryads, for example) those audience members know no better, they have no other point of comparison. There are no comparable historical dance traditions in the USA, so how is one to know that this is inappropriate? She did it onstage, she's with this company, that makes it OK doesnt it?

It surely looks impressive (I don't think there's any argument there-- it draws attention at least) but is it in alignment with classical tradition? Is it in support of the school training they studied 10 hours per day for 9 years? No, it's not. And from there you can stem into several arguments, including:

a) when the West cheers, the company responds by billing the dancers they *believe* the West wants to see most. If inappropriate leg kicks sell more tickets, well unfortunately the days of 100% state funding in Russia are over...it has to compete, and unfortunately it is competing w/the fast pace of 21st century (shortened) attention spans. A higher leg *has to be better* because it is higher. Doesn't it?
b) it is the very infiltration of the West (as argued by the Russian pedagogues now in their 70th+ decade of life) that created these higher traditions, the splits, acrobatics etc...altho Lopukhov did experiment with the same in the socialist realism-laden 1930s...

as I said it's too big a topic that touchs on too many other issues just for a forum discussion. While researching my book, it was interesting to hear the poitns of view of the people inside the theatre, both dancers and pedagogues...

#4 diane

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Posted 22 May 2011 - 09:50 AM

as I said it's too big a topic that touchs on too many other issues just for a forum discussion. While researching my book, it was interesting to hear the poitns of view of the people inside the theatre, both dancers and pedagogues...



Catherine, your book sounds quite fascinating. :)

Is it up somewhere for sale? (please excuse my ignorance here, if you have already said somewhere all of this and I missed it!)

-d-

#5 Azulynn

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Posted 22 May 2011 - 10:32 AM

a) when the West cheers, the company responds by billing the dancers they *believe* the West wants to see most. If inappropriate leg kicks sell more tickets, well unfortunately the days of 100% state funding in Russia are over...it has to compete, and unfortunately it is competing w/the fast pace of 21st century (shortened) attention spans. A higher leg *has to be better* because it is higher. Doesn't it?
b) it is the very infiltration of the West (as argued by the Russian pedagogues now in their 70th+ decade of life) that created these higher traditions, the splits, acrobatics etc...altho Lopukhov did experiment with the same in the socialist realism-laden 1930s...


Interesting that some pedagogues blame the West when Western companies seem much less excessive overall these days than the Russian ones - Guillem started the trend, of course, but gymnastics have been incorporated into Russian training(s) to an extent unheard of elsewhere I think. It may have to do with perceptions of the "West" and Western audiences in Russia as well, of course...

You're right, it's not necessarily the place for this discussion, but I'm glad you address the issue in your book - should be a fascinating read.

#6 Helene

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Posted 22 May 2011 - 12:44 PM

I disagree on two counts: first, this is exactly the kind of topic for which Ballet Alert! was established. Although the topic has the potential to become contentious, and is subject to the same rules and policies as any other thread on the board, it is an important one.

Second, I disagree that the Mariinsky has dumped an evolving dance tradition because a small portion of the audience in the West reacts to tricks that belie the underlying aesthetic of their training. Where are these audiences? I'm sure promoters would love to know. The Bolshoi tried this in Vegas, to no success, stranding dancers in the US. It would certainly be easier for the Vaganova Ballet Academy to train the type of dancer we see in youth competition videos ad nauseum.

Alina Somova, for example, is, or at least was, assigned opening nights in St. Petersburg, dancing for what is allegedly the most knowledgeable ballet audience on the planet. Was this due to audience demand? If not, why wouldn't the powers that be at the Mariinsky send her off as an import to get those valuable dollars, while casting the dancers who embody their training for the home crowd?

The Bolshoi tours the US much more than the Mariinsky, and the Bolshoi has featured Maria Alexandrova, Natalia Osipova, Anna Nikulina, Nina Kaptsova, Ekaterina Shipulina -- more-so than originally planned for the DC "Le Corsaire's, due to injury to Nikulina and Osipova's emergency visit to a hospital -- and a much toned-down Svetlana Zakharova on recent tours. None of them come close to what was in the Storick video.

If there's a Western influence, it may be in the rush to add contemporary and neoclassical works to the repertoire. However, the dancers we see are not part of a young group to which neoclassical and contemporary training have been added to the Vaganova curriculum. The Mariinsky doesn't have a subsection of the company that specializes in contemporary ballet that constitutes a substantial part of the repertoire, like Paris Opera Ballet. The Mariinsky is casting dancers with contemporary mannerisms and teenage competition aesthetics in "Swan Lake".

#7 Angelique

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Posted 22 May 2011 - 12:50 PM

When unskilled/untrained/uneducated audience members go for the first time and happen upon a ballerina who is whacking her legs, or giving inappropriate dramatic additions in the wrong roles (ie a flirtatious look as Queen of teh Dryads, for example) those audience members know no better, they have no other point of comparison.

I beg to differ. There is something inappropriate in referring to audiences as “trained” or “untrained”. A theatre goer is not a pony after all. I have been regularly attending ballet performances for 8 years and not only by Mariinsky, but POB, ROH, Danish Royal, BT, ABT, NYCB, La Scala and many other famous companies and not so famous too. So I am quite certain that I have not just one, but several frames of reference. Oksana Skoric’s winged pose which provoked this discussion is not just impressive but expressive, i.e. it means something. To emotionally move those in the audience, to touch people's hearts, to stir the imagination, isn’t it what art is suppose to be about? Certainly it doesn't exist just to oblige critics and balletomanes. In this case theatre would be stale, lifeless and attended by the smallest portion of theatre goers.

One thing more: personally I think here is “the place for this discussion”, provided that the forum affords the opportunity for an open and unrehearsed exchange of ideas. A contrario, speaking for myself and myself only, I would not be interested in the aforementioned publication even if I get paid to read it.

#8 Simon G

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Posted 22 May 2011 - 03:11 PM


When unskilled/untrained/uneducated audience members go for the first time and happen upon a ballerina who is whacking her legs, or giving inappropriate dramatic additions in the wrong roles (ie a flirtatious look as Queen of teh Dryads, for example) those audience members know no better, they have no other point of comparison.

I beg to differ. There is something inappropriate in referring to audiences as “trained” or “untrained”. A theatre goer is not a pony after all. I have been regularly attending ballet performances for 8 years and not only by Mariinsky, but POB, ROH, Danish Royal, BT, ABT, NYCB, La Scala and many other famous companies and not so famous too. So I am quite certain that I have not just one, but several frames of reference. Oksana Skoric’s winged pose which provoked this discussion is not just impressive but expressive, i.e. it means something. To emotionally move those in the audience, to touch people's hearts, to stir the imagination, isn’t it what art is suppose to be about? Certainly it doesn't exist just to oblige critics and balletomanes. In this case theatre would be stale, lifeless and attended by the smallest portion of theatre goers.

One thing more: personally I think here is “the place for this discussion”, provided that the forum affords the opportunity for an open and unrehearsed exchange of ideas. A contrario, speaking for myself and myself only, I would not be interested in the aforementioned publication even if I get paid to read it.



Angelique,

Firstly, that was a bit bitchy and unnecessary and detracted from your sentiment that audiences aren't "ponies" to be trained, which to a great extent I do agree with, as ballet can seem extremely rarified and exclusory to new viewers, and though eight years is indeed hardly a total novice, it does mean that you've come in at the tail end of a debate about technique and aesthetics that has been going on for almost thirty years with the explosion of Sylvie Guillem on the international dance scene.

Because what Catherine is talking about and indeed what many of the board members lament, some of whom have been viewing ballet for six decades is that the very nature of classical ballet has been destroyed, homogenised and the soul of what made each individual company great, its style, its technique and approach to ballet has been lost.

You've been to see a good variety of companies and that's great, but the sad fact is that much of the time the company members of the great companies and second tier companies are completely interchangeable. Technique and approach is increasingly one great big mulch. There was a time when the Mariinsky, the Royal, POB, NYCB, RDB etc each has a specific approach to the classics, to the technique of classical ballet, a unique and specific repertoire for which they were known or an approach to a shared repertoire. People knew that when they watched a Swan Lake by the Kirov it was a very different beast from the Royal. Classical ballet which has a universal language of steps however had a completely different language of dialect in terms of nationality, company and the stars who were produced by those companies.

Also those stars and great dancers were not expected to be Jack of all trades. A great classicist was just that, a virtuoso first soloist or demi caractere soloist was a different beast, a dancer with a more contemporary physique and technique was that too, now every dancer is expected to be as at home in the classics, as in Forsythe, Macmillan, Bournonville, the God-awful Macgregor or Mats Ek. And this has made companies muddy generic, the very qualities certain dancers were prized for takes a backseat to a catholic circus virtuosity. Judged by today's criteria as to what makes a dancer and what their physical talents must be in order to succeed, artists such as Fonteyn, Ulanova, Farrell, Seymour, Plisetskaya, Vasiliev wouldn't even get into a ballet school today, let alone become stars.

The problem is with the Skorik developpe at the end of the pas de deux, is that yes, I agree it's an impressive feat of flexibility but it isn't ballet, it's acrobatics, moreover were her partner to take his support away she'd fall over - classical ballet is a language of dance based around placement, balance and in the case of the great Classical works great restraint. Skorik's flexibility in a Forsythe work would be just the ticket, but in Petipa it's just wrong. But pretty much every ballerina now does what she's doing so it's more or less expected by the audience, but then you have to ask would they mind if she did a classically placed developpe?

#9 Angelique

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Posted 22 May 2011 - 04:28 PM

The problem is with the Skorik developpe at the end of the pas de deux, is that yes, I agree it's an impressive feat of flexibility but it isn't ballet, it's acrobatics, moreover were her partner to take his support away she'd fall over - classical ballet is a language of dance based around placement, balance and in the case of the great Classical works great restraint.

That’s just it, Simon. Unlike yourself, I don’t see acrobatics in Skoric’s closing pas. What I see is altogether different, a metaphor of sorts. Mind that it is not executed at the beginning of the adagio, rather at its end. Didn’t Odette want to set herself free? Didn't Odile want to capture the Prince with her own charms as well as her startling resemblance to Odette? Your point of view is exceedingly interesting and in many aspects I agree with it. Yes, in many if not most Petipa’s ballets such a skewed position would be an overkill. "Swan Lake" is different in many ways, it is more symphonic, more open to dancer’s individual interpretation. You write: “you have to ask would they mind if she did a classically placed developpe?“ Perhaps yes. But Skoric saw it this way and I applaud her power of imagination, not her flexibility.

#10 vipa

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Posted 22 May 2011 - 04:30 PM

post='286038'
Speaking generally about ballet -- the reason it is not rhythmic gymnastics and the reason it is not a sport: There's a reason for technique and proper alignment. The Russian school is built on 200+ years of history. Vaganova solidified it in the 1930s, which I discuss in my book. There is a "correct" way for each step, each pose, and each transition. Distorting them is distorting the classical school. If you want high legs, or positions that are arrived at "any which way", "go to the circus," as the Russians say.

While Vaganova solidified her teaching in the 1930's we really don't know how "purely" it was handed down. I sometimes wonder about that. In teaching ballet the teacher emphasizes certain values more that other. One example is NYCB. Balanchine hired teachers who were Russian trained, as was he. He however wanted emphasis on speed, musicality, crossed positions etc. At the same time the Russian training was not abandoned in terms of how to hold the hands, the epaulement and in other ways. You can see this when children from SAB perform in the kids roles in NYCB. This was a purposeful evolution of the Vaganova training.

Now it sees to me that at some point in the Soviet Union the training emphasized showing beautiful ending positions (I mean at the end of a musical phrase, not only at the end of a variation), high extensions and big jumps. In between steps, speed and musical phrasing was not emphasized as much. This was reflected in the choreography done by those companies before they were exposed to Balanchine and others from the West.

We don't know what the balance of values really was when Vaganova was around, she did study with Cecchetti and her teaching was a blend of the ballet teachings of the day, yet the training that has evolved in Russia is very far from Cecchetti.

#11 Simon G

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Posted 22 May 2011 - 04:40 PM


The problem is with the Skorik developpe at the end of the pas de deux, is that yes, I agree it's an impressive feat of flexibility but it isn't ballet, it's acrobatics, moreover were her partner to take his support away she'd fall over - classical ballet is a language of dance based around placement, balance and in the case of the great Classical works great restraint.

That’s just it, Simon. Unlike yourself, I don’t see acrobatics in Skoric’s closing pas. What I see is altogether different, a metaphor of sorts. Mind that it is not executed at the beginning of the adagio, rather at its end. Didn’t Odette want to set herself free? Didn't Odile want to capture the Prince with her own charms as well as her startling resemblance to Odette? Your point of view is exceedingly interesting and in many aspects I agree with it. Yes, in many if not most Petipa’s ballets such a skewed position would be an overkill. "Swan Lake" is different in many ways, it is more symphonic, more open to dancer’s individual interpretation. You write: “you have to ask would they mind if she did a classically placed developpe?“ Perhaps yes. But Skoric saw it this way and I applaud her power of imagination, not her flexibility.



Angelique,

It's cool, you love the Skorik developpe it means something to you and that's what it's all about. I think the thing is that nowadays one sees that kind of extreme flexibility everywhere so that there's so little to compare it to, to other ways of working. What people get upset about isn't the Skorik approach so much as what's been lost.

Here are some interesting bits of comparison if you like to take a butchers of ballerinas from different eras in the same pdd:

This is Ulanova from 1940 with the Kirov, widely considered to be the greatest ballerina of all time by many:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBh3AOGJhb0

This is Fonteyn with the Royal Ballet circa mid 60s:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8PJGXvZ4u8&feature=related

Makarova 1976 with ABT:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-8aDgDOuBs

And this is Guillem, the prototype of the modern ballerina in 1987

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jRxfCCE91o

#12 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 22 May 2011 - 07:35 PM

I see it as simple as being completely unmoved by a 6 o'clock develope a la second-(ditto with those distorted arabesques penchees so much in trend nowadays during the Sugar Plum Fairy Adagio or an up to the sky attitude derričre a la Somova in Rose Adagio). It's just not beautiful-(for me)- to see it in a XIX Century ballet-(but certainly possible in some sections of more contemporary works, like Symphony in C Second Movt.) In general I tend to enjoy more the regal, structured placement of dancers like Fonteyn or Collier-(I LOVE the way she projects herself in her Nutcracker dancing...very relaxed, elegant and not showy at all...same with Fonteyn in the Chopiniana video).
Now, there ARE those exceptions in which the dancer is just such STRONG technician that some extensions here and there seem to be just a justified part of a whole-(Guillem comes to mind). On the contrary, I believe that if the ballerina is just unable to fulfill the basic technical requirements of a certain piece, then it is just a sin to try to impress with legs over head. When I saw Storik, she danced the black swan PDD with Kolb, and around the 10th fouettee she started traveling out of control all over the stage. By # 15 the spinning was really bad and her working leg very low...and by # 20 she just had to stop mid dancing, while the can-can-type bars were just in its high climax. She had to start inventing stuff onstage, posing and trying to make up for the long time left, while Kolb looked at her with a perplexed look. I closed my eyes...I NEVER in my entire ballet attending years had ever witnessed such a disaster onstage. Then, one wonders...what's the sense on showing some silly high kicks after such an embarrassing display...?

#13 Drew

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Posted 22 May 2011 - 08:58 PM

Now, there ARE those exceptions in which the dancer is just such STRONG technician that some extensions here and there seem to be just a justified part of a whole-(Guillem comes to mind).


I agree and I would add that Guillem's high extensions did not involve straining her body or distorting her line (at least not in the Swan Lake I saw).

I will leave Skorik aside because this was a rehearsal video and, indeed, completely decontextualized from any performance in which a particular pose or moment can be fairly assessed in its full impact, but generally speaking when dancers distort the classical line to get a high extension in a nineteenth-century work, it looks not only unharmonious to me, but strained and awkward. I think I understand what Angelique is seeing in the Skorik video--but when I have seen the torso shift like that in the theater for a high side extension in a nineteenth-century work, what come to the fore for me is the sheer mechanical shifting of weight. At its worse, it can look ungainly.

Certainly, in some twentieth-century or twenty-first-century works an ultra high extension with a slightly distorted classical line may seem acceptable or even effective especially when the emphasis is not so much the position as the quality of movement (energy, power, etc.). At New York City Ballet, I don't necessarily get as concerned about proper alignment. And I myself some years ago defended a Dvorovenko "six o'clock" arabesque penché at the end of Giselle against some sharp criticism on this board--I thought she made it suggest her aspiration heavenwards. So, I am not the purest of purists...

I am also sure there are dancers of such poetic genius they can make you go along with any quirk (Skorik and Somova -- neither of whom I have been fortunate enough to see -- may be that for some) but those kind of quirks should be the unexpected exception, not the rule. Unfortunately, many of us feel that these distorted and strained lines are becoming the rule even in nineteenth-century ballets and, depressingly, nowhere more so than in the company that, for many of us, once was the embodiment of classical purity--a living and vital classical purity.

Like Helene, I find the claim that this style of dancing is a response to what "western" audiences want to be very unconvincing. There have been Western ballerinas with unusually high extensions (Guillem, Bussell) though they had less distorted lines than we are discussing, but they were/are not the "western" norm. Farrell danced an entirely different repertory and would seem to be an inappropriate comparison. More to the point, as far as responses to the great Russian companies go...could Somova be taking more of a pasting from the public in the U.S. and Britain? Even Guillem has never been fully 'accepted' in the United States as the great artist I believe she is or as a popular "star" (like Osipova) and I distinctly remember that when Zakharova was unveiled early in her career, with no-holds barred extensions in Sleeping Beauty, she, too, was criticized whereas the less over-the-top Vishneva was warmly received and has many American fans. (Of course, now she dances with ABT which adds to her American fan-base.)

The "audience favorite" guest artists with ABT this coming season are Osipova and Cojocaru--both of whom have clearly been trained to press their extensions, but do not do so remotely to the extent of Zakharova and Somova. I think it can hardly be said that these are dancers who are not popular with wide ballet-going audiences. And in the generation just prior to the current generation, who was a bigger Kirov/Mariinsky star in the West than Assylmuratova?

Now: is there some larger phenomenon going on--a "gymnastics-ization" of ballet that has in different ways affected top companies across the globe including the Mariinsky? That is a thesis I would find easier to take seriously...though it is an argument that needs some nuance as well.

#14 Natalia

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 03:31 AM

.....Alina Somova, for example, is, or at least was, assigned opening nights in St. Petersburg, dancing for what is allegedly the most knowledgeable ballet audience on the planet. Was this due to audience demand? If not, why wouldn't the powers that be at the Mariinsky send her off as an import to get those valuable dollars, while casting the dancers who embody their training for the home crowd?....


The operative word here is "was." The winds of change have blown. Not only was Ms Somova taken off this past Feb/March Canadian tour and had no full-evening ballets at the Mariinsky Festival but she is scheduled to dance no full-evenings between now and the rest of the season at home. She will appear only in two one-act Balanchines between now and July: Rubies (McBride/Vishneva role) and Symphony in C (1st movement). C'est tout. Sounds to me as if the aesthetics are in flux. Perhaps making room for the about-to-graduate gorgeous classicists (Kovaleva students) Olga Smirnova and Kristina Shapran? :clapping: (Not to mention existing classicists on the Mariinsky roster who have recently come back from injuries, etc., such as Osmolkina, Pavlenko, et. al.)

Catherine, I am SO looking forward to your tome.

#15 vrsfanatic

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 03:52 AM

vipa, this is not the correct forum to have a discussion of what is or is not Vaganova training or the evolution of the school inside of Russia or outside, I can however assure you that Balanchine was not trained in Vaganova schooling, he was trained in the Petrograd School, with the Imperial schooling very much influenced by the French school and Cecchetti. The paths of Balanchine and Vaganova most assuredly did pass however she did not begin teaching in the school until 1921, the year Mr. Balanchine graduated from the school, still known as the Petrograd School. She became the director in 1934.

The program of study named for Vaganova has been handed down quite purely by the methodology department within the Academy since her death in 1951. A panel of pedagogs work endless to examine and re-evaluate the program of study all the time, meaning all day and everyday within the school. It is an amazing thing to watch. Changes are made, yes, but if you read Vaganova's writings from the beginning of her work until her death, you will find that she herself changed many things. In the study of the program as a teacher in St. Petersburg we are told not to think of it as a dogma, it is a living breathing body of work that will indeed change with time mainly due to the demands of choreography.

As for the "hands" and "epaulement" being the same in Vaganova and Balanchine training, no they are not alike at all. The Balanchine hand is held as if holding a golf ball or a ping pong ball between the middle finger and the thumb, a hand used in some character work in Vaganova Academy. The classical Vaganova hand is a more flattened hand that blends into the line of the forearm and wrist. It continues the line of the arm rather than end the line of the arm. The thumb is indented toward the second joint of the middle finger which lays flat, pointing toward the center of the hand. As for epaulement, the turning of the head does not epaulement make. It is more of how one uses the upper back and torso in relationship to the lower body and diagram of the classroom plan. The two schools of thought are very far apart. Balanchine schooling teaches inclinations of the head from the start and the twisting of the torso while Vaganova schooling does not teach inclinations of the head until midway through the training but it is connected to the inclinations of the body. As for the twisting of the body, it is used in choreography but not in the academic schooling with the exception of 4th arabesque.

As for speed, the speed in the upper levels of training in Vaganova Academy are quite comparable to the speed of the work at SAB. Please do watch th 7th and 8th year offerings on youtube. It is quite astonishing. I finished my studies in St. Petersburg in 1995 however the tempi requirements for the upper levels have been in place since my late husband left is pedagogy training in the late 1970s, if not longer.

Catherine, I await your book with happy anticipation. When will it be available?





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