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NYCB's casting crisis


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#16 Nanatchka

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Posted 16 July 2002 - 08:08 AM

The writer's proper relationship is with the reader. (All kinds of things come into play in the seduction required to hold the reader. Wait! Don't scroll down. I'l be witty, I'll engage in conversational asides that will seem as if I am whispering in your ear...)(And what I am whispering is that the writer's first reader, the one who's really enchanted and charmed by every word, is the writer himself. Or herself, as the case might be.) As Bob Gottlieb's reader--and I get the Observer to read Mr. Gottlieb--I get to, in essence, have a little relationship with him whenever he publishes. I find it extremely satisfactory. If he has to break a few hearts on his way to my door, so be it. Faint heart never won fair reader.

#17 sneds

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Posted 10 July 2002 - 08:12 PM

Ok...I'll step into the arena :))

Well, I tend to think that Gottlieb, like some critics is somewhat stuck in the past and far too negative. We can't stop time-Balachine has been dead for nearly two decades, and his hand-picked dancers are retiring. Face it-things are going to change (as they always have) and we can't just constantly compare today to the past.
Dancers have changed-careers, especially for those who never make it out of the corps are shorter and not nearly so focused on just ballet. Dancers are getting married, having kids, taking college classs, dancing with other companies etc. It's a different world, and the newer dancers are a different generation.
I've disagreed with many of Martins' choices in dancers, casting and programs, but he's really in a no-win situation. No-one will ever live up to Balanchine.
Also, I tend to think this season's problem was the choice of ballets, not the dancers.

The women-
Borree has her issues, but she's a good dancer. Over the years she's been excellent in ballet such as "La Sonnambula". I really liked her Helena (or Hermia?) in Midsummer's.

I very much disagree with Gottlieb about Ringer. Has she been dancing with NYCB for 13 years?-she's only just 30, I think. While T&V is not an idealrole for her, she did a elegant job. I would have liked to see Somogyi in the role, but for all we know, with all the injuries, Martins may not have been able to work the schedule out to have her do T&V enough times to make it worth the rehearsal time. Better to wait rather than risk exhasuting her to the point of an injury or illness.
(I think in many cases it's not completely fair for us to negatively comment on casting when we are unaware of a lot of the issues-minor & major injuried, partner incompatibilties, attitude issues, dedication or lack there of etc.)
Ringer was born to do "Who Cares"-with both Neal and Hubbe, she was spectacular.
Her first Midsummer's PdD was a tad tentative (I doubt she got very much rehearsal), but it was beautiful. I think it will be spectacular by the end of the run next Spring Season.

The men..
I agree that NYCB has some issues in its upper male ranks, but am less worried now that I was a year ago.
Woetzel has actually been on stage nearly twenty years-he joined the Los Angeles Ballet when he was 16. He's been with NYCB for 17 years. Obviously, Woetzel has lost some power with age, but he's still pretty darn good. Yes, he was not at his best in Midsummer's, but anyone who is familiar with Woetzel knows that he doesn't give 100% in every performance or every role. He looked a little off on Wednesday, but his Saturday matinee performance of Oberon was excellent.
Boal and Soto are not young chickens, but still are great assets on the stage and over at SAB. Soto may not be ideally built, but he and Whelan were so breathtaking in the Midsummer's PdD that I didn't even think about his physique.
I think Millepied and Marcovici have great promise, and Fayette has carved his own niche as a solid, elegant partner. After all, Balachine's male choreography, in general, is much more about supporting the women thant individual dancing. Angle and Hofmans (of the exquisite feet!) are also ones to watch.
ABT obviously has an excess of fabulous male talent. Yet, NYCB does not need a roster full of explosive technicians. The NYCB rep demands partnering skills, solid technique and somtimes bravura skill. I'd love to see Corella in the NYCB rep, but I don't think some of the other ABT men would be so comfortable at NYCB. And I don't think Martins lost Stiefel-Stiefel's always been a wanderer and still is off dancing around the globe at every chance.

I prefer to look at the positive-and there's plenty to look foward to in coming seasons. Antonio Carmena has grown physically and technically this season, and Martins is giving Dan Ulbricht every opportunity to show off his talent(he's debuting in Tarantella next week). Ansanelli is great, and there are many appealing young women in the corps.

If I were to constant think of the negatives, it wouldn't be worth the effort to go to the ballet. Each performance to me is a chance to see the positives-more some nights than others. So, Mr. Gottlieb, lighten up and look for the good in life. NYCB will never be the NYCB of 10 or 20 years ago, and that's good in many ways. My generation is different from yours, and thus so is the ballets.
And things aren't so hunky-dory over at ABT.
Cheers!
Looking foward to NYCB this winter!
Kate

#18 Ari

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Posted 14 July 2002 - 02:43 PM

Interesting that you think that Gottlieb's article is so historically-minded, Nanatchka. I think the opposite—that he criticized current casting policy without considering that of earlier days.

I can’t comment on Gottlieb’s evaluations of particular dancers, since I haven’t seen the company enough this past season. But I do have a problem with his tone and his arguments.

The most distressing thing about his article, to me, is its prevailing tone of hysteria. I don’t think this helps anyone and may do a good deal of harm. The hostility he evinces towards Peter Martins will surprise nobody who has followed his writing in recent years; in practical effect, however, all it’s likely to do will be to alienate those in power at NYCB, the very same people whose interest might have been piqued by reasonable, thoughtful criticism. If I were professionally associated with the company, I would glance at the article and think, “Oh, Gottlieb’s raving again,” and not even read it—thereby scotching whatever hopes the author may have had of influencing company policy.

The trouble with Gottlieb’s arguments is that they treat Martins’s casting decisions as though they occur in a vacuum, and are unrelated to other considerations an artistic director has to make. Any consideration of how dancers are cast at NYCB these days would have to take the company’s history into account—that is, to compare it to the casting situation that Martins inherited from Balanchine.

Now, nobody revers Balanchine more than me. But I’m also the first to say that the decisions he made could be very, very strange, and sometimes just plain wrong. In terms of casting, the reason for some of his decisions became clear years later, but others didn’t, and some are still indefensible 19 years after his death.

For instance, the issue of older dancers. Gottlieb complains that there are too many dancers past their prime who are hogging parts that should be given to talented youngsters. This is a problem in every ballet company, and there’s no easy solution to it. Balanchine was loyal to dancers who had served him well, and never fired anyone. He let them decide when to retire. He encouraged them to do so by seldom casting them, but did make sure to cast them at least once a season so they could receive regular paychecks, and he left them their dressing rooms. It was kindly meant—I think he wanted to give them time to work out a career transition plan—but it meant that talented young dancers who were dancing much more often as soloists than as corps members were denied the promotions they deserved. When Martins took over, one of the first things he did was to promote these de facto soloists and principals and give the older dancers their walking papers. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that Martins was being harshly criticized for pushing out older dancers in favor of younger ones. I guess you can’t win.

Favoritism/nepotism. This, too, is a problem everywhere. In NYCB history, there was the prolonged principal career of Karin von Aroldingen, a dancer whose talents were completely unsuited to Balanchines’s ballets but who was a close personal friend of his. Conversely, Balanchine was not overly fond of Violette Verdy, and did not cast her a great deal. He also had a very annoying (to me, at least) tendency to favor a few corps members at a time and give them demi-solo roles in EVERYTHING, year after year, when there were eager, talented youngsters who would have given their eyeteeth for a chance at one of their roles. Martins has abolished this practice and doles out those prized demisolo roles much more equitably. Then there was the case of Chris d’Amboise, who was pushed forward (he danced Apollo!!!) with absolutely nothing to recommend him besides his filial relationship with Jacques. He was, IMO, a much worse dancer than Nilas Martins. The NYCB followers of the time loathed him, and many of the company’s male dancers were outraged at the favoritism he received. And if Gottlieb mentions Darci Kistler as receiving special treatment by her husband, what about Tallchief, Le Clerq, Kent, and Farrell? He also complains that Carla Korbes wasn’t cast as Titania this year. I remember when I yearned to see Stephanie Saland dance her magnificent Swanilda, but Balanchine kept giving every performance of every season to Patricia McBride. The moral is: casting peculiarities will always occur in every company. As Arlene Croce once wrote, “All ballet companies are crazy, but each is crazy in its own way.”

Gottlieb compains that Charles Askegard is “hardly a danseur noble.” Wake up, Bob: he’s tall, and the company has always needed tall men. Askegard is more watchable a classicist than many of his predecessors. ABT may be “where the boys are,” but that’s because many of their male stars are primarily interested in displaying their virtuosity, a chance that NYCB’s repertory and ethos wouldn’t offer them. Not all of these paragons perform with ABT outside of the Met; they’re more interested in being international stars. As Michael says, Stiefel “got away” from City Ballet because he was one of those men. Gottlieb’s “Mr. & Mrs. Jack Spratt” crack is simply cruel, as is his attack on Margaret Tracey. According to him, she “not only undermined her talent but betrayed it” when all she seems to have done is to have given birth and been unable to return to form. Like most of what he says here, these remarks are cheap attempts to attack without a reason other than hostility towards Martins.

Developing dancers. Gottlieb is sharply critical of the casting of Jenifer Ringer in T&V because, he says, she doesn’t have the technique for it, and having been with the company for 13 years, is probably uneducable. But at the same time he reminds Martins of the way Balanchine developed Merrill Ashley’s adagio by insisting on roles like Emeralds and Swan Lake. At the time Balanchine was doing this, Ashley had been in the company for the same period of time that Ringer has now. Casting Ringer in T&V meant that other dancers would lose out, but Gottlieb’s refusal to give his enemy the slightest credit for acting in other than a dastardly way leads him to interpret this situation as hostility to Jennie Somogyi. He accuses the company of “ghettoizing” her. As what? Gottlieb is so blinded by hatred of his former colleague that all his statements become suspect; his article is not analysis but battle. The one time he praises Martins—for pushing Kowroski early in her career—he can’t let it go without whomping him at the same time (he was right, but he was reckless). It gets tiresome after a while.

When reading this article, I couldn’t help but remember Arlene Croce’s review of Martins’s Sleeping Beauty. She was confirmedly anti-Martins by this time, but her review was thoughtful and fair—and very positive. She may have been bitterly disappointed by his stewardship of the Balanchine legacy, but she was a true critic, able to give credit where it was due. If only her admirers would emulate her in that.

Finally, lest I come across as a Martins zealot, let me say that I am far from being one. My opinion of his tenure as BMiC is very mixed. I like the way he’s handled some situations and dislike others. But I think that if we’re going to have a productive dialogue on how Balanchine’s company is to develop without him, we will need to bury personal hatchets, lower the temperature, and discuss issues in a level-headed way. Criticism like Gottlieb’s makes this impossible.

#19 Ari

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Posted 14 July 2002 - 05:13 PM

Well, I was trying to avoid mentioning names, but . . .

When I referred to aging dancers, I didn't mean exclusively ballerinas. When Balanchine died, there was a lot of deadwood in the corps and soloist ranks: Frank Ohman, Robert Maiorano, Teena McConnell (among the soloists), Hermes Conde, Tracy Bennett (among the corps). The soloists never danced; the corps men, unfortunately, did. All of them were long past their expiration date. Martins got rid of them, except for Bennett, who got himself together, improved his dancing, and earned a reprieve—credit due to both men there. In the corps, there was a group of hardworking dancers who had been de facto soloists for years, but had been denied recognition as such (although some, perhaps all, were receiving soloist pay): Elyse Borne, Victor Castelli, Joe Duell, Peter Frame, perhaps Jock Soto, hard to remember them all. Not all of them deserved promotion, but they had substantial repertories and the company depended on them. Indeed, Martins soon encouraged E Borne to depart, but he saw to it that she had a couple of seasons as a recognized soloist first. (For those who don't know the story: Elyse Borne was a good corps dancer, with no promise of a higher calling, who was shanghaied into ballerina duties when Baryshnikov joined the company simply because she was short enough to dance with him. She was desperately overstretched in her assignments, and often looked miserable onstage, but she gamely perservered in what Balanchine wanted her to do.) Martins also promoted Stephanie Saland, who danced mainly principal roles, to principal; she once mentioned in an interview in Dance View that Lincoln Kirstein had said to her at the time, "It's long overdue, isn't it?" He may also have promoted Maria Calegari, but I don't remember and can't find my programs from the relevant period.

Alexandra, I wasn't charging Balanchine with nepotism for favoring his wives. What I was saying is that if Gottlieb wants to complain about Martins favoring Kistler, he's got to acknowledge that Balanchine indulged in the same behavior. Same thing with the Nilas/Chris d'A situation. I'm not saying that nepotism shouldn't be frowned on, just that it's not fair to launch an attack on one person without noting that it's happened before with other people, including the great Balanchine. One of the points I was trying to make is that any consideration of NYCB's casting policies has to be looked at in the context of its own history (as well as the policies of other companies).

As for criticism affecting company policy, I think that is a part of what it's for. As Michael said in an earlier post,

And I think that the expression of opinions, even consensus, that emeges on this Board and in the hallways of the theater about critical issues does matter in the long run. It almost becomes metaphysical but not only that. I think that people read it (including some in the company) and notice. Look at what happened at ABT, for an example -- after the deluge of criticism re Pied Piper, etc., we got Dream and Fille this year.



#20 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 17 July 2002 - 06:13 PM

From the vantage point of someone in his mid-to-late 30s ;) I think that one of Martins' administrative strengths is that he has treated older dancers fairly. New dancers do need to be groomed, but I don't think we need to hand Kistler, Nichols, Boal, Soto and Woetzel pink slips to do it. I doubt Kistler's infrequent appearances are depriving a younger dancer of her rightful place in the spotlight, and the performances of these dancers might even help teach about stagecraft by example.

#21 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 20 July 2002 - 07:23 PM

It's a wonderful ballet, and I thought it could use a thread of its own.

http://www.balletale...=&threadid=6135

Feel free to add your thoughts!

#22 Michael

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Posted 10 July 2002 - 10:55 PM

Gottlieb's article and observations are extraordinarily accurate. He bats about 90% in my view and that's a damn high average.

There is some history of bad blood personally between him and Martins. Gottlieb's departure from the NYCB Board was triggered by a defensive Peter Martins reaction to Arlene Croce's criticisms in the New Yorker of the Martins' regime (and of Heather Watts and Margaret Tracey in particular, if I remember correctly) when Gottlieb was an editor there or was editing Croce's books at his publishing house -- as Mr. Gottlieb himself recounted in his Vanity Fair piece on the company two or three years ago. "It's not the Croce article, Bob, but the fact that you agree with it," (my paraphrase, if I've got it straight). But even putting that into the scales, I still find him the most acute, the frankest, and the least bound by New York Artistic Politics/Sycophancy of the New York critics on the subject of this particularl company. Given the history, though, I do imagine I detect a particular Glee (an implicit "I told you so") on his part in delivering the verdict. And his language, his way of putting things, can be a little harsh and even unkind, as truth of all things can be most brutal.

#23 Michael

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Posted 13 July 2002 - 05:10 PM

Amanda, I think you are spot on correct about Ringer in Who Cares -- it was a Great Performance -- and Taylor was wonderful in Who Cares also (as was Somogyi). And I think you're further correct that Gottlieb was most off the mark when it comes to his assessment of Jenny Ringer on the whole -- That's where his bias led him to exagerate.

And I also agree with you (and the article) that Carla Korbes should have been cast in Midsummer. In the final Dream I saw, Korbes had the part of Helena and Nichols was Titania -- and it was Korbes, with her big, sweeping, musical, impulsive, even hungry movement, who was the Ballerina on stage all night long. It was just so obvious.

And I think that the expression of opinions, even consensus, that emeges on this Board and in the hallways of the theater about critical issues does matter in the long run. It almost becomes metaphysical but not only that. I think that people read it (including some in the company) and notice. Look at what happened at ABT, for an example -- after the deluge of criticism re Pied Piper, etc., we got Dream and Fille this year.

#24 Michael

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Posted 14 July 2002 - 08:21 AM

And after leaving the New Yorker, wasn't he then CEO or Editor in Chief of one of the major publshing houses (Knopf perhaps)?

Further question, did his leaving the New Yorker coincide with Conde Nast's purchase of the magazine?

#25 Michael

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Posted 16 July 2002 - 06:32 AM

[QUOTE]Originally posted by Alexandra
[B]

and Gottlieb isn't writing for a mass market daily, but a Arelatively small publication with a sophisticated readership that's accustomed to reading passionate criticism.


The New York Observer is a weekly Newspaper sold on Newstands in New York, founded by Graydon Carter (now editor of Vanity Fair) which sets up as the Enfant Terrible of the New York scene -- It's "shtick" is the flaming exposees of anything -- It's readers expect and buy it for those flaming exposees. Everything must thus be presented very black and white and the unwritten supposition underlying everything is that all things in New York invariably stem from a corrupt conspiracy somewhere or someplace and that in the Observer you will see this all exposed. I remember when they almost single handedly trashed the career of a State politician who was firing a lot of competent long-term people to give jobs to his contributor's children, until the Observer and the NY times went too far and published some rumours which turned out to be untrue.

I suspect that many of the blunter, more extreme (but snappy and witty) statements in Gottlieb's article owe their tone directly to the publication's style. If he had been making the same points in, say, his old magazine, the New Yorker, he might easily have made them more urbanely.

Alll the same -- and this is important -- The Observer is a serious publication and it's articles are seriously researched and seriously presented. They have done some very important exposees. And in fact, the underlying assumption is itself fairly sound -- many things that happen in New York are unfortunately the result of a cabal of a small group of mediocre people clanning themselves together to divi up the good things of this world amongst themselves and their mediocre friends. By dint of its very size and the astronomical sums of money involved, I can think of nowhere I've ever been where who you know and who is pulling the strings will get you more mileage than it will here. Everything is political here (perhaps everywhere else too?) and the Observer plays a greatly constructive role as an antidote to this.

#26 AmandaNYC

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Posted 13 July 2002 - 03:42 PM

I agree about the lack of coaching-- although, I too, didn't see the originals. Raw talent can only get you so far. There are few, like Whelan, who can work to develop themselves beyond the early roles types in which they are pigeon-holed. ... unless they have some guidance. The roles themselves can only do so much *teaching*. Seeing Janie Taylor in Who Cares? was a revelation for me, as I finally saw her enjoy herself and do more than rush through the steps. Doing more Balanchine ballets will only get her so far, if she isn't coached.

As someone who has been watching the company for 10+ years-- a corps generation's worth-- I am amazed at how LITTLE development I have seen in most dancers, other than in their technique. When I have seen changes, it seems more like they have gone from girls to women. That makes a difference, but not enough.

But, I take great exception to Gottlieb's comments about Ringer (oh, and sneds, she was in the same cohort as Meunier and Stiefel, the 1989 SAB year, although she was injured workshop time). I was at those same Who Cares? performances, and, as I have noted elsewhere, her perfs were among the highlights of the year for me. It's times like these that remind me that you can agree with a person on a whole lot, but you don't always *see* the same performance. I think when Ringer first returned to the company, as I think Leigh wrote or just said to me, RInger was in danger of being to cutesy, relying to much on her smile and sweetness. But, in the last year, I haven't seen that.

I do worry about the development of the newer girls. Korbes, as he wrote, is a real find, and she should have been cast as Titania this year, as she had last year. Bouder was not used so much this year. As amazing as I know she'll be in Tarantella, I worry that, Firebird aside, she'll be pigeon-holed in the jumping roles. Somogyi, thankfully, has not been, though it's about time she did T&V and Square Dance.

I can say a lot more, but it won't go anywhere. The thing i wonder about... is there anything any of us can do about it? Doesn't even seem like being on the Board makes a difference. Dropping ticket sales can be blamed on the economy. Critics can be dismissed as being stuck in the past or hell bent on hating Martins. Their audience research doesn't focus on such things.

So, what about us? Are we *doomed* to accepting things as they are. Savoring the great performances when they come and watching great potential often squandered?

-amanda

#27 AmandaNYC

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Posted 20 July 2002 - 11:42 AM

Well, I'd even debate Borree's ability to do the steps of Square Dance... The first two times I saw her do the ballet, she didn't make it through some of the turning sequences. After that, I sat out the ballet...

Anyway, after re-reading the pieces, all I can think is that it's a shame his tone has to be so extreme. I agree with many things he says, but am totally turned off b/c of his way of presenting his ideas. I agree with KayDenmark-- it would be harder for some to dismiss his piece if his ideas were presented in a more reasonable manner. But, in all, I still think this piece is no where near the travesty (sp?) that the Homans NY Times piece was. I wrote my one and only letter to editors after reading that piece.


And, I agree with Leigh about Martins' treatment of the older dancers and the benefits of keeping them around. It is the use of less adequate dancers in major roles that is keeping some younger dancers from their places in the spotlight....

-amanda

#28 Calliope

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Posted 11 July 2002 - 04:41 AM

I agreed with him for the most part. The article goes a bit hand in hand with Joan Acella's piece from the New Yorker and the WSJ article as well.
I think there's a crash and burn mentality at City Ballet. Dancers are taken up through the ranks far too early and occasionally they get lucky with a Somogyi or a Weese, but the rest look underdeveloped.
As for the individual dancers, IMO, Borree isn't principal material. I've never seen someone with stage fright like her, you can visibly see her shaking from the back of the orchestra. And while that in itself doesn't make her a bad dancer, it sets a tone for the audience, who are just pulling for her to get through it.
Taylor, he hit the nail on the head, who is she. She's the steps and not much more, but she's also so young.
Same with Stafford.
I had to laugh at the Mr. & Mrs. Spratt comment regarding Soto and Whelan, but again agreed with him about Whelan's versatility and just how indespensable she's become. There was a time when I though she couldn't do Aurora and she changed my mind, that growth is tangible and you appreciate it.
Most of the dancers just seem cold to me and the ones with any fire (Rutherford, Edge, Walker, Jessy Hendrickson, Natanya) are fighting for roles and left on the back burner.
For me, I see the Diamond Project as one of the reasons. I think they're pushing new choreography styles on dancers that once they leave the school (SAB) seem to lose focus on any particular type of style. The fact that so many feel the need to go and take outside class or back at SAB is a fact often overlooked or dismissed.
I admit to not being a fan of Martins. I think he does things to appease as opposed to structuring. The exodus of male dancers is evident of that (and I won't even touch the nepotism subject).
For the first time in years, I found myself heading over to the other house to watch ABT this season far more. And it was fun!

#29 Calliope

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Posted 12 July 2002 - 05:37 AM

I think the most glaring problem,is as cargill points out, the coaching or lack of it.
By no means am I looking for the same type of dancers of the past, in fact I usually just shrug when the comparisons are made b/c I didn't see those dancers, but the fact that there really is no coaching being done, just steps being taught is quite evident. Sometimes I wonder if the "growth" I see from one performance to the next is just lucky (i.e. the dancer had a bad night Friday and was just better on Monday) And the rep is really too big. Few dancers have signature roles anymore.

#30 Calliope

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Posted 16 July 2002 - 08:54 AM

The Observer has never been my "end all" newspaper, after all they were the ones that carried "Sex & The City" for years, but aside from my relationship with the paper, the writer, the ballet company, Gottlieb's article struck a chord with me and obviously most others here and to me, that is sometimes the role of the critic. To bring attention to things you might not be aware of and then it's up to you the viewer to decide.


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