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Macaulay on 2014 Bolshoi in NYC

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Macaulay's overview of the Bolshoi season just appeared:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/29/arts/dance/bolshoi-ballet-turns-back-the-clock-in-its-new-york-season.html?_r=0

Nowhere to post comments on the NY Times site, but he makes an obvious factual error in the first paragraph:

Currently, however, there’s a preposterous incongruity at the David H. Koch Theater. Bag-checking is standard for its home company, New York City Ballet, but not for guest companies. So no bags were examined for the Bolshoi Ballet’s two-week 2014 season at the theater, which ended on Sunday.

Oops! Bags were checked on Thursday and Friday, July 17 & 18. The Malaysia plane was shot down on the 17th, which we presumed was the explanation. But now we know that Macaulay not only did not attend those performances -- he also didn't bother to check his facts with his colleagues at the Times or the theater. Wonder how long before that gets fixed on-line.

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Assuming that policy for most of the run was policy for the entire run is not exactly a cardinal sin in my book. I also don't see why a critic has to attend every performance.

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Assuming that policy for most of the run was policy for the entire run is not exactly a cardinal sin in my book. I also don't see why a critic has to attend every performance.

A critic definitely does not have to attend every performance. Indeed, I'd hope the other critics at the Times had a crack at writing about the Bolshoi, too, and you would want the head critic to attend a variety of things.

But we now know the Times does not have fact-checkers (or editors who function as fact-checkers). I was hoping they would correct it by now. It was an interesting bit of history that on the day a Malaysian plane is shot down over Ukraine that the Koch Theater decided there might be a threat in NYC to a Russian ballet company. But the "paper of record" will not be a source on this in the future. Macaulay seemed to think that bag-checking at the Koch was so important that he made it the lead in his overview (which also struck me as a little peculiar). I read that protesters from Ukraine are planning demonstrations in Saratoga, but have no idea how many or what they are planning.

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But we now know the Times does not have fact-checkers (or editors who function as fact-checkers). I was hoping they would correct it by now.

Editors, what are those anymore? dry.png Have you considered writing the editor? I've done so a couple of times in recent years and received polite responses.

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Maps, thanks for the link to the in[depth and far-ranging Macaulay interview

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In my limited experience my bag is not often checked at the State Theatre but always is at the Met.

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What's most interesting is what Macaulay goes onto say – despite the rather shaky start – that the Bolshoi has returned to late cold war ballet programming, or rather to a pre-glosnost, pro-Grigorovich sort: "New York has been given a non-Filin season." He gives this portrait of Sergei Filin in the audience:

His elegant carriage, eloquent head movements behind dark glasses and intent animation in conversation with colleagues were far more fascinating than any drama we saw onstage. He can have no cause for pride in a repertory that reflects none of the policies he has introduced since becoming director …

From 2011 to 2014, the Bolshoi led the world in the diversity of its live ballet broadcasts. Like the company’s last seasons in London and Paris, they reflected Mr. Filin’s choices — whether new stagings of 19th-century ballets (“Coppélia” and “Marco Spada”), Western 20th-century ballets (Balanchine’s “Jewels”) or 21st-century creations by Alexei Ratmansky (“The Bright Stream” and “Lost Illusions”).

He might add "The Bolt" to that, though that might be an earlier production. Anyway it's a loss for us.

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From 2011 to 2014, the Bolshoi led the world in the diversity of its live ballet broadcasts. Like the company’s last seasons in London and Paris, they reflected Mr. Filin’s choices — whether new stagings of 19th-century ballets (“Coppélia” and “Marco Spada”), Western 20th-century ballets (Balanchine’s “Jewels”) or 21st-century creations by Alexei Ratmansky (“The Bright Stream” and “Lost Illusions”).

He might add "The Bolt" to that, though that might be an earlier production. Anyway it's a loss for us.

Bolt was choreographed by Ratmansky to the 1931 Shostakovich score, with a world premiere recording in 2006. I have no idea how long (or whether) it stayed in active repertory at the Bolshoi with Filin, and can't tell from the DVD's booklet. If you're interested in Ratmansky and Russian/Soviet dance history, it's worth looking at the DVD, but I can't imagine it being staged or shown in the U.S. It has elements that reminded me of the third in the Ratmansky trilogy for ABT and SFB (Piano Concerto #1), especially the odd floating scenery, red and gray colorings in the sets and costumes, etc. Bolt is described on the DVD as "a ballet of the absurd set in a Soviet factory."

The DVD: http://www.amazon.com/Shostakovich-Bolt-Anastasia-Yatsenko/dp/B000NVL4MY/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1406718505&sr=1-1&keywords=bolt+ratmansky+shostakovich

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What's most interesting is what Macaulay goes onto say – despite the rather shaky start – that the Bolshoi has returned to late cold war ballet programming, or rather to a pre-glosnost, pro-Grigorovich sort: "New York has been given a non-Filin season." He gives this portrait of Sergei Filin in the audience:

His elegant carriage, eloquent head movements behind dark glasses and intent animation in conversation with colleagues were far more fascinating than any drama we saw onstage. He can have no cause for pride in a repertory that reflects none of the policies he has introduced since becoming director …

From 2011 to 2014, the Bolshoi led the world in the diversity of its live ballet broadcasts. Like the company’s last seasons in London and Paris, they reflected Mr. Filin’s choices — whether new stagings of 19th-century ballets (“Coppélia” and “Marco Spada”), Western 20th-century ballets (Balanchine’s “Jewels”) or 21st-century creations by Alexei Ratmansky (“The Bright Stream” and “Lost Illusions”).

He might add "The Bolt" to that, though that might be an earlier production. Anyway it's a loss for us.

The problem with Macauley's reading of this programming is that, as many people on this forum have pointed out, the Lincoln Center Festival picked the ballets. Macauley's protest in this last article that it essentially doesn't matter who picked the programming is entirely wrong. If the Lincoln Center Festival picked the ballets, it says far more about how Americans view Russian ballet than it says about the Russians themselves. It speaks to decades of American reviewers accusing the Bolshoi of conservatism (as Macauley does here) and then only applauding the oldest ballets in the repertory.

Macauley's reviews of this entire season have been biased (even to the point of bigotry in the Don Quixote review) and rude. After spending two weeks savaging the ballet company, his claims in this final article to be defending Sergei Filin, who in Macauley's words ought to look like a "tragic figure," from his "Soviet" attackers is so out of place I can only assume it to be an attempt at grotesque comedy.

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It's easy for Macauley to complain that the programs were too conservative. He didn't put up any of the money to make this tour happen. The presenters needed bankable shows, which is what they got.

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It was moving to observe him in the aisles of the theater during the Bolshoi’s Lincoln Center Festival performances. Though the damage inflicted on his sight and skin in an acid attack early last year ought to make him a tragic figure, he looks purposeful, focused, businesslike. His elegant carriage, eloquent head movements behind dark glasses and intent animation in conversation with colleagues were far more fascinating than any drama we saw onstage.

Leaving aside what sounds like misplaced or maybe just unrealistic criticism over conservative repertory, I actually found the above to be a touching tribute.

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Good points about Macaulay's framing of the problem – I get we're left with the observation that the programming was unadverturous.

California, I have seen "The Bolt" on the Medici TV and while the setting is conventional compared to Shostakovich Triology, it has some amazing dance numbers – the pas de trio in the second part and the "Denis" role Ratmanksy set on Denis Savin in the first. Savin is really an original dancer, half ballet dancer, half hoofer – maybe he should be on ABT's list of potential guest artists? Some clips of Bolshoi productions circa 2011 in this interview –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMoyAypB13U

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California, I have seen "The Bolt" on the Medici TV and while the setting is conventional compared to Shostakovich Triology, it has some amazing dance numbers – the pas de trio in the second part and the "Denis" role Ratmanksy set on Denis Savin in the first. Savin is really an original dancer, half ballet dancer, half hoofer – maybe he should be on ABT's list of potential guest artists? Some clips of Bolshoi productions circa 2011 in this interview –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMoyAypB13U

Thanks for sharing that link so others can take a look without buying the DVD. I didn't know it was available. Do you think a Ratmansky revival at ABT would work with U.S. audiences? Would it sell as well as the Grigorovich pieces if the Bolshoi brought it on a future tour? The seriously obsessed ballet lovers would appreciate it, but I think it might be too "culture-specific" for general audiences. At least with Bright Stream (a Ratmansky re-creation from that same era in the 1930s), the humor appealed to the casual ballet-goer.

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He might add "The Bolt" to that, though that might be an earlier production ...

Do you think a Ratmansky revival at ABT would work with U.S. audiences? Would it sell as well as the Grigorovich pieces if the Bolshoi brought it on a future tour? The seriously obsessed ballet lovers would appreciate it, but I think it might be too "culture-specific" for general audiences ...

The Ratmansky ballets probably appeal to a smaller audience, perhaps the same special audience that followed Balanchine in the fifties. I don't know how economcially viable that is in big theaters. In San Francisco the Trilogy seemed to be watched very closely – no lapses in attention, no drooping heads, rustling programs as far as I could tell. It's a different audience from that of Wheeldon's Cinderella which depends on luxurious and liquid materials and movements, cute puppets but really doesn't say anything. The Ratmanksys have a text somewhere that we can't quite read but can feel – and seem part of our time.

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Ratmansky is a critic's darling, but not so much with members of the general public of balletgoers. That, at least, has been my impression based on attendance here in NYC.

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Filin's Bolshoi was, in one respect, at least partially on view in this tour: a number of the dancers (including the ballerina most praised by Macaulay, Smirnova) are dancers either brought to Bolshoi by Filin or promoted by him. Based on dates in the program, this would include Chudin who danced at the Stanislavsky when Filin was Director there.

Uh...if I were the critic doing the overview of the season (and, for good reason, I'm not), I would bring that up especially since Filin's casting choices and favoring of certain dancers has been publically raised as an issue.

Smirnova, Chudin, Hallberg, and Krysanova (who, I believe, has been promoted by Filin though of course she was already a prominent Bolshoi dancer when he became director) were among the most impressive dancers on the tour--at least in my eyes. They may not represent the "old" Bolshoi guard--but I'm very glad I got to see them. No-one wants the Bolshoi to become RussianBalletTheater, but I hardly think it would be a better company without the dancers I named. It certainly would not have been a better company on this tour.

(Kretova who has been described on this website as a Filin protege was also good--certainly, a lot better than I expected. I assume there are others, including others we saw, whose development/prominence or being in the Bolshoi at all can be credited to Filin's leadership, but want to restrict myself to dancers I more or less know can be so.)

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In fact I think Macaulay has shifted the accent in his criticism of the Bolshoi’s repertoire. This last piece reflects an awareness that tour repertoire is at least partly dictated by presenters, so instead he shifts his focus to what the Bolshoi presents to the world on the movie screen, which Macaulay takes to be a reflection of “Filin’s choices.”

I’m not sure he’s entirely correct in this either. The first ballet he cites is Coppélia, presented during the 2010-11 cinema season, which was programmed by Filin’s predecessor Yuri Burlaka. It was under Burlaka’s directorship that this production entered the Bolshoi’s repertoire, though the decision to acquire it would have been made while Ratmansky was still director.

In any case, Macaulay wishes to contrast the HD presentations of 2011-14 with those of the forthcoming season, which are “less adventurous” (to say the least) and Grigorovich-heavy. The fact is that the Bolshoi has ‘run out’ of other full-length ballets, and Grigorovich is just about the only thing left to show. But why is that? Why is it that the Bolshoi, under Filin’s leadership, elected to revive Ivan the Terrible in November 2012, and why is it reviving Legend of Love this coming October? Why did Filin choose these and not some of the other narrative ballets that have not been performed since before the main theater closed for renovations? Okay, let’s suppose that Filin didn’t really want to revive these ballets and that pressure came from some powerful pro-Grigorovich quarter. What did Filin get in exchange? Although Macaulay did not see it, he dismisses Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Taming of the Shrew, presumably because he thinks Maillot’s work is trash. But who commissioned this ballet if not Filin? (I wonder, would Macaulay have preferred a revival of Cranko’s Shrew, which fell out of the Bolshoi’s repertoire years ago?) Given how much Macaulay detested Radu Poklitaru’s Romeo and Juliet, I really wouldn’t expect him to like Poklitaru’s forthcoming Hamlet either, yet that, too, is a commission by Filin. Macaulay may not realize it, but I don’t think he really likes “Filin’s choices” all that much. I think he fears the loss of the Bolshoi of the noughties and the programming policies of the Akimov-Ratmansky-Burlaka period. (Frankly, I do.)

The disappearance of Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée is unfortunate and not entirely comprehensible. To the extent that Grigorovich’s version really does preserve choreography by Dauberval, Perrot, Petipa and Gorsky, I suppose that the production is worth performing. The Grigorovich production is danced by students of the Moscow Ballet School, not the Bolshoi company, and its score is different, so I don’t see why the two productions couldn’t co-exist in the Bolshoi repertoire.

As for The Bolt, the Bolshoi hasn’t performed the ballet in years, it is no longer listed among its active repertoire, and no revival is imminent. So far Ratmansky’s version has been only marginally more enduring that the ballet’s original production. (Lopukhov’s ballet, you may recall, received only one performance.)

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Although Macaulay did not see it, he dismisses Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Taming of the Shrew, presumably because he thinks Maillot’s work is trash. But who commissioned this ballet if not Filin? (I wonder, would Macaulay have preferred a revival of Cranko’s Shrew, which fell out of the Bolshoi’s repertoire years ago?) Given how much Macaulay detested Radu Poklitaru’s Romeo and Juliet, I really wouldn’t expect him to like Poklitaru’s forthcoming Hamlet either, yet that, too, is a commission by Filin. Macaulay may not realize it, but I don’t think he really likes “Filin’s choices” all that much. I think he fears the loss of the Bolshoi of the noughties and the programming policies of the Akimov-Ratmansky-Burlaka period. (Frankly, I do.)

The disappearance of Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée is unfortunate and not entirely comprehensible. To the extent that Grigorovich’s version really does preserve choreography by Dauberval, Perrot, Petipa and Gorsky, I suppose that the production is worth performing. The Grigorovich production is danced by students of the Moscow Ballet School, not the Bolshoi company, and its score is different, so I don’t see why the two productions couldn’t co-exist in the Bolshoi repertoire.

As for The Bolt, the Bolshoi hasn’t performed the ballet in years, it is no longer listed among its active repertoire, and no revival is imminent. So far Ratmansky’s version has been only marginally more enduring that the ballet’s original production. (Lopukhov’s ballet, you may recall, received only one performance.)

At the Lincoln Center public interview/discussion in NY, Filin responded to a question about Ratmansky by saying that the company was planning a "Ratmansky Festival" ... I hope that comes through. (What I would really love to see in any such festival would be the first Russian staging of the Shostakovich trilogy.)

Of "Filin's choices" I infer that Macaulay approves of Jewels....I do too but it's hardly a ballet that is ever going to inform the company's profile and it is danced all around the world by companies of all shapes and sizes, some better suited to it than the Bolshoi. I do think New York would have appreciated a chance to see a complete Smirnova-Chudin Diamonds.

But, partly to my own surprise, I had been thinking Maillot was a good choice to create a new work for the Bolshoi -- though I would never expect Macaulay to think so and I may just have been snowed by the performance he seems to have gotten from Krysanova (known to me only in video excerpt and by social media report).

Still, based on his Romeo and Juliet, which I have seen live, and some video clips I would say Maillot's work is theatrical in a way that loosely corresponds to Bolshoi traditions -- certainly it calls on the dancers for power and personality, and choreographically at least it's something new and fresh for them in a mostly neoclassical idiom. Since Maillot hasn't created a work for a company other than his own, Taming of the Shrew also allows the Bolshoi to claim a 'first.' I want to see it for sure anyway...

Regarding Ivan the Terrible (also mentioned in Volcanohunter's post, though not copied above): Ivan Vasiliev was talking about dancing the lead in that ballet in interviews he gave in 2010 or earlier, so that production too may have been in the works before Filin took over the company. (And Burlaka brought Spartacus along with the wonderful Coppelia to London in 2010).

Based on the libretto, I'm totally in favor of a cinema broadcast of Legend of Love with Zakharova as Mekhmene Banu and Smirnova as Shirin wink1.gif ... (Actually I saw the ballet on tour decades ago, but don't have very clear memories of it.)

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I don't know where Ivan Vasiliev may have performed Ivan the Terrible, but according to the Bolshoi, it did not perform the ballet between 1990 and 2012.

http://www.bolshoi.ru/en/about/press/articles/2012/2321/

All recent Bolshoi directors have revived Grigorovich ballets. Akimov was responsible for bringing Ashton's Fille, Petit's Notre-Dame de Paris and Ratmansky's The Bright Stream into the repertoire, but he was also responsible for the current revival of Grigorovich's Swan Lake. Ratmansky oversaw the return of The Golden Age, so that all of Shostakovich's ballet scores would be represented in the Bolshoi repertoire, and Burlaka brought back Grigorovich's Romeo and Juliet, displacing Lavrovsky's version for the second time. I have to admit I keep hoping that one of these days the Grigorovich legacy will be largely dead and buried, but it's a stubborn thing.

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I don't know where Ivan Vasiliev may have performed Ivan the Terrible, but according to the Bolshoi, it did not perform the ballet between 1990 and 2012.

http://www.bolshoi.ru/en/about/press/articles/2012/2321/

Vasiliev only spoke about how much he wanted to dance Ivan the Terrible in the interview I read--it was his new "dream" after having danced Spartacus; but he spoke about it in a way that implied the role was already getting his attention which is why I thought it may have been in the works. I may have been reading too much between the lines. I think he left the company not long after, so...uh...however much he wanted to dance it, it was not enough to keep him from departing the only company that would ever likely dance it.

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In fact I think Macaulay has shifted the accent in his criticism of the Bolshoi’s repertoire. This last piece reflects an awareness that tour repertoire is at least partly dictated by presenters, so instead he shifts his focus to what the Bolshoi presents to the world on the movie screen, which Macaulay takes to be a reflection of “Filin’s choices.”

I’m not sure he’s entirely correct in this either. The first ballet he cites is Coppélia, presented during the 2010-11 cinema season, which was programmed by Filin’s predecessor Yuri Burlaka. It was under Burlaka’s directorship that this production entered the Bolshoi’s repertoire, though the decision to acquire it would have been made while Ratmansky was still director.

In any case, Macaulay wishes to contrast the HD presentations of 2011-14 with those of the forthcoming season, which are “less adventurous” (to say the least) and Grigorovich-heavy. The fact is that the Bolshoi has ‘run out’ of other full-length ballets, and Grigorovich is just about the only thing left to show. But why is that? Why is it that the Bolshoi, under Filin’s leadership, elected to revive Ivan the Terrible in November 2012, and why is it reviving Legend of Love this coming October? Why did Filin choose these and not some of the other narrative ballets that have not been performed since before the main theater closed for renovations? Okay, let’s suppose that Filin didn’t really want to revive these ballets and that pressure came from some powerful pro-Grigorovich quarter. What did Filin get in exchange? Although Macaulay did not see it, he dismisses Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Taming of the Shrew, presumably because he thinks Maillot’s work is trash. But who commissioned this ballet if not Filin? (I wonder, would Macaulay have preferred a revival of Cranko’s Shrew, which fell out of the Bolshoi’s repertoire years ago?) Given how much Macaulay detested Radu Poklitaru’s Romeo and Juliet, I really wouldn’t expect him to like Poklitaru’s forthcoming Hamlet either, yet that, too, is a commission by Filin. Macaulay may not realize it, but I don’t think he really likes “Filin’s choices” all that much. I think he fears the loss of the Bolshoi of the noughties and the programming policies of the Akimov-Ratmansky-Burlaka period. (Frankly, I do.)

The disappearance of Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée is unfortunate and not entirely comprehensible. To the extent that Grigorovich’s version really does preserve choreography by Dauberval, Perrot, Petipa and Gorsky, I suppose that the production is worth performing. The Grigorovich production is danced by students of the Moscow Ballet School, not the Bolshoi company, and its score is different, so I don’t see why the two productions couldn’t co-exist in the Bolshoi repertoire.

As for The Bolt, the Bolshoi hasn’t performed the ballet in years, it is no longer listed among its active repertoire, and no revival is imminent. So far Ratmansky’s version has been only marginally more enduring that the ballet’s original production. (Lopukhov’s ballet, you may recall, received only one performance.)

These arguments make a lot of sense to me. I also agree that Ratmansky was a huge loss for the theater, and that this loss is fueling some of Macauley's anger. At the same time, as I mentioned earlier, his articles play into a long heritage of Americans complaining about Bolshoi conservatism.

I haven't seen the Maillot Taming of the Shrew, so I can't really comment on its quality. I do think, though, that it's great for the Bolshoi to be staging all different kinds of narrative, full-length ballets (as well as a smattering of shorter works, narrative and abstract alike). Restaging the Cranko Onegin was a great decision - and despite complaints that it's still too old, it's only two years older than Jewels, which is always cited as one of the signs that the Bolshoi has been modernizing.

The one other thing that gets mentioned so rarely in Macauley, or in much other American writing on the subject, is that Grigorovich is actually an interesting choreographer. I know that few people in the US will agree with me, but it's certainly an opinion held by most Russian ballet experts (and not because they've been brainwashed). I agree that perhaps the Bolshoi should revise some of his 19th century productions - Swan Lake especially - but it would be a huge loss for ballet if they got rid of his originals like Spartacus.

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I haven't seen the Maillot Taming of the Shrew, so I can't really comment on its quality. I do think, though, that it's great for the Bolshoi to be staging all different kinds of narrative, full-length ballets (as well as a smattering of shorter works, narrative and abstract alike). Restaging the Cranko Onegin was a great decision - and despite complaints that it's still too old, it's only two years older than Jewels, which is always cited as one of the signs that the Bolshoi has been modernizing.

I think that, with the comments on Jewels, it's not the chronological age of the work but the style that feels modern in relation to the bulk of their repertory.

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"First, the Khatchaturian score. Some critics dismiss it as mere movie music, but that’s not fair to movie music. No, the problem is that it’s terrible movie music."

The only time I ever enjoyed the music from Spartacus--and Gayaneh--was when the Coen brothers used it for parody in The Hudsucker Proxy.

"...the vulgarity of her dancing is exactly appropriate to the part"

I remember using a nearly identical phrase to describe Zakharova's Aegina. Nice to have the critical backup.

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