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Paquita - a frigid pastiche of Auguste B


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#1 katharine kanter

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Posted 24 December 2002 - 07:10 AM

Cast changes driftin' down so thick and fast one can scarcely see the air for freshly-printed cast slips.

Injured, injured, injured - shades of Ross Stretton's last weeks at the RB, n'est-ce pas ? But speak no more.

Not a single cast whether of "Paquita" or of "Sylvia" (who are those women, and what are they, to cause such ravages ?) has remained unscathed.

Last night, instead of Marie-Agnes Gillot as "Paquita", we rushed in only to find Claire-Marie Osta (five foot 1) partnered by the six foot 2 Jean-Guillaume Bart in a last-moment cast change (Bart gets the Partner of the Decade Award for this, incidentally - astonishingly skilful). Gillot - injured. Teeth firmly clenched, I had specifically chosen the Gillot cast as I had intended to throw my prejudices against the woman to the winds. Another opportunity lost.

Be that as it may, the otherwise dull-as-dishwater evening gave us leisure to contemplate the inanity of Lacotte's frigid pastiche of Bournonville, and the exquisite Miteki Kudo in the Pas de Trois.

First, the goodies, after all, 'tis Christmas. Miteki Kudo - (the daughter of Noella Pontois and Professor Kudo, for those who do not know her) has charisma, charm, aethereal grace, and a delightful human warmth; she has therefore been banished to secondary or tertiary roles in the corps de ballet. The recent spate of injuries may have provided us with this most unusual opportunity to see her dancing ?

But Miteki Kudo is not even a soloist. We shall refrain from all comparison, with some who are. Her dancing is, however, an interesting, silent commentary on casting policies in this slick age of ours, where a dancer is supposed to look a glossy entomologist's specimen.

Now, for the crux of the evening. Pierre Lacotte, are you listening ? Your choreography is not working, and may I modestly attempt to explain why ?

The steps used in the Vestris/Bournonville epoch, that you, Pierre Lacotte, have been attempting to copy for the last couple of decades, are extremely complex and of high virtuosity, generally beaten and often requiring a shift in direction "en l'air". Those steps appear in a variation as a jewel, set off by what goldsmiths call "lights" - to us, steps - of lesser intensity. Think singing voice, think first, second and THIRD or even fourth register notes. In Bournonville, the critical thing is to maintain the SINGING line, and the EPAULEMENT throughout. The steps between the big steps sing, there is a trajectory that SINGS. People have got to be given the time to get it right.

You, Pierre Lacotte, have a Petipa mindset, and you have simply grafted on to Petipa's diagonals and identical-repeats, steps copied from Auguste Vestris' repertory. Whereas you, M. Lacotte, cram as many of the outsized, difficult steps together as you can fit into a single variation, without any regard to whether the dancer can maintain his épaulement, and whether he has got enough oxygen to get from A to B. And when you run out of ideas, you throw in a manège, or have 'em turn, baby, turn !

But in Bournonville, épaulement works as a kind of bellows - you are helping, not hindering, the lungs by "pumping" with the épaulement.

Secondly, in Bournonville, while doing your little chassés and small-to-middling steps, WITH your épaulement throughout, you are recovering oxygen levels, and building up for the next big jump that lies in wait. It is actually MORE relaxing, than the Russian method of stopping, and bolting off to a fresh diagonal en tendu until your cue comes crashing down.

But, Pierre Lacotte, you do not give the dancer a chance to recover. Like Nureyev, you just pack it in, piling on the difficulties, so the torso is jerked about like a sack of potatoes. It is downright ungraceful, and technically, it has nothing to do with the so-called "Romantic" or Vestris-era
ballet.

A truly outstanding dancer like the unfortunate E. Thibault can pull it off - or perhaps the never-cast Stéphane Phavorin - and still make it look like music and art. But it ain't.

So, Pierre Lacotte, if you really want to bring back this technique of dancing to France, let us be humble ! Let us admit that we do haven't a clue how to do it, and let us get in the Danes, and have them put up a few Bournonville plays on stage, and let us have them give lessons to the POB.

I know that you will not do that. But others may quite legitimately ask, Why not ? Why not ? and Why not ?

#2 Mel Johnson

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Posted 24 December 2002 - 04:16 PM

And "Sylvia"? "Who is Sylvia, what is she, that all our swains commend her?....";)

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 24 December 2002 - 08:43 PM

Thank you for that, Katharine. I wonder if M. Lacotte has an internet connection? :)

I found your description of Bournonville's construction of a variation very interesting, and applicable, since Paquita was originally a French, not a Russian, Romantic ballet -- but I have to say that I don't think the RDB is in any state to teach POB anything. The last time they were in Paris, with "Napoli," (3 years ago?) they were (metaphorically speaking) run out of town. And the year before that, they were scheduled to bring "Konservatoriet" and "Etudes" but there was a diplomatic tiff between Denmark and France. Every exchange was cancelled -- except the ballet. This caused such a furor in Copenhagen that there was a political cartoon picturing the Theater Chief saying, "Of course we're going. There's more than one way to show our contempt for the French!" (implyling that taking this program to Paris was worse than canceling it; eventually, though, they did.)

Do go to "Sylvia" and tell us about it :)

#4 katharine kanter

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Posted 25 December 2002 - 02:33 PM

Attempt to see another cast this evening failed. Same principals as Monday: Claire-Marie Osta and J.G. Bart. Osta giving it her all, dancing flat out. Not the world's most exciting interpreter, but that's life.

Ghastly incidents again in the Tarantella - what in heaven's name is that doing in a "Spanish" ballet, incidentally ? - and in most of the corps' set pieces. Timing, timing, timing. Was sitting beside a musician who groaned each time the massive thud came down precisely off-beat. Pierre Lacotte, please take out some of those steps. Pare it down, make it simple, make it on time to the music !

The pas de trois fell apart tonight, the conductor, for some odd reason, having suddenly slowed down the tempi for Fanny Fiat's variation to a degree, that the girl almost fell over. I would add that Miss Fiat, a dancer of astonishing ballon, attack and energy, looks frighteningly emaciated at the moment. More importantly, she has got to get rid of that "strict governess" expression, which goes along with port de bras that tend to be ramrod straight. M. Thibault somewhat under form, as he elected this night to take all the steps indifferently too large in his variation, which rather spoils its dance-quality.

The evening was saved by the children of the POB School in the Polonaise, an interlude of joy, and Miteki Kudo, beautiful beyond belief in the grand pas in Act II. One simply cannot tear one's eyes from her !

As for Hervé Courtain, as Inigo (the bad guy), the crown of the theatre's most beautiful mime must go to him. His dancing in Act I was excellent, while overall, his Inigo is a true theatrical creation. What a difference to the manic vaudeville act put on by Yann Saiz on Monday !

Whatever has got into M. Saiz ? He seems to have slid into a "techno-Rave" mindset. As Inigo, his dancing on Monday was on the slovenly side, and in the mime, he tends to "lose it", just as he did in the "Indian Dance" in the Bayadère. One almost fears that he is about to have a bezerker episode on stage.

Be that as it may, we had a real School for Mime this evening. Mime is NOT boring when done to this level ! M. Courtain's each gesture was firm, elegant and on the music, and invested with sense and energy. Bravo !

We were given a rare glimpse of Marie-Solène Boulet in a mime role, as the Countess. This young girl of rare talent, has been out injured for many a month. One hopes to see her back in form presently.

#5 Alymer

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Posted 26 December 2002 - 09:00 AM

Well, I'm going to screw up my courage and admit that I was in Paris over the weekend before Christmas with a group of long-time dance watching friends and we thoroughly enjoyed Saturday night's performance of Paquita with the Osta/Bart cast. Despite the disparity in height (and I'm surprised to learn that Bart is 6ft 2in) they gave no hint that there were any problems in partnering. More importantly to my mind, they played beautifully to each other and the mime sequences were lively and compelling.
The choreography is certainly fraught with difficulties, but both dancers sailed through them. One of our party - a former Royal Ballet principal and a pupil of Volkova - was quite overcome by the overall technical strength of the compay and especially the clean, accurate footwork.

My view of what Lacotte has attempted in this, and his other Romantic Era stagings, is not pastiche Bournonville but a return to the style of Mazillier and St Leon. (I'm excluding his version of La Sylphide where he has uncovered a lot of original sources and genuinely tried a re-construction. He's written at length about this)

For instance, his use of the corps de ballet is quite different to anything in any Bournonville ballet I've ever seen. And the choreography of the variations is far more intricate than Bournonville. Briefly, what he is attempting is a re-construction of the French rather than the Danish school and in one of his books Lacotte makes the point that at the time he was working Bournonville was not considered in France to be among the first rank of choreographers. We may, and probably do, think differently, but in Paris they are trying to recapture their own heritage, not copy someone else's.

Of the two Inigo's I saw I was really impressed by Yann Saiz. I thought his dancing was clean and strong and his mime clear and expressive. Karl Paquette at the Sunday matinee was vastly inferior to my way of thinking. But the best mime surely came from Jean-Marie Didiere as the villanous Governor. He's one of the older dancers in the company, I've always found him interesting whatever he did, but he seems to have blossomed into one of the finest mime artists around today. Someone who can make the Rajah in Bayadere into a major character without indulging in histrionics has got to be good!

I saw Herve Courtain in the pas de trois with Hurel and Kudo. He, I found really impressive. Big jump, nice line, good arms and well stretched feet. Both women were nice. Kudo is a dancer I greatly admire, but personally, I think she's at the right level in the company. If they still divided Sujets into two levels, then she'd certainly be Grande Sujet, but I don't see her as a principal.
Sunday's pas de trois was Nolwenn Daniel, Muriel Zusperreguy and Emanual Thibault. Not much to chose between the women but M. Thibualt did everything M. Courtain had done with the exception that his jumps were bigger and softer and his feet and arms still more beautiful. Remember a quality called beauty of line? He has it in spades? If I looked hard for something to criticise, I might say his hands were a little elaborate, but very stylish.

The big difference between the Saturday Evening and Sunday Matinee performances was the principal cast. On Saturday Osta and Bart really animated the stage and kept the ballet alive and moving. At no time did I experience any feeling that the action could advantageously be moved on more quickly except for a final waltz in the ballroom scene while Osta was changing into her tutu for the grand pas.

Not the case on Sunday when we had a pair of etoiles, Agnes Letestu and Jose Martinez. She is tall with long legs which clearly makes for difficulties with this style of choreography, but I was amazed by the sloppy footwork and the token mime. He seemed to be trying harder, but altogether it was a pretty pallid performance, which seemed to affect the rest of the cast. I found myself looking at my watch more than once, wondering whether I would get to Laduree in time to by a box of macaroons to take home.

Even in the grand pas, where Letestu might have been expected to shine, I didn't find her outstanding, although she looks better in the tutu than Osta. Bart was every bit as good as Martinez to my mind. However, the couple clearly have a huge fan club which cheered them hysterically and shot dirty looks at two of my friends who were found to be wanting in their display of enthusiasm for the pair.

Elisabeth Maurin was due to m ake her debut as Paquita on Christmas day. A dancer I greatly admire and due to retire shortly, I wish I could have been there to see her.

#6 Alexandra

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Posted 26 December 2002 - 09:11 AM

Thanks for being brave, Alymer. I'm very glad to have multiple views!

I do want to comment on Lacotte's statement that Bournnonville was not considered by the French to be in the first rank of choreogrpahers. I've read reviews, letters, etc. (contemporary, 19th century) that would dispute this. Bournonville was blocked from the Paris Opera, and there may well have been in-house choreographers who felt this way, but there were others who did not, which was one of ther reasons why he was invited to publish his "Etudes choreographiques" and a series of letters to the editor (which have now been published in English) that are a longer version of Fokine's letters, about the state of choreography in France in that time.

I think it's fair to say that Lacotte's stagings are controversial. He writes what he is trying to do, and there are those who admire it, but there are also those who see something different in the actualization, and have a different view. :)

#7 katharine kanter

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Posted 27 December 2002 - 01:04 AM

If the French public ever got a glimpse of the real Bournonville, properly danced (regrettably, there is little risk of seeing any of THAT these days), they would know precisely what Lacotte is up to. He is up to promoting himself.

Bournonville IS France. He was a pupil of Auguste Vestris, certainly the most influential professor of the first half of the 19th Century, and who trained the ablest men from all over Europe.

Bournonville danced and taught, as one danced and taught in this country - and, with some stylistic variation, in Italy as well - until the 1920s. That is the point at which choreographers shifted away from capturing the audience's attention with an interesting principle of composition, over to "making more effect".

Bournonville, Perrot, Mazillier, Louis de Saint Léon, Blassis - differences in dramaturgy and style, yes, but NOT in technique. And also Petipa.

Look at Saint Léon's "La Vivandière" - it has been put up here by Jean Guizérix two years ago. Even when danced, appallingly, by the Maryinskii, one can yet see, peering "through the lines" , that the PRINCIPLE OF COMPOSITION is identical to that of Bournonville.

When the Danish ballet master Hans Brenaa was in Russia in the early 50s, Dudinskaya came up to him and said: "What you teach, I recognise. It is of the same family as how we used to dance" - before the Revolution.

There are still around and about in Denmark people, who DO know. That is why I say, let them come here to France, and teach these people, who are the most skilful in Europe, to do it right.

I mean, if we are going to do it, let us do it RIGHT.

Otherwise, I'd almost prefer Forsythe. At least Forsythe has, or had, talent !

Lacotte is doing us no favours with his smarmy reconstructions. He is actually sicking people off so-called "Romantic" ballet, because what he does, is milquetoast. It lacks the virtù, the internal energy and necessity of what Vestris taught, and it LACKS EPAULEMENT, because there's no room for that in his system.

As for Aylmer's remarks on Mlle. Letestu, one of the company's most notorious épaulement-free zones, I can only second them.

She was, from her schooldays, always a great favourite with Claude Bessy, and getting a good deal of media attention from the age of 17 or so onwards, something like Yulia Makhalina at the time in Russia. She is now about 33.

Very tall (five foot ten I believe - but it's no problem, as her husband and ballet partner, M. Martinez, is six foot three or so), she is terribly pretty and intensely glamorous (the most beautiful bright-green eyes) but more so off-stage than on, I'm afraid. As Aylmer remarked, they have their fans - M. Martinez is a very clean, precise and technical dancer - and there are also people, this writer included, who simply don't go to the theatre when a Letestu cast is on, as one sleeps more at one's ease, in the comforts of home, such as they are.

I see the poor girl more as a victim of the worst aspects of the Bessy years, than anything else.

One wishes the AD would mix everything up, and let people from the ranks with some character, some bite, come up to dance leading roles and throw a bit of razzamataz or even a spanner into the works. Dream on, Katharine...

Anyway, as I've said elsewhere - let us have the short, the fat and the ugly, if they can but dance !

#8 Mel Johnson

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Posted 27 December 2002 - 04:59 AM

I will say a word in defense of Lacotte, however. At least he was one of the people who started today's interest in "reconstructing" the old ballets. Research and technology seem to have overtaken and passed him by, in our ability to find out something of what the "lost" works were like, but at least he started the discussions which have led to much important work in technical history. I agree that his work now looks to us rather arch and quaint, but thirty years ago, he was the boundary layer (ahead of the cutting edge) of choreographic history.

#9 Alexandra

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Posted 27 December 2002 - 06:17 AM

From what I know of Lacotte's work -- and that is only "La Sylphide"; I haven't seen the others, but I have seen that one, and discussed it with both critics and dancers who know more about it than I -- it is not really a reconstruction, just claiming to be a reconstruction. I don't see that that has a value and if it inspired others to do the same, then I think it has a negative value. These ballets can't be reconstructed; so be honest about it. Make your own pastiche and say that's what it is. There's an appetite for story ballets now, and people might very well like it.

I would say comparing Saint-Leon's Vivandiere, which I saw the Joffrey do quite a bit when it first got the piece, to Bournonville that I think there is a difference in sophistication -- the very few genuine Bournonville divertissements that we have now are simpler. (There are two tapes by the Kirov of this, and I like the Sizova one; it flows. The later one, with Pankova -- ten years after the revival -- seems distorted to me, too slow and too stretched.) Saint-Leon, according to Beaumont, was not admired in his time because there was "too much dancing" in his ballets -- not in the sense of too many steps crammed into a phrase, but too many dances in the ballets. Another reason to save ballets. Saint-Leon's audience wanted more story. We want more steps. We might be quite happy to see those now.

#10 Alymer

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Posted 27 December 2002 - 08:00 AM

The Kirov Vivandiere I have seen, both live and on tape with Pankova, seems much simplified in contrast to the version Anne Guest set for the Royal Ballet touring company some years ago and the version Lacotte mounted for the Opera many years before that.

Patrice Bart, now one of the Opera's balletmasters, danced the male role. He was considered at the time to be one of the company's virtuosi, and certainly had what Volkova once described to me as the ideal Bournonville physique. But anyway, the effect was sensational, far more intricate and exciting than anything I've seen subsequently. Incidentally, it was given at the smaller Salle Favart rather than on the vast stage of the Palais Garnier and I suspect that helped it.

I've also seen Patrice Bart in Konservatoriet with Festival (now English National)- again many, many years ago. I think that version was staged by Brenaa, but it might have been Mona Vangsae. But anyway, the point is you could clearly see the links between the French and Danish schools. Bart took to it as if he was born to dance Bournoville, although he was still obviously a French, rather than a Danish dancer. But that type pf physique and dancing is largely out of fashion these days and it's greatly to our loss.

#11 Alexandra

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Posted 27 December 2002 - 09:50 AM

I've only seen Bart on tape (and, very late, as Von Rothbart in Nureyev's "Swan Lake") but liked him very much. There was something very military about him, which I think of as an 18th century characteristic that is indeed much missed, and a body that was a bit stocky in the chest, but still very elegant. And I liked the way he moved -- musically, as I remember it, and with considerable authority. (I don't know what he looked like very young. My ideal of the Bournonville body is from teachers who pointed to Flemming Ryberg and Ib Andersen as having a "French" body, but that's an argument, too, as some favored Werner Andersen, who was about 5 foot 1 and quite round.)

I wonder, Alymer, if the two versions of "Viviandiere" that you describe get at the division of opinions on Lacotte's stagings? (I haven't seen either Guest's staging nor Lacotte's, so I'm totally innocent here :) ) Guest's may seem simple in comparison, but perhaps are not simplified? Those who mistrust Lacotte's stagings say that he's updated them, making them more complicated than they were. (There are obviously two very different takes on Lacotte, and I"m grateful that you're providing the positive side -- thank you!)

There are stories from the early 19th century, when Danish dancers first went to Paris as guest artists, of the older French dancers being astonished at seeing "our beautiful old school" before it had been, well, enhanced by the Italians. One of my great regrets is that I'll never learn to read Danish well enough to decipher Danish Gothic script, but supposedly in the Royal Library in Copenhagen there are letters from Augusta Bournonville, who studied in Paris in the 1860s, recounting the differences between what she had learned at home -- the 1820s school of Vestris, which was already 50 years old -- and what she was learning now. One phrase is "Oh, Papa, Papa! How the style has changed!"

But when they talked about stylstic differences, they were talking about things that would seem minute today -- the angle at which the head was held, whether the hands en couronne are directly over the head or a bit before the ears, or behind them. It's something we'll never get back. Today, we think of Cecchetti as a dear little saint, the epitome of moderation and harmony, but if you read the Legats he was a coarse, Italian pig with no sense of style at all!

#12 katharine kanter

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Posted 30 December 2002 - 01:08 AM

Aylmer wrote

"Bart took to it as if he was born to dance Bournoville, although he was still obviously a French, rather than a Danish dancer. But that type pf physique and dancing is largely out of fashion these days and it's greatly to our loss."

Patrice Bart (no relation to today's étoile Jean-Guillaume, who is six foot three or so) can be seen in a tiny clip at the beginning of the filmed production of "Giselle" he did for the Scala four years ago, with Ferri and Murru. His dancing as Albrecht was so much better than Murru it is worrying. In fact, it was so good, his jumps and beats so high, so lightning swift, that for a moment I thought the film had been speeded up (I had that double-take watching the new Erik Bruhn film incidentally).

Then, funnily enough, I had the occasion to interview Patrice Bart a few days later, and he said the SAME THING ! He'd seen the selfsame clip, and thought, a/ was that really me ? and b/ have they done something to the film ? But of course, they hadn't. He actually danced like that, and so did others, before photogenia became the essential criterion for a dancer.

#13 Mel Johnson

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Posted 30 December 2002 - 03:32 AM

I should like to recall the mention of the Joffrey's version of the "La Vivandière" pas de six, which was credited to the late Maria Grandy's interpretation of the St.-Léon Stenochoreography. It was closer to, but different from Anne Hutchinson Guest's reading of the notation, but very different from Lacotte's, except in broad patterns, like blocking.

Patrice Bart always struck me as being something of a fulfilment of period descriptions of Jules Perrot, "a chest like a tenor, wholly unsuited for ballet, but from the hips down, sheer physical poetry!"

And speaking of tenors and the Legats' opinion of Cecchetti, does anyone remember the late Zero Mostel's character, the tenor Mostelli? He was a man of firm opinions!

Q: And what about Mario del Monaco?

A: EE'S A PEEG!

Q: And Franco Corelli?

A: EE'S A PEEG!

Q: And Richard Tucker?

A: EE'S A PEEG!

Q: And Robert Merrill?

A: (sweetly)...Baritone.... ;)

#14 Alexandra

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Posted 30 December 2002 - 07:06 AM

I don't think Nikolai Legat's opinion of Cecchetti was solely based on jealousy. I think there were marked aesthetic differences.

A hundred years ago, before PC was born or thought of (as Mel well knows) people from one school of thought or one country were blissfully intolerant of anyone else and totally committed to their own vision, as in Bournonville's assessment of the Italian school where "the women dance like men and the men like women." I think there were elements of Cecchetti's style, which Legat details, that were anathema to him. Bravo Legat, bravo Cecchetti. Would that today we had a dozen teachers with strong opinions :)

#15 Mashinka

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Posted 06 January 2003 - 08:59 AM

I feel that the clumsy plot line of Paquita hinders Lacotte's reconstruction as much as the problems of style. Whereas his "Daughter of the Pharaoh" in Moscow presented spectacle and glamour, Paquita looked dowdy by comparison. Personally I found the story too flimsy to hold the interest in the first act.

D of P also has a silly story, but things Egyptian still fire the imagination (look at the success of The Mummy) and the hero is an archaeologist just like Indiana Jones, who gets to wear some very sexy costumes. Of course in D of P Lacotte didn't have a big existing chunk of Petipa to work around so his reconstructions look more seamless there than in Paquita. But the inadequacies in Russian training showed up in the Moscow production when it became apparent that fast terre a terre choreography isn't the easiest thing for the Bolshoi to dance.

Having now seen both these productions I rather surprisingly prefer Daughter of the Pharaoh, I say surprisingly because I've always had a particular affection for the surviving Petipa. Perhaps D of P is the better-structured work; certainly it could hold a place in the repertoire whereas Paquita (except in its previous form) may not.

A final word about Patrice Bart. Londoners still remember him from his years with Festival Ballet. In Harold Lander's Etudes he danced the fast virtuoso sections better than any one else I've seen with his flickering quicksilver feet. Dancers with excellent batterie are becoming a misty memory these days but Patrice Bart was right up there with the best of them.


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