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Helene

Misty Copeland, Part Deux

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Natalia   

I'm wondering if last Sunday's a Misty Copeland segment on CBS' 60 MINUTES may have been orchestrated or pushed by Copeland's p.r. agent, Ms Spears, or if CBS producers were genuinely compelled to tell Copeland 'a story? The early years of her story, including the homelessness, were already documented in ABC's 20/20 program back in the 1990s so I am inclined to believe that the idea came from CBS. (CBS 60 MINS has always struck me as one of the classier TV news-magazine shows, featuring arts and ballet segments rather regularly.)

I'm still hoping for a promotion of three female soloists this summer: Copeland, Abrera and Lane! Three female principals retiring soon; room for three new home-grown ladies to move up. I can't wait to see all of them at the gala on Monday!

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abatt   

Ruth Bader Ginsberg reached the level of US Supreme Court Justice through her work, not through a media campaign. Leo DiCaprio is regarded as one of the finest actors of his generation, and has been acting since he was a teenager to acclaim. Neither one needed the media to buoy their careers. Their brilliance in their respective fields was already well established through their body of work.

McKenzie wasn't giving Misty any particularly wonderful new roles that were better than or different from her fellow soloists until after the book publication and the barrage of interviews that followed. Don't forget, she's already 32 and has been with ABT a long time. Given the timing of Misty new ascendancy at ABT, it's not unreasonable to ask the question if there is a cause and effect relationship between the media blitz and her ascendancy.

If she does get promoted, I hope she can bring in lots of new audience members who help ABT remain financially afloat well into the future. Keeping an open mind about her dancing and will be reading the professional critic reviews closely. The one thing you can always count on is that once someone does a role at ABT, they generally get cast in it again year after year after year. So if she does an awesome Juliet that I miss, there will numerous future opportunities to see it.

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Natalia   

All excellent points, abatt. I am greedily hoping that Copeland's ascendancy might result in more ballet on PBS, whether live or taped. That would be a win-win for everyone, with the opportunity of seeing all ABT dancers on TV in complete ballets. After all, Copeland can't dance every role in every ballet that may be shown.

It's not just the African-American audience interested in her. At the recent WB Swan Lakes, those expensive seats around me were occupied mostly by Caucasians and Asians...a white family to my left...Korean-American DC-resident mom to my right...and an Afro-Caribbean family of eight who had traveled from Bermuda for the occasion, sitting in the front row of balcony, in front of us! (It was so nice talking to all these folks at intermissions. THEY ALL put me to shame with their sartorial magnificence.) BUT I'd say that a good 60-70% of attendees were the WB 'regulars' who are Caucasian and Asians...including moms of students at the school affiliated with WB.

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mimsyb   

Ruth Bader Ginsberg reached the level of US Supreme Court Justice through her work, not through a media campaign. Leo DiCaprio is regarded as one of the finest actors of his generation, and has been acting since he was a teenager to acclaim. Neither one needed the media to buoy their careers. Their brilliance in their respective fields was already well established through their body of work.

McKenzie wasn't giving Misty any particularly wonderful new roles that were better than or different from her fellow soloists until after the book publication and the barrage of interviews that followed. Don't forget, she's already 32 and has been with ABT a long time. Given the timing of Misty new ascendancy at ABT, it's not unreasonable to ask the question if there is a cause and effect relationship between the media blitz and her ascendancy.

If she does get promoted, I hope she can bring in lots of new audience members who help ABT remain financially afloat well into the future. Keeping an open mind about her dancing and will be reading the professional critic reviews closely. The one thing you can always count on is that once someone does a role at ABT, they generally get cast in it again year after year after year. So if she does an awesome Juliet that I miss, there will numerous future opportunities to see it.

Something to ponder. What happens if, after all of this hoopla, she doesn't get promoted? What then? Would she stay? Go? Go where? Any other company want to take all of this on? McKenzie is in somewhat of the proverbial corner.

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Helene   

Nothing much of importance will happen if she isn't promoted, in my opinion. It's not like concours, where there's a test and the dancer either "passes" or doesn't by a deadline. McKenzie has all the time in the world -- if anything, by casting her more prominently this year, he's giving her rope with which to hang herself, while raking in the box office -- and Washington ballet cried all the way to the bank for "taking this on." The likelihood of Copeland going anywhere else permanently is slim, and to go somewhere else as lower than Principal is virtually non-existent. I would love to see Copeland and other soloists and through-the-ranks Principals get guest opportunities elsewhere, since one or two performances of a ballet annually, especially without steady, detailed coaching, is not conducive to growth.

As far as the Bader Ginsburg and di Caprio arguments go, there are other accomplished jurors on the Supreme Court who do not get the publicity or a biopic starring Natalie Portman, and actors and actresses are often contractually obligated to do publicity on films. Wikipedia lists 10 biographies of Tara Lipinski and two of her own books, I see two for the last US Ladies Olympic Champion,Sarah Hughes, on amazon, including those offered by third-party sellers. The stories are told because people making business decisions believe they will sell in the proportion in which an audience is predicted.

A more analogous, but no less illuminating example would be Michaela DePrince, a dancer far younger and less accomplished than Copeland, whose story was documented in "First Position," and numerous press articles, who described racism she encountered -- and, no, she did not name every name -- who wrote a book and who spent enough time speaking to the press that her AD at HNB called a press moratorium. Their stories were considered compelling enough to sell books and advertising, and there was enough public interest that the stories have legs. If McKenzie was placed in any corner, it was that he could hardly call a press moratorium when she was writing and speaking about her experiences at ABT under his leadership.

As far as "60 Minutes" being pressured by a PR agent who can't make Copeland part of a package deal like "You take Copeland or you don't get Hillary Clinton" is highly improbable. Their job is to air compelling segments that will bring in ratings numbers.

Dick Button, in one of his more egregious lapses of professionalism, once described a skater as a "fridge break." Very few people are forced to read or watch segments on Copeland.

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mimsyb   

While I agree with you, Helene, it saddens me that words like "raking it in at the Box Office", "Crying all the way to the bank", and "rope to hang herself" are now part of the conversation.

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Helene   

I think the idea that Copeland is someone that a company "has to take on" is what's sad. Every dancer who goes on stage has the opportunity to hang him or her-self. Some dancers die many of those deaths on this site.

I think Mackenzie is doing the smart thing by casting Copeland. If critical response, a measure of skill and artistic merit, is good, then he's justified in promoting her on those bases, and there's confirmation by outside experts that he wasn't pressured by press coverage. If critical reaction is not good, than he's justified in saying that he's given her the opportunities, and she's shown she's not up to them.

Box office has been a driver at ABT for all but the Baryshnikov years. Stars have been considered the ticket to that, and If casting didn't drive box office, ABT wouldn't announce casting long in advance. ABT has taken every bit of free publicity it can, whether that be the big defector stories and real life drama or the tie-ins to movies -- Leslie Browne was promoted to Principal after "The Turning Point" and was later back to Soloist -- and Copeland's visibility and popularity are another box office wave to ride.

You can see the results of policy on the stage; it's mixed bag. If dancer development, coaching, and choreography were more important to the mix, the product would be different.

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kfw   

I think Mackenzie is doing the smart thing by casting Copeland. If critical response, a measure of skill and artistic merit, is good, then he's justified in promoting her on those bases, and there's confirmation by outside experts that he wasn't pressured by press coverage. If critical reaction is not good, than he's justified in saying that he's given her the opportunities, and she's shown she's not up to them.

Great point, but I wonder how much longer her media moment will last. If McKenzie wants to promote another dancer or two but not Copeland, say at the end of the spring season, can he do that without a flood of negative criticism from the mainstream media, criticism that he might justifiably not want to risk the financial repercussions of? I'm thinking of donors.

On 60 Minutes, after Copeland brought up the question of whether or not she has a ballet body, Bill Whitaker editorialized, saying that “Misty Copeland is powerful, elegant, determined.” No one questions the first and the last, but whether or not she’s elegant by ballet standards is really beyond his ken unless he’s a balletomane, in which case you’d think he would have said so, and he should have. But if she doesn't get promoted, everyone will be a ballet critic.

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dirac   
If critical reaction is not good, than he's justified in saying that he's given her the opportunities, and she's shown she's not up to them.

True, but critical praise has never been the only criterion for promotion, either (although Copeland seems to have received her share). From time to time artistic directors have gone against critical opinion because they liked a dancer, for whatever combination of reasons.

From the last thread, kfw wrote this, to which I didn't get the chance to reply:

Sure, disagree, that makes life interesting. Bring on the debate. Strongly suggesting that people are racist is another matter, and more than one person has done that.

Racism is a difficult topic. I'm sure everyone here has the best of intentions, but people sometimes write things that, when read by others, may not sound so good.That's how it is.

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Helene   

True, but critical praise has never been the only criterion for promotion, either (although Copeland seems to have received her share). From time to time artistic directors have gone against critical opinion because they liked a dancer, for whatever combination of reasons.

That is certainly true. I was addressing the idea that he'd have to succumb to the pressure to promote Copeland because he'd be defenseless against the barrage of support due to her media presence, and if he really didn't want to promote her, and the reviews weren't strong, they'd be back-up for if he decided she wasn't ready, but he was accused of holding her back because of race.

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Natalia   

As much as we'd hate to admit it, ADs don't consult "The IBM" -- The International Balletomanes Meter -- when making promotional decisions. Otherwise, Veronica Part would have become an ABT principal years before she did, Thibault would have been Etoile at POB, Obraztsova instead of Somova at the Mariinsky, etc. Au contraire, some ADs seem to go out of their way to oppose The IBM!

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Jayne   

Au contraire, some ADs seem to go out of their way to oppose The IBM!

Well I'm happy to see some french words enter the conversation! Ms Copeland lives in 21st century capitalist dance world. If she can snag herself well paying guest star roles at other theatres, then how is she any different from any other dancer who includes Russian / Cuban / Native American / whatever heritage in the promotion?

This topic seems overblown. It's easy to depart internet pages that expound on Ms Copeland. ABT publishes cast lists long in advance so it is easy to avoid her performances. She's not everyone's cup of tea, but neither was Natalia Makarova.

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sidwich   

Ruth Bader Ginsberg reached the level of US Supreme Court Justice through her work, not through a media campaign. Leo DiCaprio is regarded as one of the finest actors of his generation, and has been acting since he was a teenager to acclaim. Neither one needed the media to buoy their careers. Their brilliance in their respective fields was already well established through their body of work.

Considering DiCaprio retains one of the top publicists in the country, I think he might disagree with you on the necessity of media to his career. (To give you an idea of how important marketing and publicity is to Hollywood, the Hollywood rule of thumb is that the marketing budget for a film is at least 2X the film's production budget).

And while I have the utmost respect for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, there were many factors in her appointment to the Supreme Court, a number of which were unrelated to her outstanding work. Ginsburg was actually pretty far down the list of Clinton's choices. She was already 60, and many felt that her time to ascend to the SCOTUS had passed.

But some chose to drop out of consideration (Mario Cuomo, Richard Riley). The Clinton Camp ruled out others like Janie Shores (first woman on the Alabama Supreme Court) because they weren't well-known enough in Washington. Others had political considerations attached that could prove problematic.

No one has ever hidden the fact that a significant part of the decision-making to nominate Ginsburg was because she was female so she would became the first woman nominated by a Democratic president, and also because she was Jewish (there hadn't been a Jewish justice since Justice Fortas). Other jurists who were in play as potential nominees at the time were David Tatel of the D.C. Circuit who would have been the first blind justice and Jose Cabranes of the Second Circuit who would have been the first Hispanic justice.

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Stecyk   

I enjoyed last weekend's 60 Minutes segment on Misty Copeland. Not being a balletomane, I can't comment on the technical aspects of her art. That said, I think the segment was more about the accomplishments of an individual who overcame severe obstacles that would have stopped most of us dead in our tracks. An African American born into poverty and starting very late--most might argue too late--into a ballet program would not be expected to reach her heights.

In my opinion, part of the segment was to recognize her accomplishments and another part was to get us to ask ourselves: If she can do all that with her initial disadvantages, how are we using our time and our natural skills to our best advantage?

As far as becoming a principal, obviously that is Copeland's sought after goal. Even if she doesn't achieve her life long ambition, she's accomplished a lot. Moreover, with her multi-year contract with Under Armour, she likely has lucrative second income source. Moreover, she is getting exposure to another complete set of opportunities.

Being a longtime Under Armour shareholder, I liked the segment even more as I though it was one long commercial featuring one of UA's stars.

Switching topics, I like Helene's post:

I think it depends on how direct a person is. The elevator test can to a useful technique to step back and review whether what's written is well-reasoned, proportionate, and adds anything to the discussion.

I think a more important standard is whether you would post the exact thing if you were posting under your full real name, rather than behind the selective anonymity of the internet.

Her comments reminded me of Barry Ritholtz's comment instructions on his financial blog The Big Picture.

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

Anyway, the Misty Copeland discussion has been interesting.

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Helene   

Or to quote Figure Skating Universe's description of the "Politically Incorrect" forum,

"People who feel the urgent need to speak out about politics constantly on some pointless section of a figure skating forum that is only frequented by the same 30 people who all know each others opinions by heart after 2 days" ;-)

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Helene   

And while I have the utmost respect for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, there were many factors in her appointment to the Supreme Court, a number of which were unrelated to her outstanding work.

The idea that people holding prestigious positions or in selective schools simply due to meritocracy is belied in so many ways. We can look at two examples of affirmative action for white, Protestant men in education. At the beginning of the 20th century, Harvard University based admissions on test scores, which were, at the time, the accepted measure for meritocracy, and, in their eyes, there were too many Jews from New York. Suddenly, they expanded the definition of meritocracy to include "well-rounded" criteria that resulted in a student population of "people like us." Or to take my alma mater, Wesleyan University, which accepted women 41 years after it was founded, in 1872, to be in step with newer Methodist universities that had been established as co-ed schools.

The shift away from coeducation was sparked by a change in the leadership of the trustees. Trustee Stephen Henry Olin (son of President Stephen Olin, 1842-51) was the leading spirit behind Wesleyan's progress away from Methodism and its redefininiton as a metropolitan-based university, with heavy emphasis on athletics. This shift would align Wesleyan more closely with the values of Amherst, Williams, Yale and all-male institutions. Somewhat contradictorily, however, women's admissions were increased in 1898, and male admissions decreased accordingly. This development fueled the fears of those who held that women's presence at Wesleyan was curtailing opportunities for males.

and

The first decade of the twentieth century dealt coeducation its final blow. The lead cause was a decline in Wesleyan's overall admissions, which most blamed on fears that the school had become too feminized and might follow the sorry example of Boston University, where the undergraduate population was dominated by women. Starting in 1900, the admission of women was capped at 20%, but this measure never fully reassured coeducation's enemies

http://www.wesleyan.edu/fgss/firstwomen.html

This affirmative action for almost entirely white men lasted until most of the elite East Coast schools went co-ed in the late 1960's and expanded their student bodies with early boomer females.

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abatt   

The context of the refernce to Ruth Bader Ginsberg tangent has now been completely lost because the Misty thread was cut into a second thread. The reference related to using publicity. It originated from the following comment:

"Doing publicity isn't "stirring the pot." It's doing publicity. .. Is Ruth Bader Ginsberg stirring the pot when she talks frankly about how she disagrees with the Roberts' court majority decisions?"

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Helene   

The context of the refernce to Ruth Bader Ginsberg tangent has now been completely lost because the Misty thread was cut into a second thread. The reference related to using publicity. It originated from the following comment:

"Doing publicity isn't "stirring the pot." It's doing publicity. .. Is Ruth Bader Ginsberg stirring the pot when she talks frankly about how she disagrees with the Roberts' court majority decisions?"

And the discussion has continued in response to your response to that penultimate post in the old thread,

Ruth Bader Ginsberg reached the level of US Supreme Court Justice through her work, not through a media campaign.

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canbelto   

For every Ruth Bader Ginsberg, there's justices like David Souter who seemed content to live a completely private life. I remember the first time I listened to the Bush vs. Gore oral argument and was surprised that Justice Souter was quite an intimidating justice and extremely opinionated. He just didn't ever express those opinions with the media. But my point is one approach is not superior to another. You can't say RBG is "stirring the pot" because she chooses a higher media profile. You can't say Eddie Murphy is morally superior to Leonardo diCaprio because Eddie Murphy has a reputation for being reclusive with the media and Leonardo diCaprio is in the media promoting not just his movies but his pet causes, like environmental awareness and endangered species.

In dance there are dancers who also choose to keep their professional lives completely ushered away, and rarely if ever grant interviews. And there are dancers who choose to promote themselves in the media. Again, one is not morally superior to another. Dance companies are complex and political and the dancer who never grants a media interview might throw her weight behind the scenes in ways that the public never sees. And those methods might not be considered "nice."

Not liking Misty's dancing is one thing. There are dancers that I don't care for, don't ever bother buying a ticket for, and avoid if they're on the casting sheets. But this passing judgment on Misty's moral center, speculation on Misty's relationships with colleagues, and trashing Misty's character is something else.

As for Misty's merits or demerits as a dancer there might be practical reasons for promoting her. For one, she's short and Cornejo needs a partner now that Reyes is retiring. They can't fly in Maria Kotchetova or Alina Cojocaru for every performance. Sarah Lane is also short but Lane/Gorak seems to be the new path for partnering.

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kfw   

In dance there are dancers who also choose to keep their professional lives completely ushered away, and rarely if ever grant interviews. And there are dancers who choose to promote themselves in the media. Again, one is not morally superior to another. Dance companies are complex and political and the dancer who never grants a media interview might throw her weight behind the scenes in ways that the public never sees. And those methods might not be considered "nice."

Well the publicly quiet dancer might or might not throw her weight around. What you suggest but don’t quite say is that everyone works the system, and that’s not true. Neither is it true that two wrongs make a right, so even if it was true it would have no bearing. That said, if a dancer wants to promote herself, that’s her business. But when there is a question of whether she is trying and succeeding in getting roles (which by definition means taking roles or at least performances away from others) by this extraneous, non-artistic means, that becomes the business of people who love the art form. Now of course you can argue that she’s not. But by the same token someone else can argue that she is. That’s not trashing someone’s character, as if for sport. That’s “ballet talk.”

Not liking Misty's dancing is one thing. There are dancers that I don't care for, don't ever bother buying a ticket for, and avoid if they're on the casting sheets. But this passing judgment on Misty's moral center, speculation on Misty's relationships with colleagues, and trashing Misty's character is something else.

I don’t know who and what specifically you’re talking about, so I’ll repeat that I personally don’t presume to judge Copeland’s overall character from anything we’ve discussed here. That said, we’re all moral actors, and we judge each other’s and own actions in the course of daily life. To judge is to be human. Here, for example, we all agree that it was morally wrong for dancers to have been excluded because of race, and some people here seem to think it’s a moral imperative that schools and companies get more minority dancers to make up for that neglect. For what possible reason then should Copeland’s choices (like the statement again in tonight's Ric Burns documentary - when was her part taped?? - that ABT had never had a black dancer make it past the corps) be exempted from this same sort of evaluation to which everyone else is subjected? You’re asking the impossible. What’s not impossible is that we refuse to judge a person’s overall character by the little we know of them that we might not approve of.

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canbelto   
Well the publicly quiet dancer might or might not throw her weight around. What you suggest but don’t quite say is that everyone works the system, and that’s not true. Neither is it true that two wrongs make a right, so even if it was true it would have no bearing. That said, if a dancer wants to promote herself, that’s her business. But when there is a question of whether she is trying and succeeding in getting roles (which by definition means taking roles or at least performances away from others) by this extraneous, non-artistic means, that becomes the business of people who love the art form. Now of course you can argue that she’s not. But by the same token someone else can argue that she is. That’s not judging someone’s character, as if for sport. That’s “ballet talk.”

I'm not saying everyone "works the system." I'm saying that big top tiered companies are by nature competitive and there are various means by which a certain dancer gets promoted/given roles, and it's not always by merit. I don't get why Misty's prominence/publicity is so egregiously wrong that it deserves speculation about her moral character, whether she puts glass in others' shoes, whether she deliberately sabotages choreography to get more attention, in other words, how what any of what she's done has made her a bad person.

Let me put it another way. Suppose there is a dancer in your favorite company that you don't care for, but who seems to be the AD's pet. Suppose this dancer is highly visible in the media, let's say because of a compelling backstory. Now let's say this dancer is white. If you're not seriously asking yourself whether your reaction would be so vehement if this dancer was white ...

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kfw   

I'm not saying everyone "works the system." I'm saying that big top tiered companies are by nature competitive and there are various means by which a certain dancer gets promoted/given roles, and it's not always by merit. I don't get why Misty's prominence/publicity is so egregiously wrong that it deserves speculation about her moral character, whether she puts glass in others' shoes, whether she deliberately sabotages choreography to get more attention, in other words, how what any of what she's done has made her a bad person.

Let me put it another way. Suppose there is a dancer in your favorite company that you don't care for, but who seems to be the AD's pet. Suppose this dancer is highly visible in the media, let's say because of a compelling backstory. Now let's say this dancer is white. If you're not seriously asking yourself whether your reaction would be so vehement if this dancer was white ...

First, who speculates about her moral character? I have twice said I don't. Second, as I said, the fact that some dancers advance by reasons other than merit doesn't give Copeland a pass if that's what's she's doing. Third, as to the second speculative thing you cite, speculation of that sort rightly gets removed on BA, and I have not engaged in it. Fourth, I will say it in very plain English because anything less apparently doesn't suffice: I don't think Copeland is a bad person. Fifth, my own particular reaction is not vehement or anything approaching it. Again, I've said good and bad things about her. Sixth, your question presumes racism. What basis do you have for that presumption?

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Amour   

I was at NYCB tonight so I didn't see the Ric Burns documentary. However, I did see the 60 minutes segment on Misty. Based on that, the most egregious behavior I saw was not that of any ballet company or school but Misty's own mother, who seemed determined to squash her daughter's dreams, indicated she was pretty determined to have Misty to quit ballet and then fought(and won) to pull her away from the white ballet teacher who was helping Misty to succeed. If one wants to discuss racism, let's discuss the community that doesn't really want one of its members to succeed in a white world.

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