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Transitioning from Villella to Lopez in 2012-2013.

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I thought the 2012-13 season might be a good time for an on-going thread for news and discussion of developments as Lourdes Lopez prepares to take over the directorship of MCB in 2013-14.

First of all, from Claudia La Rocco, in the NY Times today:

"Morphoses will move to Miami," Ms. Lopez said in a written statement, adding that it was one of her conditions for accepting the artistic directorship of the ballet. "It will be up to both boards to consider what form the integration will take."

This condition may seem like a conceit on Ms. Lopez's part. But Wednesday night at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, Morphoses presented an intriguing diptych suggesting otherwise; if Ms. Lopez can pull it off, Miami will be lucky to have this evolving in-house experiment.

It seems to me that MCB has already tried an experimental connection with a modern dance company, Maximum Dance, several years ago. Nothing came of it. It will be interesting to see if Lopez can pull this off. Will MCB dancers be involved? (Morphoses is a pick-up company, so anyone can dance in any program I suppose.) Is there an audience for this kind of dance in Miami, where MCB itself has not always fit in well with the expectations of the Cuban classical ballet audience?

Does anyone have thoughts about this? Or is it too early in the game?

http://www.nytimes.c...?_r=1&ref=dance

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I will be willing to give some of the Morphoses projects a try and see if I like collaborations with that company. I just hope that the main season will continue to be based on classical and Balanchine ballet styles. I hope this will mean more dance presentations and not just adding modern pieces into the regular evenings. I do think that the average person on the street is more interested in modern dance. I'm talking about the students and parents I used to work with in the schools. They just want to see and hear modern things. That's probably normal. Even most of my friends in my age group and even older want to watch vampire television shows and find it odd that I have no clue what is on tv. From exposure to some modern dance event they might then get into some classical ballet.

By the way, did you read that the Executive Director Nicholas Goldsborough is out, according to the Miami Herald? The staff is nervous. The board says it is a temporary financial issue. Luis Cordero (board member and attorney who handled immigration paperwork for dancers) was quoted saying that there used to be camaraderie and now there are secret meetings. I hope Lopez can pull the board and the staff and dancers together back into a family.

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This is a link to the article in the "Miami Herald."

http://www.miamihera...e-director.html

It's very good news for the Company that Michael Kaiser has been hired as a consultant, but the article makes it sound as if it was a board decision and doesn't mention Lopez in the decision-making process.

It's possible that the board is leaving her name out of it to provide a bit of a clean slate, but, regardless, I think that Lopez has her work cut out for her.

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I saw the notice about Goldsborough and wondered -- looking at it from the opposite corner of the country I can't say it would fill me with confidence.

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Well, THIS certainly changes the direction of the thread .... speechless-smiley-003.gif

Jordan Levin's article begins:

Turmoil resurfaced this week at Miami City Ballet.

This is so disheartening. Summer is ordinarily a s-l-o-w time for the larger performing arts organizations in south Florida. The MCB School has a summer intensive, but otherwise not much goes on.

-- "... pay cuts and unpaid furloughs in the face of serious financial troubles .... "

-- " ... $2 million in debt, and money intended for other uses is going toward basic operating expenses ... "

-- ... "budgets for marketing and fundraising are being slashed ... "

-- "Ballet staffers .... confused and demoralized."

-- " ... months of rumors and turmoil .... "

-- " .... the ballet's difficulties seem to have been exacerbated by uncertainty over who is in charge and what their plans were"

And then there's Mike Eidson, former president and chairman of the Board, telling the reporter:

"You have a core group of people working behind the scenes now .... This thing is temporary ... I don't see the Nick thing as being a big deal.

The problem is, will anyone -- artists, donors, potential new donors, staff, potential new staff, -- believe him?

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I thought the 2012-13 season might be a good time for an on-going thread for news and discussion of developments as Lourdes Lopez prepares to take over the directorship of MCB in 2013-14.

First of all, from Claudia La Rocco, in the NY Times today:

"Morphoses will move to Miami," Ms. Lopez said in a written statement, adding that it was one of her conditions for accepting the artistic directorship of the ballet. "It will be up to both boards to consider what form the integration will take."

This condition may seem like a conceit on Ms. Lopez's part. But Wednesday night at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, Morphoses presented an intriguing diptych suggesting otherwise; if Ms. Lopez can pull it off, Miami will be lucky to have this evolving in-house experiment.

It seems to me that MCB has already tried an experimental connection with a modern dance company, Maximum Dance, several years ago. Nothing came of it. It will be interesting to see if Lopez can pull this off. Will MCB dancers be involved? (Morphoses is a pick-up company, so anyone can dance in any program I suppose.) Is there an audience for this kind of dance in Miami, where MCB itself has not always fit in well with the expectations of the Cuban classical ballet audience?

Does anyone have thoughts about this? Or is it too early in the game?

http://www.nytimes.c...?_r=1&ref=dance

I think I'm Ballet Alert's official Morphoses cheerleader, so I'm hoping that the move to Miami will benefit both companies. Here are some potential positives:

  • A Morphoses gig might give some MCB dancers, staffers, and technical personnel additional weeks of employment.
  • A Morphoses gig might give some MCB dancers experience in a different "idiom," with the opportunity to participate in a more collaborative process than might be the MCB norm.
  • Morphoses can likely tour more often than MCB can, and will likely be attractive to a different universe of presenters.
  • Morphoses may attract funding from sources outside of Florida.
  • Morphoses may bring some royalty-free repertory with it. (I don't know what the arrangements were with Wheeldon and the other choreographers who created works for the company.)
  • Morphoses knows how to do a live stream of a performance and may have already negotiated for the relevant rights during the commissioning process. (I honestly don't know if MCB has tried live streams or not.)
  • MCB won't have to be all things to all people, and can concentrate on the repertory at which it excels (and which its audience and board may prefer to support).

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A rich and marvelous list of opportunities, Kathleen. Thank you. What you present is a best-case scenario, of course. But if even a few of your items were to work out -- how refreshing that would be.

I had been thinking of your first three. The MCB dancers don't have a lot of free time during the season, but this might extend the season for both them and for the company. Based on what many company dancers have said on the MCB website, I am sure they would love the chance to dance even more new works and to have the chance to work with new choreographers. Summer touring would fill a void in dancers' schedules.

Your point about funding is interesting. There is the possibility, I suppose, that an independent Morphesis fund-raising campaign might compete with MCB's own attempt to reach new donors. That's something the development experts would have to consider, assuming any remain on staff after this batch of cuts.

I don't think MCB has done live streaming. Considering the level of choreographers they work with, performance rights would be a serious obstacle.

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...

  • A Morphoses gig might give some MCB dancers experience in a different "idiom," with the opportunity to participate in a more collaborative process than might be the MCB norm.
  • ... (I honestly don't know if MCB has tried live streams or not.)
  • MCB won't have to be all things to all people, and can concentrate on the repertory at which it excels (and which its audience and board may prefer to support).

I'm not clear on the "idiom" concept - can you elaborate a little? Contrasting with the range of choreographers they've presented in recent years, say?

I'm pretty sure they've not done live streams. The video clips on their web site are very short, and rarely if ever show any major moment whole, dissolving instead into something else, as though made by someone insensitive to ballet - a little incredible, considering there's a development person for every three performer names in the program - or because they need to do that to protect the rights holders to the ballets by not revealing even that much of them to every visitor on the internet. (Also hard to understand, considering what one can see on the Kennedy Center web site in the Millennium Stage archive.) I continue to believe the "free sample" approach to marketing is a good one.

The last of these points strikes me as consistent with some of Villella's pre-performance remarks in response to questions of the "Why don't you do..." variety - he doesn't - or didn't - want to make the company all things to all people.

But with the dancers dancing all manner of different "idioms", would they develop a kind of homogenized, efficient style, like the Joffrey apparently has? (Their Cinderella was a good time, but inauthentic Ashton. Even the recent transmission of the RB's Fille had that welcome dimension.)

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...

The problem is, will anyone -- artists, donors, potential new donors, staff, potential new staff, -- believe him?

I'm far from privy to what goes on behind the scenes there, but Goldsborough's recent arrival and early departure looks to me like a sign of confusion, but not of imminent collapse or other catastrophe. Mainly a blip, if a high-profile one at that. Some of the statements about and from him (I am a small contributor) made me a little dubious, because, as an audience member, I hear comments from my fellow audience and wonder how some of the company's efforts are directed toward our satisfaction, rather than carrying out some generic marketing strategy. One size does not fit all, especially when you are selling the experience of art.

(Overhearing nearby neighbor's questions, I'll offer some enlightenment, based on experience; this may go several rounds, and lead to the question,"You know so much. Are you with the company?" and my usual quip, "No, I'm with the audience." That's my point of view, and I speak (and write) from it, but I think it needs to be addressed more generally. The best critics do that, of course.)

Michael Kaiser's arrival should only help. If they pay him handsomely to tell them what his inexpensive publications have already been saying, they may pay closer attention. (Okay, I'm a cynic.) But they will get custom-tailored advice. I don't think anybody knows everything - Kaiser's blog in the Huffington Post makes clear his good humor about the messages he gets telling him he doesn't know anything - but I believe the stories I've read in The Art of the Turnaround, and his Strategic Planning seems a practical guide to arts management based on experience, even if it scants what the content of arts publicity should be to be effective.

For example, the current campaign to tell everybody dancing is hard brings people into the theater to look for what they're not going to see, in my experience. Jennifer Homans worries about the death of ballet, and I worry that this sort of thing, necessitating in its extreme form artistic direction to please those who the marketers can lure in - a phenomenon Kaiser has expressly and firmly advised against - will kill it as we know it.

He has other things to say, remembered even by this casual reader - like the idea that deficits, contrary to what some people think, are not inevitable, then to be made up: deficits are unnecessary.

Okay? Artistic direction must not be done by the marketing department - offer art of high quality, he says, first, and market it - and you don't have to run a deficit. From a guy who knows? Anybody worried about the future of MCB might be feeling a little better, or is it just me? He can only advise; some lunatic major contributor, if there is one, could still wreck the ship, I suppose - we learn now something of the kind was behind Villella's premature dismissal - but MCB may make it.

They may make it back to Paris, where I couldn't go to see them, where their repertory was more appealing to me than what they do in Florida. Will better marketing find a better audience on their home turf?

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Jack, thanks for your calming influence on this. I guess I've never gotten over the long buildup to the demise of Ballet Florida and the drastic downsizing of NYC Opera. Also, although I share your admiration for Michael Kaiser, I have some skepticism about whether this will actually take place now that Goldsborough is gone.

It's not Villella, or Lopez, or even the Development people who give me concern regarding the company's ability/desire to continue its commitment to a serious Balanchin based rep It IS the Board and the deeply divided big-donor group. There's also the question of the south Florida audience. South Florida is not Paris, Manhattan, or Ballet Alert. Perhaps (shocking thought) the demand for the aesthetic vision we admire isn't as deep as we would like.

More serious reportage might give us more info, but Miami lacks the depth of arts coverage one finds in NYC. So we rely on rumor and self-serving p.r.

I hope you are right. How ironical that this has erupted right after such a triumphant season.

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Adding livestreams is not difficult to do in concept - it simply takes advance planning. The agreements with each of the contributing artists (choreographer, composer, costume designer, lighting designer, set designer, musicians, and of course dancers) need to contemplate live streaming, but if they do so from the beginning it can be integrated. It's harder to go back and add it to existing signed agreements, because then you're redoing agreements for what is probably at best a revenue-neutral change.

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I'm not clear on the "idiom" concept - can you elaborate a little? Contrasting with the range of choreographers they've presented in recent years, say?

Basically, yes. I did a quick tabulation of MCB's active repertory, and here's what I found: 46 ballets by Balanchine; 8 by or "after" Petipa (including an "after" by Balanchine); 8 by Paul Taylor; 6 by Tharp; 5 by Robbins; 5 or 9 by Villella (depending on how one counts all the "Neighborhood Ballroom" items); three traditional "afters" ("Coppélia," "Giselle," and "Grand Pas Classique"); 2 by Bournonville; 2 by Liam Scarlett; and one each by Ashton, Cranko, Limon, Trey McIntyre, Ratmanksy, Tudor, and Wheeldon.

So, MCB's rep tilts heavily classical and neo-classical -- and I'd argue that in terms of presentational style and strategies for moving the body through space, the Taylor and Tharp works Villella has selected are less alien to that tilt than post-Wheeldon Morphoses.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, let's go to the tape.

Compare this:

With this: Arden Court

With this: Vespertine |

(Lidberg)

And this:

|
|
(Veggetti)

ETA: Here's a

clip. Veggetti and Lopez talk a bit, too. (Although I'll add that in the end the choreography in it's totality didn't live up to the talk. The work as a whole was just saturated with chic, however -- like one of those Ian Schrager hotel lobbies.)

ETA 2: I can't seem to leave this post alone. Here's another

with the very excellent Frances Chiaverini demonstrating how the sound-generating platform works. There's also some Adrian Danchig-Waring, but, alas, not enough.

To me, the fact that Lidberg uses pointe shoes matters less than his manner of continually spinning the body down into itself, which is pretty much the opposite of what classical and neo-classical ballet does -- or Taylor, for that matter, despite the "weight" in his style. The effect created by massed bodies in the Lidberg and Veggetti works is different, too. (Wheeldon appropriates some of these tactics in his own choreography, of course.) Works in the "Vespertine" and "Bacchae" idiom also rely on arresting stage pictures to a greater degree than most of MCB's classical / neo-classical rep does. Not that costumes, sets, and lighting don't matter, but, as the clips show, "Bacchae" is somehow less without its dramatic lighting and set, whereas "Allegro Brillante," say, would probably work in practice clothes. it's just a different kind of theatricality.

Does that clarify what I meant a bit?

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Here's a

clip. Veggetti and Lopez talk a bit, too. (Although I'll add that in the end the choreography in it's totality didn't live up to the talk. The work as a whole was just saturated with chic, however -- like one of those Ian Schrager hotel lobbies.)

Uh, oh. I think your comment is apt to what we see here, and it reminds me yet again that "Fashions come and go, but a thing of beauty is a joy forever." I've always been up for the beauty, fashionable or not. Lopez's commentary, apropos our original starting point, gave me a sinking feeling at 1:20 in the "better Bacchae clip" when she says, "This production is the perfect example of the integration between dance, music and theater..." I don't see how they're integrated at all (but I'll look again sometime) though I do see that with Merce's work, for example. (That was my doing, extending my Balanchinian practice to his world. From what he's said, he intended people doing that sort of integration of what they saw and heard, and I think that Balanchine did too, even if that was not quite as strong an element with him.) The Balanchine and Taylor clips here show me that, and it's this integration that gives dance its power for me, even when I have to do it for myself.

ETA 2: I can't seem to leave this post alone.

That's some relief from embarrassment at the thought you did all of this splendid illustrated discussion just for me...

To me, the fact that Lidberg uses pointe shoes matters less than his manner of continually spinning the body down into itself, which is pretty much the opposite of what classical and neo-classical ballet does -- or Taylor, for that matter, despite the "weight" in his style. The effect created by massed bodies in the Lidberg and Veggetti works is different, too. (Wheeldon appropriates some of these tactics in his own choreography, of course.) Works in the "Vespertine" and "Bacchae" idiom also rely on arresting stage pictures to a greater degree than most of MCB's classical / neo-classical rep does. Not that costumes, sets, and lighting don't matter, but, as the clips show, "Bacchae" is somehow less without its dramatic lighting and set, whereas "Allegro Brillante," say, would probably work in practice clothes. it's just a different kind of theatricality.

Yes on all points. (Five, by my count!) I'd say these chic (transitory?) new works depend much more on how they're dressed and so on. Adequately lit, the classical and neo-classical works make their own spaces.

Does that clarify what I meant a bit?

Boy, I'll say. Thanks again.

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Boy, I'll say. Thanks again
Me too, Kathleen. This is fascinating. I enjoyed the Bacchae, though I was astonished, and not for the first time, at the way some contemporary choreoraphers use grandiose language to describe dances that are fairly ordinary.

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Kathleen:

The work as a whole was just saturated with chic, however -- like one of those Ian Schrager hotel lobbies.

Also the Butoh theater reference is pretty long in the tooth by now.

I tend to agree with Jack Reed but without using Balanchine as the standard. Contemporary choreography seems stuck with a vocabulary they don't know quite what to do with. Some of it seems to come from Michael Jackson, some of it from Merce, a lot of it is just athletic virtuousity.

For example there's a sort of plane a dancer makes with the flat of one hand and then dips and passes under it. And a lot of zig zaggy neck moves. There's little partnering but lots of group activity, herding and splintering off.

The choice of music may be the problem. With the Bacchae (which thankfully seems to have no connection to Euripides) the music by Paolo Aralla is not as rich and playful as that of his teacher Franco Donatoni, who I think can do no wrong. Raiding the Arditti String Quartet catalogue might be a good place for a choreographer to do as a start - for structure, warmth, and wit.

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Just a quick note about my compare and contrast exercise above: it wasn't intended as a value judgement, and I hope it didn't come across that way. "Theme and Variations" and "Arden Court" do happen to be more impressive works than either "Vespertine" and "Bacchae," but they're also more impressive works than the vast universe of lesser "House of Balanchine" and "House of Taylor" efforts. In other words, I'm not categorically dismissing Lidberg, Veggetti, or the other choreographers who work in that style -- I just wanted to show what I meant by "a different idiom."

Quiggin: I thought "Bacchae" was most definitely a riff on the Euripides drama -- an exploration of some of its themes, let's say, rather than a retelling of the story. Some of it was exciting to watch -- for instance, a long solo for Frances Chiaverini (the Dionysus figure) that was itself a kind of riff on the movement style of a wooden puppet that appeared earlier in the work. I found it very moving, too, not just a physical tour de force. Unfortunately the dramatic connection between Chiaverini's solo and the puppet's wasn't as clear as the movement connection, and it was on that level that the work didn't hold together for me.

Re the music: a clutch of younger choreographers seem to have turned their attention to postminimalism, broadly defined. In lesser hands, both the music and the choreography tends to a kind of anodyne, melancholy prettiness that I find inoffensive but uninteresting after the first few minutes -- but then I think that about mid-list Baroque, too.

ETA: OK! I found

with an extract from Chiaverini's solo -- it starts at about 1:40. There are also extracts from a duet for Chiaverini and Danchig-Waring (depicting aspects of Dionysius and Pentheus, one assumes) and from a solo for Gabrielle Lamb as Agave.

Enough on "Bacchae" in an MCB thread, I think ...

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...

I just wanted to show what I meant by "a different idiom."

...

That was the way I took it, FWIW, as idiom contrasts, not necessarily quality comparisons. Which brings me back to my worry over a homogeneous style developing, if the MCB dancers are given an extremely heterogeneous repertory, an ersatz style inauthentic to most or all of their repertory, which they then cannot realize, but only cheapen. Like the Joffrey's recent Ashton. Am I right to be concerned?

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MCB is still addressing the unfunded portion of the matching grant for live music. They are seeking to raise $10,000 (out of $300,000 needed to meet this season's matching grant from the Knight Foundation). I think this is the first time they've used social media to reach what I guess they hope is a new donor base. Here's the link, taken from MCB's Facebook page:

http://power2give.or...jectId=815#play

This reminds us that there are many musicians whose security is at stake, not only Gary Sheldon, the excellent ballet conductor imported several years ago, but the 44-plus free-lancers of Opus One Orchestra for whom MCB's performances provide quite a lot of work. (Boards with a boom-or-bust mentality, and consisting of members who are usually cushioned financially from the effects of such swings, can be quite cavalier about the costs to their workers when the company suddenly "down-sizes" ... again.)

I was struck by the statement that the cost of an orchestra ranges from $10,000 to $15,000 PER PERFORMANCE. This particular $10k appeal is being presented as paying for just one performance -- the season-opener at the Arsht Center in Miami itself.

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well if you divide 10,000 by 44 musicians = $225 / performance. Assume 3 hours for the performance, plus another 3-6 hours of rehearsal. So appx $25 / hour. Also does not include the time spent by musicians honing their technique, sectional practices, etc.

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In my neck of the woods every rehearsal and performance is a "service." A performance fee does not include rehearsals.

Sorry having a bad day being clear.

Essentially every time they are rehearsing or performing they are being paid by the hour. Hence the myriad of stories of tempos played fast or curtains coming down to avoid over time pay. ;-)

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I'm not sure where this belongs...I just got a Tweet about a fund-raiser for live music for the opening night performance. They need $10,000 and have a ways to go on this:

http://power2give.or...l?projectId=815

Seems like a sad situation to me if this is how the new season is starting off, and I wonder if this means they'll be using recorded music for the rest of the season.

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I've always made my annual contribution unrestricted, thinking Edward or whoever was much the better judge of where it should go than I, but this year they wanted specific permission to use it toward a match for an orchestra, and I had no philosophical problem with furnishing that.

Personally, though, this skeptic finds $10,000 a suspiciously round number - it looks like a familiar gimmick, so FWIW, while I have no doubt about the actual need, and no hesitation about trying to help, I'm sadly reminded of the staleness of some of their publicity gambits. Does anybody else remember some copy publicizing Nutcracker one year including the phrase "more snow"? (Or maybe a Chicagoan like me wouldn't understand the exotic appeal of "more snow" for a Florida audience. "What's that? What's 'snow', Dad?")

But we go to see ballet for fantasy and mystery and illusion and so forth. Can't they sell that? For me, it's not just the money - I enjoy this stuff - or some of it, see above - and I naturally want to share the fun, with anyone who might be susceptible to it, too. I can't help thinking their PR people are trying to sell something they lack familiarity with, and they fall back on gimmicks. Not that they're completely incompetent - the theaters are not empty - but MCB's layered fantasy called The Nutcracker - the best performances of the best version, in my experience - isn't being offered in West Palm Beach anymore. But I keep thinking that better orientation of the susceptible public toward what goes on here would help.

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Thanks for the link, checkwriter. This has clearly been in the works for a while. It means Lopez and (unless something ELSE changes drastically) Villella will be working in the same building on a regular basis. (School and Company share the same building and, often, the same studios. Large clear glass windows are everywhere.)

It boggles the mind that anyone on the Board could have thought that giving Edward Villella an extra year on the job, while making it inevitable that he would beworking in daily contact with his replacement, was a good idea. It's a LOUSY idea, especially since this was a hostile take-over..

I'm hoping Villella decides to bail out, move to Manhattan, and enjoy all the perks that come with being a dance legend who left at the top of his game. Villella deserves that kind of respect. Lopez deserves a clear field in Miami.

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