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Ashton Fan

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  1. Of course the biggest question is whether Kevin O'Hare will adopt the cheque book solution to this loss or the develop from within solution? The casting of Hayward as Alice and Manon and Naghdi and Ball as Olga and Lensky last year suggested the existence of a development plan of some sort.Evidence of the existence of a plan received a boost when we discovered that Hayward and Naghdi are both due to make their debuts as Juliet this season while Ball is to make his as Romeo. The information that ballet casting details will in future not appear in the house magazine but would be available before booking opens has added to the expectation that management is serious about developing its own dancers rather than recruiting from outside the company, as the explanation given for this was that it would enable management to take more account of dancers' development when casting ballets later in the season.The idea that the company is interested in developing its own dancers is important not only because the company has been recruiting really talented young dancers from the school for years and then doing little or nothing with them but because of the case of Xander Parish who gave a face to the problem. Parish whose height,might have at one time, have guaranteed him the opportunity for promotion spent several years in the company doing little more than basic corps work. Then he was given the opportunity to go to the Mariinsky and dance there. During his time there he has danced a wide range of roles including the prince in Swan Lake, Albrecht,Romeo and Apollo considerably more than he was likely to have danced here. I suspect that O'Hare will not want to be held responsible for a similar failure to identify and use talent that is under his nose . He will have factored into any plans that he has made the fact that Acosta is retiring this year and Watson, barring injury,will retire in a year or two.It is to be hoped that the plans will not be driven off course by Pennefather's sudden departure.
  2. I think that this has come as more than a bit of a surprise to a lot of people.It is unclear whether Pennefather is giving up dancing or merely moving company. It is particularly sad as this year's casting suggested that the management had finally recognised that he and Lamb brought out the best in each other. They gave the best La Sylphide that I have seen by non Danish dancers in an unscheduled performance occasioned by a n injury to Rojo. A performance that led people sitting around me to say that they had seen other casts but this was the one that had shown them why it was an important work and an essential part of the repertory. Then there was their Manon which was head and shoulders above anything that the casts that performed in Moscow were capable of delivering. For a dancer who has been plagued by injury he has chalked up a considerable number of great performances. He will be missed as he was exceptionally good in the princely roles. A prince who is an impeccable partner,dances with elegance and refinement knows how to use stillness and is not afraid of it and knows that princes don't sweat. Now of course the question is who is going to replace him and dance with Lamb in Romeo and Juliet? There are quite a few people here who hope that it will be Golding because that might mean that Francesca Hayward will be given someone other than Golding for her debut as Juliet. I don't think that there is anyone here who understands what the Artistic Director sees in Golding.Indeed there are plenty of people who say that they accept with resignation that have to buy tickets for his performances in order to see the dancers he is partnering. I think everyone recognises what Muntagirov can bring to the company and so far he has delivered the goods.All his performances have been extremely good but the outstanding ones have probably been his de Grieux with Lamb , his Jack with Hayward as Alice and his Colas with Morera as Lise. A Colas who "charmed with his youth" and who together with Morera gave an altogether warmer performance than the one that McRae and Osipova delivered . The jury is still out as far as Golding is concerned a decent Basilio but other than that what?The charitable have ascribed his lack of success to the roles that he has been given.But after a whole season that does not hold much water.Perhaps someone could say what his New York Oberon was like.I know that his debut here wasn't that highly regarded so it was a bit of a surprise that it was thought good enough for New York.But then if last year's tour to Moscow and the company's New York residency is anything to go by, it seems that O'Hare is more concerned with showing off the big names than showing the best casts and giving audiences the best performances. But then as he hired the man, no doubt he believes that he is worth showing off. And of course if he wants to keep his "stars" he has to keep them happy.But then there is no accounting for taste. I think that most people hope that Muntagirov rather than Golding represents the. future as O'Hare sees it.
  3. Ashton's didn't make flashy display pieces which only exist as exhibitions of dance.Generally the more difficult the choreography the easier and more natural it should look.The audience's response to the reconciliation pas de deux in The Dream is not "wow" that was really difficult but "ah" how beautiful, The same is true of the end of the Fanny Elssler pas de deux where the response to Colas' one arm lift is not to comment on its difficulty but on its appropriateness as the culmination of the pas and as an expression of the couple's love for each other. It is rather disappointing that the Voices of Spring pas de deux was included in the" odds and sods" part of the mixed bill.It isn't as if there aren't other short pieces that could have been used such as The Walk to the Paradise Garden which Ashton made as a gala piece for Park and Wall to music by Delius which Vaughan described as a masterpiece or a piece from the sixties made for Beriosova and MacCleary to music by Glazunov.But I don't suppose that O'Hare knows about them I think that the entire tour revealed O'Hare's lack of knowledge of his company's history,repertory, strengths and weaknesses. and was more than a bit provincial.And as for discovering that the set won't fit the theatre that is just amateur.
  4. I have just come across a review of the company's performances in New York in which the reviewer says that the Voices of Spring is derivative of Asaf Messerer's Spring Waters. Given the origins of this piece I have always assumed that Ashton intended it as a send up of that sort of gala piece. Voices of Spring started life as the entertainment that Prince Orlovsky provided for his guests in a production of Die Fledermaus at Covent Garden. It was provided for a stage audience that knew and cared little for ballet and performed to a real life opera audience most of whom probably felt the same about ballet.It was danced very much tongue in cheek by its original cast.Somehow over the years quite a few dancers who should have known better have lost sight of the joke or perhaps they are just too fixated on technique for its own sake to recognise that anyone can find such show off stuff as remotely funny or absurd.
  5. I do not think that it is enough to say that Massine like Callas was a one off. All great artists are unique but there are experiences and stimuli that can be made available to students that can be the difference between mere competence and true creativity . Rambert discovered an amazing number of choreographers de Valois did not. Was that a matter of luck on Rambert's part or was it something to do with her wide cultural experience and the encouragement and support she gave? She supported Tudor while de Valois doubted his professionalism. This reveals a very different and more open approach on Rambert's part. Who we are and who we are capable of being is a very subtle mixture of nature and nurture, this is true whether we are talking about the development of a child or an artist. While it may be true that Massine might, even today, obtain some sort of dance training he would not have got into the Bolshoi school. His training is particularly interesting since during his time at the Imperial School at Moscow he received a thorough training in ballet and obtained stage experience in the straight theatre as well as dance and had the opportunity to play character roles in the theatre and ballet This is not the sort of experience that is available to anyone now.It has been suggested that Massine's approach to ballet creation was a natural offshoot of Gorski's approach to staging ballets. Gorski was the man who, according to Petipa, had destroyed his Don Q by destroying the floor plan.The description of Gorski's approach to ballet, placing greater emphasis on character than classicism; breaking up the symmetry of the corps;introducing character steps and expressiveness sounds very much like a description of Massine's works. The suggestion being made by someone with far more knowledge of ballet than I have was that the emphasis on physical perfection of the currently fashionable type is in itself a factor that reduces the possibility of finding great choreographers. Somewhere I read a comment that most choreographers are dancers who for one reason or another find that they can no longer dance very few go into dance with choreography in mind, By reducing the size of the pool by only training the fashionably physically perfect we are inevitably reducing the chances of finding great rather than competent choreographers..
  6. The history of the Royal Ballet's Swan Lake is a bit more complicated than has been suggested. I think that the most important thing is that when changes are made to the choreographic text the audience is always told exactly what has been changed and by whom. The Vic Wells Ballet danced its first Swan Lake in 1934.In setting the choreographic text Nicholai Surgeyev used the choreographic record that he had brought out of Russia. He mounted a second production for the company in 1943 in which it would appear that the Pas de Trois was in Act 3 rather than Act 1.In 1952 there was a new production which is described as "Sergeyev's production revised by de Valois". This production saw the Pas de Trois in Act1 and the first of Ashton's additions to the text in the form of a Pas de Six in Act 1 ,which I understand found its way into the Touring Company's production, and the Neapolitan Dance danced by Alexander Grant and Julia Farron. The next production was staged by Robert Helpmann with designs by Carl Toms. It received its first performance in December 1963.It consisted of a Prologue and three acts and contained choreography by Ashton,Nureyev and Fay. Ashton contributed a Prologue,a Waltz for twelve dancers and a Pas de Quatre in Act 1.He provided a Dance of the Guests ,Spanish Dance,Neapolitan Dance for Act 2 and a completely new Act 3.Nureyev provided a Polonaise for Act 1 and a Mazurka for Act 2 while Maria Fay set the Czardas in Act 2.It does not say so but this must be the production in which Benno ceased to be an active dance participant at the lakeside.A lot of the Ashton choreography for this production found its way into the Swan Lake that Markarova mounted for ENB. This was recorded and issued on DVD starring Schauffus and Hart.Unfortunately the camera man preferred close ups of Mr Schauffus to the dancers performing.the Pas de Quatre. The cast in this section includes a very young Leanne Benjamin. In 1971 there was a new production or perhaps it is better described as a revised production since there was not enough money for a new production. This was according to Zoe Anderson an amalgam of the productions danced by the Covent Garden company and the Touring Company.This production in four acts retained the Ashton additions of the Waltz and Pas de Quatre in Act 1;Dance of the Guests,Spanish Dance and Neapolitan Dance in Act 3 and his choreography for Act 4. Act 1 included de Valois' Peasant Dance and Nureyev provided a moody solo for the price at the end of the act. Designs were by Leslie Hurry. There was a further revision in the 1972/3 season. The Prologue was cut.The Pas de Trois was restored to Act 1 while the Ashton Waltz was retained as was de Valois choreography for the Peasant Girl. The Pas de Quatre was moved to Act 3 where it joined Ashton's Spanish Dance and Neapolitan Dance.The Mazurka was dropped from Act 3 and Ivanov's Act 4 replaced the Ashton version.This version was danced until 1979. In 1979 there was a new production under the supervision of Norman Morrice, the then director.Designs by Leslie Hurry.Act 1 retained the Ashton Waltz while Act 3 retained his Pas de Quatre,Spanish Dance and Neapolitan Dance and Act 4 reverted to his choreography. De Valois' Peasant Dance was retained in Act 1 as was Nureyev's Solo for the Prince.This production is the one that is available on DVD with Dowell and Markarova dancing the lead roles.Perhaps I should say that it is not an entirely accurate account of how the ballet was danced at that time since Markarova resolutely dances through the section that every one else mimed and in addition her Act 2 was regarded by most as impossibly slow and unmusical.It seems quite normal now. Strange how fashion operates in ballet. In 1987 Dowell mounted his own production with designs by Yolande Sonnabend .It marked a return to the Ivanov/ Petipa version of the ballet.Originally Dowell had intended to include new choreography in Act 1 for the section which originally involved a maypole and retain Ashton's Neapolitan Dance in Act 3. However Ashton was sufficiently upset by the decision to remove all his additions that his Neapolitan Dance was not restored until the 1992/93 season some four years after Ashton's death. This version is available on DVD.A lot of people have loathed this production since its first performance. This has little or nothing to do with the choreographic text although the Bintley waltz is pretty twee and a very poor substitute for the Ashton one. Most people who dislike it do so because of the boorish behavior of the prince's friends and above all Sonnabend's designs which are pretty tasteless particularly in Act 3. I have to say that it has always puzzled me that the RB has not been able to have more than one version of a ballet like Swan Lake available to it at any one time. The original version has to be available and shown regularly but the version danced by the company from 1972/3 or even better that danced from 1979 has great choreography in it. I will admit that I felt let down when I first saw the original Ivanov last act as I my first Swan Lakes had included Ashton's version.It is said that the audience would be confused but anyone interested in ballet would be interested in the other version or versions and the people who go just to say that they have seen Swan Lake will only feel cheated if they do not see the thirty two fouettes. I imagine that many of you will be aware of Cyril Beaumont's book The Ballet Called Swan Lake originally published in 1952 and recently republished by Dance Books.But for those that do not. It is a mine of information.It contains accounts of the origins of the ballet and goes into some detail about the reordering of the score and the additions made to it to provide a score that met the choreographical needs of Petipa and Ivanov. It also contains quite detailed accounts of the text of the ballet as set by Sergeyev as well as details of alternative versions of some variations.Some former dancers of the RB have said that as students they used the detailed account of the choreography as a training resource.
  7. MacMillan's Song of the Earth is an austere evocation of Mahler's great orchestral work.It must come as something of a shock if your knowledge of his work is based on seeing Romeo and Juliet and Manon and I somehow feel that the management's decision to cast big name dancers who are known to the New York audience may have added to the shock since the names Acosta and Nunez may well have raised expectations of a totally different type of ballet than the one that was performed. While MacMillan does not follow the text slavishly some understanding of the general themes of each section will add to your appreciation of the images that his choreography creates. The dancers are not given any opportunity for bravura display,competitive dancing or acting and anyone who stands out because of his speed or the height of his jumps has singularly failed to understand the work that he is performing. It is a ballet without starring roles if you associate starring roles with bravura technical display. It requires dancers with real stage presence who dance elegantly; beauty of execution not technical display is essential. The three characters are named but the Man and the Woman are not really individuals but universal types.The ballet is about the transitory nature of life.The Messenger of Death or the "Eternal One" as he is called in Germany is not a bravura role.He is not threatening merely an inevitable part of life.In the first song "The Drinking Song of Earthly Sorrow" MacMillan shows the Man with five other men celebrating the fleeting joys of life.Death claims the man."The Lonely One in Autumn", the slow movement,shows the Woman and three other women who dance with four men,this section ends when Death summons the man with whom she has been dancing."Of Youth" shows young men and women enjoying themselves in games near a green and white pavilion near the end the text refers to everything being mirrored in the pool surrounding the pool the men up end themselves suggesting both the reflections in the water and incense burners."Of Beauty" shows a group of girls picking flowers who are joined by a group of young men riding horses. The loveliest of the girls send the riders "glances of yearning". The "Drunkard in Spring" shows the Man drinking with two men accompanied by Death who eventually carries him off. The last section shows the Man, the Woman and the Messenger of Death.When the Messenger of Death leaves he takes the Man with him. The Woman is alone among the corps de ballet which it seems to me emphasises the loneliness of the bereaved. The Messenger of Death and the Man return they follow the Woman as she moves among the corps de ballet. She is aware of their presence but they are always just out of sight.I wonder whether MacMillan was also thinking of Marvell's lines"At my back I seem to hear Time's winged chariot drawing near"? Finally the Woman is summoned. The ballet ends as the three dancers move slowly towards the front of the stage as the mezzo repeats the word " forever". As the curtains close the three are still in motion suggesting eternity.The role of the Woman is for a dancer of grace and beauty. With the right cast this ballet is incredibly moving.
  8. Anyone trying to decide whether or not to go to the mixed bill of The Dream and Song of the Earth might like to note that the next two performances of Song include dancers in the three main roles who get to the heart of the ballet.Both Morera and Cuthbertson are exceptionally fine in the main female role and the Messenger of Death is one of Ed Watson's finest roles. For me Song is MacMillan's masterpiece.His full length works pale into insignificance when compared with it and if the company were to perform it every year I should be very happy.
  9. Drew.It will be interesting to read what you think of The Song of the Earth and of Golding and Osipova in the Dream,perhaps they have improved since last year when it seemed that their appearance in that work was more about showing off the company's newly signed principals than their suitability for the roles of Titania and Oberon. The choice of ballet for their company debut was bizarre. It might have made sense if it had been Muntagirov who had been cast as Oberon but Golding is so unlike Dowell and is so much slower than him that it merely served to draw attention to what he could not do. Osipova might have been better with another partner but I am not sure that the role of Titania is the obvious starting point for someone with no experience of dancing Ashton's choreography. As far as Song of the Earth is concerned there are some ballet goers who seem to find any twentieth century music difficult and some of the adverse comments about the performances in March came from them and those who while they can handle some twentieth century music, early Stravinsky for example when he is pretending to be other composers, draw the line at music with classically trained voices. The programming did not help as Song was placed at the end of a mixed bill which, while it began and ended with an acknowledged masterpiece,lacked contrast and had at its centre a very earnest new work called Untouchable. It felt like a very long evening a bit like eating a meal in which every course is made from the same ingredients.It looked as if rehearsal time for Song had been sacrificed to getting Untouchable on stage or perhaps it was just that inadequate time was allocated to rehearsing the corps many of whom seemed to be new to their roles. The performances at the end of the season were far more assured.The casting of the three principal roles was much improved by the absence of Soares who, in March,had lacked stamina and struggled with the role of the man.It will be interesting to see whether MacRae dances the Messenger of Death. I have not seen him in the role. As Pennefather did not dance in Song at the end of the season it will be quite surprising if he does in New York.All the casts have something to be said in their favour but the cast with Morera and Watson is the best and the cast with Nunez the least compelling. Acosta can just about manage the role of the Messenger but Nunez gives the impression that she does not know what the ballet is about as she grins throughout. MacMillan said that without the dancer's facial expression the ballet was just movement but he did not mean that the Woman should grin all the time. The other programme contains works by two choreographers in whom O'Hare has great faith.They are part of his plan for the Royal Ballet's future. I imagine that he is not best pleased that he has been forced to fill the middle section of the programme with choreographic "odds and sods". I expect that all the dancers who appear in Voices of Spring will fail to recognise that it is a send up of a certain sort of gala piece. It should be danced with the tongue well and truly in cheek. Unless of course Park and Eagling failed to understand that it was a serious gala piece like Thais.
  10. Well the Royal Ballet never was an English company its dancers came from all over the world but its international nature was not obvious because nearly all the company members had British surnames.In the early days what gave them their unity of style was that although their training was not uniform they were willing and able to adapt stylistically. The dancer's adaptability and the dominance of Ashton's choreography created the company's " English Style". I am not sure how suitable that style would be in Acosta's Don Q.
  11. Just before Rojo became artistic director of ENB she gave an interview which was published in About the House in which she said that she did not really understand Aurora's character. This did not come as much of a surprise although I think that it would have been more accurate for her to have said that she did not understand the Sleeping Beauty and its structure. I know that Rojo has many admirers but it always seems to me,at least as far as the nineteenth century classics are concerned, that she is one of those dancers who uses them as an opportunity to display her technique rather than putting her technique in the service of the choreography.To me her dancing of the Rose Adagio shows a complete lack of musicality and an indifference to its purpose and its place in the overall structure of the ballet.If you dance the Rose Adagio as if you are engaged in an Olympic competition then the rest of the ballet is something of an anti climax and the Grande pas de Deux is nothing more than a damp squib. I began to wonder how long it was going to be before she issued stop watches so that her adoring fans, of which there are many, could time the duration of her balances and the number of suitors she managed to ignore. Interestingly,or do I mean worryingly ?Kevin O'Hare is recorded as saying that he admired her dancing of Aurora.I know that there are some here who are not that sad to see her leave the RB because of the effect that she seemed to be having on other dancers. There was a programme shown here not that long ago Black Swan, White Swan in which Cojocaru and she discussed a number of filmed performances of Act 2 Swan Lake danced with various degrees of musicality by Ulanova, Markarova and others. They both spoke enthusiastically about Markarova's account and clearly thought that the slower that it was danced the greater its beauty. It has to be said that by the time that Rojo left the RB she was dancing Act 2 so slowly that the contrast between the sections danced by the corps and the principals was so marked that you would be forgiven for thinking that they were from different ballets. I think that some people have a very unrealistic idea of what aspects of performances the artistic management and coaches at the RB want or feel able to control. I think that in part it is a generational thing.The MacLeary generation who believed in ballet as a theatrical art form rather than an opportunity to display school room steps,are no longer a regular part of the coaching team.Then there is a feeling that the current generation of dancers are so much stronger technically than the coaches were and the acknowledgement by a lot of former company members, including some truly great dancers of the past, that they would not have got into the company at all if the standards that apply now had applied then. Those ideas must effect how far coaches feel able to lay down the law about speed,musicality and style. I also wonder how much Polunin's departure has affected their approach.One of the most interesting current developments is that the biggest name currently on the company's rosta clearly does listen to the coaches and is interested in stylistic accuracy rather than paying lip service to it.
  12. It is very easy to lose sight of the changes that were going on at the Maryinsky Theatre in the years leading up to the premier of the Sleeping Beauty because we approach the story looking back into the nineteenth century from the perspective of our knowledge of the twentieth century developments in the art form rather than trying to see it as it was to its first nineteenth century audiences as a new ballet rather than a work of art of iconic status. As we are familiar with ballet history written from the perspective of the twentieth century in which the Tchaikovsky ballet scores are seen as the culmination of the development of nineteenth century ballet music and Petipa as the choreographer who provides the basis from which the choreographers of the twentieth century such as Balanchine and Ashton develop it is difficult to detach ourselves from that apparently clear story of evolution. The reality seems to be that there were a lot of changes going on at that theatre in the years leading up the Sleeping Beauty's premier in 1890.There was the retirement of Minkus in 1886 and the appearances of Virginia Zucchi who impressed audiences with her acting ability and revived interest in ballet as a serious art form. The ballets that she appeared in were story ballets rather than ballets simply constructed to display technique.Perhaps it was inevitable that a ballet audience who had grown up watching ballets like Paquita, Le Corsaire and La Fille du Pharon were going to find Sleeping Beauty lacking in interest because the story as summed up by a member of the early audience is "They dance, sleep, wake up and dance again". I do not think that it is strange that the music may not have been to everyone's taste as it is so far removed from what everyone expected to hear as part of a ballet performance at that time.If dancers felt that the music was not "dansant" then there is every reason to suppose that a fair proportion of the first audiences might also have found it disconcerting as a ballet score. Whether or not this new ballet was to your taste was almost certainly a generational thing.Our tastes are formed in large part by what we see when we first go to the ballet and however open to new developments we manage to remain we will, at some level, still be influenced by that initial experience throughout our lives. A man born in 1849, as Korovyakov was, had begun his ballet going in the long afterglow of the romantic ballet while Bakst(born 1866) and Diaghilev(born 1872) who were a generation younger were no doubt more open to the developments that were taking place. It would be interesting to know the ages of those who did not appreciate it and complained about its lack of dance content. The generation that were involved in the 1921 London production of Sleeping Beauty were young when it was new and we have adopted their opinion of the ballet, its iconic status and much more. There are those who, even today, believe that it is short on narrative content.It is ironic that the section of the ballet that Korovyakov seemed to appreciate most, the suite of dances in the hunt scene is the one that is the first to be rigorously pruned in many revivals today on the grounds of its lack of serious dance content. I have found reading the comments of those who dislike the Ratmansky production most interesting and not that different from the russian audiences who disliked the Maryinsky reconstruction. In both cases the negative response is triggered by attachment to a certain method of executing steps bolstered in the case of the Maryinsky revival by the belief that what they had grown up with was the authentic text and in the case of the ABT revival attachment to the current fashion for extreme extensions. I wonder how different it looks stylistically from the film of the RB's 1977 revival which surfaces on Youtube from time to time. As far as encores are concerned I understand that Brian Shaw was required to encore at least part of the Bluebird's choreography when the Royal Ballet toured Russia for the first time.
  13. I think that a lot of people started out,much as last year, thinking that a rather dull schedule of performances for the autumn season would enable them to save money but as last year the casting has changed everything and it is all turning out to be rather more expensive than originally envisaged. The Muntagirov, Osipova Romeo and Juliet should be worth seeing as should the Nagdhi, Ball cast and at least the Hayward part of the Hayward, Golding cast.The choice of Lamb and Pennefather as the cast to broadcast would make sense in the case of Manon where they are the best pairing that the RB can muster at present; they are very good, only the Lamb, Muntagirov cast came close last year, but as yet the magic has not worked with them in Romeo and Juliet. I am pleased to see that Osipova's name does not appear in the casts for Two Pigeons and I hope it stays that way. I don't want to see her in everything nor McRae. Their performances in Fille were very good but the first night cast of Morera and Muntagirov were even better because they had real warmth as well as technical skill. We shall have to see what the various casts do with Pigeons and who ends up dancing the performance that is broadcast.It would be a great shame if the Salenko, McRae cast were to find its way onto DVD as it isn't clear at this point what she is like as an Ashton dancer. The first night cast of Cuthbertson,Muntagirov,Morera and Hirano looks good on paper. As to the other 2016 casts well I still want to see more of the younger dancers get a chance to show what they can do. I know that mature dancers are often very good at playing young characters and I too found Marian Tait a fine Juliet. The point that I was making was that the repertory generally danced at Covent Garden doesn't give too many opportunities for the junior members of the company to perform major roles largely because the management feels obliged to let virtually every principal dancer show us their Romeo or their Juliet and by the time they have had two or three performances the audience is suffering from R&J fatigue. The answer is not to tack additional performances on at the end because that will mean fewer opportunities for mixed bills which provide spice and variety.The answer is to tweak the repertory as it is the choice of repertory that is the main stumbling block to the company developing its own dancers.It isn't at all clear to me why ballets like Les Rendezvous and Les Patineurs are not programmed regularly.They are ballets which test the dancer's technique and entertain the audience while Facade tests their theatrical skills. Could it be because they are enjoyable or is it because they would make a lot of the new works look vacuous? I suppose it has something to do with the fact that they don't seem to require several pages of programme notes proclaiming their creator's genius. The greatest mystery of all is why Raven Girl is being revived.It is said that it is going to be revised but the kindest thing would be to put it out its misery.It will be fascinating to see how well it sells. I would not go to see it even if I was paid to do so.
  14. Drew. the video is of Morera, Kish and Watson. The end of season mixed bill included performances of Song of the Earth. T
  15. MRR. Your reviews of the two performances of the RB's Don Q suggests that none of the dancers has improved since the Christmas run of performances.In fact your reviews could be of those performances. All the "cleverness" in the staging and the reworking of the score does nothing to assist the dancers it simply provides a series of obstacles which they have to surmount.It would be nice to think that it would be quietly dropped after this tour but that seems unlikely.O 'Hare said soon after he was appointed that he wanted a new repertory and this is part of it. It does seem strange that, on occasion, he seems to be so unaware of his company's strengths and weaknesses.Perhaps at some level an AD's choice of repertory not only reflects their taste but,if they were dancers, also the sort of work that they enjoyed dancing or would have liked to dance. You would be hard pressed to believe that the company which seems somewhat lack lustre in Don Q produced a series of great performances of Fille a short while ago.But the casting for that ballet was undertaken with greater insight into the type of dancer needed in each role than has been the case with the casting of Don Q and that ballet, unlike Don Q, is in the company's collective DNA.The roles of the characters who are, I think, intended to be Murillo style beggar boys seem to be allocated to the company's shorter demi character men who specialise in roles like Alain, Puck,Jester, Blue Skater and the Neapolitan dance.So you have almost certainly seen Paul Kay who is the company's best specialist in these roles because his characterisation is so good and James Hay who dances those roles as well as Pas de Trois,.Florestan and his Sisters and the Baryshnikov role in Rhapsody. Sarah Lamb is an admirable dancer and great in some roles but one would have thought that Mr O'Hare might have noticed that she is not, and never has been a soubrette. Lise did not suit her either but she only danced it a couple of times during Mason's directorship. She is far too serious and sophisticated to be convincing as either Kitri or Lise. As for the lack of chemistry between Golding and Lamb well so far in the performances that I have seen him give he has been efficient rather than elegant and has never seemed to be particularly involved with the character he has been playing or those that he has been dancing with, which is why his acquisition has seemed so strange. After a year with the company he seems no more a part of it than he was when he first joined. It is a bit of a puzzle as the director must have noticed that he has recently signed several really talented young men.As to his height enabling him to partner dancers like Yanowsky we thought that was the reason for Kish joining the company but he has not danced with her that much and Golding's one performance with her in Manon, was, I am reliably informed something of a white knuckle ride. Many of us are still perplexed and will be interested to hear whether Golding's Oberon has improved at all since last year.
  16. It is interesting to ask whether another Massine would have the opportunity today to obtain the sort of training that he received. A Callas would undoubtedly find a teacher but the pursuit of the physical type which is the current ideal ballet dancer would almost certainly exclude him as it does so many others.Indeed I have seen it suggested that while real choreographic skill is a rare thing the dance world may be making it even rarer by its emphasis on physical perfection.The way that the dance world operates today makes it most unlikely that latecomers like Tudor and Ashton or someone like Massine who had a slightly imperfect leg would obtain training let alone gain entry to a company It is difficult to understand Helpmann as premier danseur but having seen the early Balanchine recordings and some of the stuff filmed by the BBC it is quite difficult to understand why quite a few dancers enjoyed the reputation that they did if your only experience of them is on film. Most of the ballets that Helpmann danced in were ones where he was playing a character rather than performing a dancing role which required a display of classical technique. He never played the Red Knight in Checkmate which was a dancing role created on Harold Turner and once Michael Somes arrived on the scene the content of Ashton's works seems to change with greater emphasis on what we would all identify as dancing roles rather than ones relying on characterisation. In the company's pre- war production of Sleeping Beauty Turner danced the Bluebird and Helpmann's would have had little classical dancing to do as the Prince. The thing that he would have been required to do really well would have been to partner and present his ballerina. After all the five nineteenth century classics which de Valois acquired were either created to display the ballerina or adapted to do so long before they arrived in the west.We have to remember that it was Nureyev's influence that led to interpolations in the late Petipa works to give the prince more to do. I suspect from what I have read and observed in performance that many people today do not really understand partnering skills and do not rate them very highly when they assess the abilities of a male dancer. Most people seem to be more concerned with how high a male dancer can jump than whether he lands perfectly and how grand his grand jetes are than how he partners. I think that we must try to get into a pre Nureyev mind set where the man is there to support, carry,mirror and echo rather than to compete with the ballerina in the third act set piece. Then Karsavina's comment to Fonteyn that she was so lucky to have Michael (Somes) as her partner because she only had Nijinsky to partner her sounds less like an unnecessary compliment and more like an assessment of their comparative skills as partners. On a local note fine partnering skills are expected and admired by many here. This helps explain why dancers like Macleary and Pennefather are held in high regard in some quarters and why Putrov was not that well thought of. He seemed to have worked his way through all the female dancers who were not too tall for him. I saw him at a matinee of Cinderella in which he nearly dropped his partner twice in the same lift in the ballroom scene. After that he danced two performances of Fille with a first soloist who should have been offered danger money and then he left. I think that Ashton's Ondine is as much a ballet which treats partnering as an art form in itself as it is a tribute to Fonteyn.But there is no doubt that some members of the audience scarcely notice partnering skills. One evening l overheard a couple of ladies discussing a performance of Ondine in which Ed Watson had been dancing Palemon to Yoshida's Ondine which went along the lines of "Well he did not do much did he? I can't see why they cast him, such a waste of his talents.They could have cast anyone from the corps but I suppose it's an easy evening for him."
  17. Here are the names of some RBS trained dancers who look likely to make their way through the ranks. James Hay (Soloist) debut in the lead male role in Rhapsody Feb 2014; debuts 2014-15 season Symphonic Variations (Brian Shaw role) ; Alain. Francesca Hayward (First Artist) debut in the ballerina role in Rhapsody with James Hay Feb 2014; debuts 2014-15 season as Alice and Manon and due to dance her first Juliet 2015-16 season. Yasmine Naghdi (First Artist) debuts 2014-15 season Symphonic Variations and Olga in Onegin with Matthew Ball as Lensky and due to dance her first Juliet with Matthew Ball 2015-16 season. Matthew Ball (Artist, recent graduate) debut as Lensky 2014-15 season and due to dance his first Romeo 2015-16. Reece Clarke (Artist) graduated Summer 2014, debut 2014-15 season Symphonic Variations(Michael Somes role). Hay and Hayward's debut in Ashton's Rhapsody would have been outstanding if they had been experienced dancers but as young inexperienced dancers it was extraordinary.Hayward's Manon was exceptional and her Alice actually persuaded me that Alice was a ballet rather than an entertainment.The downside is that she is due to dance her first Juliet with Matthew Golding. So far most of us are still in the dark as to why he was invited to joined the company . .Naghdi and Ball were generally judged to be the best couple dancing Olga and Lensky in the 2015 run of performances of Onegin. Ball who had no previous experience of dancing important roles displayed exceptional maturity as a performer.Clarke who was an impressive Jean de Brienne at his graduation performance of Nureyev's Raymonda Act III did not look out of place on the stage in Symphonic Variations dancing with Nunez and he grew with each performance.
  18. A few more words about Helpmann as a dancer.Clement Crisp gave an interview when he was seventy which covered everything from his early ballet experiences to who was responsible for the RB's failure to produce great dancers and Ross Stretton's programming policy.He said of Helpmann, "He was so terribly important.He was so funny, so fascinating.Not much as a dancer, but a staggering artist. Very good in Facade....His fascinating face,the mouth, the eyes...". Classical dance is a peculiar art form.It has a comparatively short history as an independent art ; it is performed by the young and its great exponents usually retire at an age when singers and actors are just getting into their stride as artists and the bulk of its repertory has been lost in the pursuit of the new.That it is still careless about its history is exemplified by the fate of the Massine repertory which is scarcely, if ever, revived. On the rare occasion that a Massine ballet is performed, the Massine role is generally given to a dancer totally lacking in vigour, stage presence and panache so that a ballet created by Massine to display his theatrical skill sags where it should electrify and the whole enterprise justifies the work's past and continuing neglect. Then there is the Nureyev factor.Whatever we think of Nureyev as a dancer and artist he changed the way that most ballet goers watch ballet and what they expect to see in a dance work. The comments about the lack of dancing opportunities for the prince in ABT's new production of Sleeping Beauty and the limited amount of bravura dancing in it seem to me to support the view that performance practice since the nineteen seventies has increasingly treated a significant part of the nineteenth century repertory as opportunities for technical display rather than opportunities for dancers to use their technique in the service of the ballet as choreographed.We tend to be able to see only what we are used to being shown.Those who have no experience of demi character ballets have as much difficulty in seeing something in them as the dancers have in performing them.The audience tends to notice what they lack rather than what they contain and will complain about the " lack of dancing" when what they mean is that they lack an obvious display of classical technique with male dancers jumping and turning. .Many of the roles in which Helpmann reigned supreme involved little or no classical dancing,de Valois Satan for example, requires a classically trained dancer with a strong theatrical presence to dance it but the choreography is probably best described as characterisation through movement.The sort of dancer who can carry it off is not necessarily the sort of dancer who gets promoted to principal status today the same is true of the Massine roles. As many companies cast according to seniority rather than suitability, this in itself renders the likelihood of a successful revival of such works even more unlikely. During the Royal Ballet's 75th anniversary celebrations it was very clear how much the company's early home produced choreography was demi character based.This should have come as no surprise as Massine was the major choreographic influence during the 1930's but no one seems really interested in the history of ballet in the twentieth century and as a result the average ballet goer knows very little about it and cares even less.One of the ballet programmes included an extract from a ballet for each decade during which the company had been in existence.Satan's solo was chosen to represent the 1930's. It was danced at some performances by Samadurov and at others by Martin Harvey both were excellent and it made me think that if a different, more theatrical repertory had been retained or at least dipped into more frequently then the reputation of many dancers in the company, at that time, would have been very different. The Rake's Progress was also revived at about this time and the approach of the two dancers cast as the Rake seemed to exemplify what we have lost and what we have gained as a result of a change in taste that took place some time in the late 1940's and early 1950's when demi character started to give way to a more obviously classical style.In this RB revival of the Rake's Progress it was very noticeable that while one dancer cast as the Rake concentrated on reproducing the choreography accurately and, as a result, failed to portray the Rake as a character, the other dancer cast in the role treated the steps as the starting point for portraying the Rake as a character and as a result the entire ballet worked. To end with Helpmann. I find it hard to think of any major dancer today who would be equally effective as de Valois'Satan, Rake or Mr O'Reilly,as Ashton's Dago in Facade,Bridegroom in Wedding Bouquet,lead Child of Darkness in Dante Sonata, and White couple in Les Patineurs and while still performing the princely roles in the classics be prepared to perform Carabosse and Dr Coppelius and end up being the Coppelius against whom all subsequent RB performers of the role are judged.As Gillian Lynn said of him he managed to bamboozle the audience into believing that he had a technique which he did not possess.My mother described him as the prince in Sleeping Beauty walking across the stage at Covent Garden with nostrils flaring as if there was something wrong with the drains, but she said that while he was on stage you had to watch him. It seems to me that the Tales of Hoffman ended up being a fine record of his theatrical skills. To other posters who wonder about the state of dancing in Britain in the 1940's and earlier you have to remember that unlike Denmark, France or Russia there was no state funded ballet school and no tradition of dancing as a career in a state theatre with a pension at the end of a career. There was considerable prejudice against dance as a career and against male dancers in particular.It probably was not that different in the US at the time.Most fathers would not have wanted their sons to become chorus boys and many fathers today are uncomfortable about their sons studying ballet.Football is far more acceptable as a career, it pays more and it is clearly a very masculine pursuit. Before Rambert and de Valois established their companies the employment opportunities for dancers were limited to pantomimes, west end shows and the music hall where there were dance routines and adagio acts. Quite a few of the pioneers of ballet in the UK cut their teeth as professional dancers in such circumstances After 1917 Diaghilev was forced to recruit dancers who had not been trained in the Imperial schools among his recruits were a number of British dancers.He recruited Hilda Munnings who he renamed Lydia Sokolova,Alice Marks who became Alicia Markova, de Valois and Patrick Healey Kay who became Anton Dolin. After Diaghilev's death three of them were central to the establishment of ballet in the UK. Dolin was de Valois first Satan, Markova was the Vic Well's first Giselle and Odette/Odile and after an extensive career in the US Markova founded Festival Ballet,now ENB,.with Anton Dolin. Once de Valois had established her company it began to attract people some of whom had a dance background but de Valois like Rambert had to work with the dancers who came to her and many of the men she recruited were coming to dance far later than is the norm today.It was, perhaps, fortunate for both organisations' development that audiences had a taste for demi character works rather than purely classical ones. Rambert was involved in finding and developing a number of choreographers who were central to the development of ballet in Britain of whom Ashton (born 1904) and Tudor(born 1909) are the most important. .If you know the Ashton repertory for the Vic Wells company you can watch its progress by the ballets he created and from the roles made on particular dancers you can identify what they were good at doing.Mary Honer could do fouettes so one of the Blue Girls in Les Patineurs does fouettes ,Harold Turner the original Blue Skater and the company's first virtuoso dancer could do things that McRae still can't quite manage. As far as British male dancers are concerned Dolin (born 1904?) is unusual because he began his dance training while he was young. He seems to have been intended for a stage career,had it not been for Diaghilev it is difficult to know what sort of career he or any of his female contemporaries would have had.It seems to be those boys born later than Dolin who generally had a better opportunity to train. One a certain Frederic Franklin had a rather successful career in the US. But as far as the Vic Wells company is concerned in 1934/35 it could only afford four boys. Michael Somes joined the company in the late thirties. During the war there was conscription and rationing.After the war there was still rationing. When the company made its first tour to New York it is said that the effects of rationing were particularly noticeable among the male dancers of the company. .
  19. Returning to the Tales of Hoffman for a moment. A fascinating film for all sorts of reasons. It was shown in a restored print at the BFI not so long ago and if I recall correctly the credits state that Massine danced his own choreography.Clearly he chose steps that still suited him, in fact they look very similar to the sort of choreography he generally set for himself in his own ballets. His dancing is pretty impressive for someone born in 1894. Then you have Ashton who undertook some of his early training with Massine.We know that Ashton worked for Nijinska and he acknowledged her influence on him but Massine's influence tends to be forgotten. Massine's works are rarely if ever danced today and it is difficult to recall that he was the choreographer whose works were dominant in the late nineteen twenties and during the thirties and who, as a demi character dancer, was perhaps the best known male dancer of the period in the West. Alexander Grant, who was in a position to know, said in an interview that Massine was the great unacknowledged influence on Ashton and that in order to understand Ashton you had to know Massine. It seems to me that Helpmann's dominance as a male dancer in the Vic Wells company makes no sense if we look at their repertory in the light of modern performance practice. It makes greater sense in the context of the idea of ballet as a theatrical art form in which ballet performance are not judged simply on the technical execution of steps but on how those steps are danced in the context of the ballet as a whole and the knowledge that the bulk of the company's repertory was made in house. The company created a modern repertory which had a high theatrical /demi character content and its nineteenth century classics were set and danced according to the notation brought from Russia without the addition of male dancer display pieces.The company did not remove Benoit form Act II Swan Lake until the late nineteen fifties, early 1960's. Helpmann was no technician but he had great theatrical skill; he was a good partner and as an Australian he was not called up during the war.While de Valois made sure the entire company were evacuated from Holland in 1940, she did not think it right to try to exempt the men in the company from being called up for military service.. The roles that were made for Helpmann, such as the seedy bridegroom in a Wedding Bouquet, a man whose past seems to include all the female wedding guests, or Mr O'Reilly the drunken theatre owner in the Prospect Before Us ,fitted him like a glove. There are still a few people around who say that certain roles such as the Rake have never been danced as well as they were by him. There were a few fine dancers in the company before the war and one of Ashton's greatest skills was to create ballets in which you are so interested in what you see on stage that you don't spend your time identifying the technical skills of the originators of the roles.As far as Helpmann's theatrical skills are concerned, he worked as a professional actor and appeared at Stratford. There is a review of him playing King John in which the critic complains that the way that Helpmann looked round the stage on his first entrance made the rest of the play redundant because it told you everything that you needed to know about the King's character. As for Moira Shearer it is nice to see the dancer on whom Ashton made most of the role of Cinderella in action.I recall reading that Shearer said that she felt that Tales of Hoffman gave a much better impression of her as a dancer than the Red Shoes did because the dancing in Tales was shot in much longer sections than the dance sections in the Ted Shoes so that she was actually dancing rather than starting and stopping. The film is fascinating period piece and of great interest to anyone interested in dance history or so it seems to me.
  20. It is always interesting to see management's casting decisions transform what appears to be a rather dull ballet season into something that is worth investing in.The casting that will give greatest pleasure here are those performances in which a new generation of dancers begin to appear.The Romeo and Juliet with Yasmine Naghdi and Matthew Ball, who both gave fine performances as Olga and Lensky last season,the performances in which Francesca Hayward dances Juliet, the casting of Anne Rose O'Sullivan in Nutcracker and the casting combinations in the Ashton mixed bill suggest that O'Hare is embarking on a programme of developing the talent within the company.Whether this is,in fact his intention will become clear as the season progresses and the casting for subsequent booking periods is announced..
  21. It sounds as if Millepied may be about to repeat the mistakes that Stretton made at the Royal Ballet .All ballet companies have their own history and an outsider who is appointed as artistic director needs to be exceptionally careful about what he does with the existing repertory. It goes down very badly with everyone if a director appears to be ignorant of the company's history and its repertory. Although the French have always been very keen on the new and fashionable it is not certain that they will take very kindly to POB being converted to a French version of NYCB. Audiences seem to be fond of the Nureyev repertory and may not be that keen on his versions of the nineteenth century classics being dropped. Millepied's choice of repertory and choreographers could prove to be as unacceptable as Stretton's plans were. Some of Millepied's comments are bizarre.It sounds as if he didn't know anything about the company before he got the job. There are some things that you should never say about an organisation that you are running however firmly you believe them to be true because they can easily be misconstrued and the responses to them can be damaging.. His statement that the ideal size for a company is sixty dancers is one such statement. The obvious response is to ask why he took on the job? The next is to ask whether he intends to reduce its size and how he will do it? Even if he has no intention of doing anything about the company's size, he has introduced an element of doubt into everything he does.
  22. I suspect that the choice of tour repertory at each theatre is, on the company's part, a mixture of unshakable faith in Acosta's Don Q, an almost obsessive drive to renew the company's repertory, the need to cover the cost of the tour and lack of rehearsal time to prepare anything else .Perhaps the management of the Kennedy Centre said that they wanted Don Q or said that they did not think that a mixed bill would shift enough tickets. The programme alteration is just as likely to have been initiated by the theatre as by the company. In 2013 Kevin O'Hare gave an interview to Sarah Crompton of the Daily Telegraph in connection with the 2013-2014 season in which he said that it would be fantastic if by 2020 every full length ballet that the company presented was "new in the last ten years" .In the 2013-2014 season the only Ashton works we got were Rhapsody and the Dream.Rhapsody was probably programmed more because it was planned to take it on the Moscow tour in 2014 than any great enthusiasm for Ashton's choreography on O'Hare's part. The Dream , in hindsight, seems to have been revived and cast with the US tour in mind. Rhapsody was memorable for a stunning debut by James Hay and Francesca Hayward the Dream was memorable for all the wrong reasons. I think it is kindest to say that casting Matthew Golding as Oberon did him no favours at all .Casting him with Osipova made little sense as it put two dancers together neither of whom had any prior involvement with the work. If it was intended to show them off and create an instant partnership then it failed on both counts. Osipova would have benefited from a more experienced Oberon who was actually suited to the role.It seemed to me that casting Golding was an object lesson in how difficult the role of Oberon is, as if we needed that, and drew attention to what Golding could not do, rather than what he could.It is perhaps not the best way to introduce a newly acquired principal dancer to an audience by showing him off in a work to which he is unsuited particularly if it is one that has been regularly revived with fine casts since its premier. I mentioned lack of rehearsal time as a factor in the programming decisions.The company must have lavished hours of rehearsal time on the new Shechter piece which had an unfortunate effect on the corps in Song of the Earth.The new McGregor will have eaten up a great deal of rehearsal time as well.The reality is that many of the works to which passing reference has been made as ballets that could have been included in a mixed bill have not been danced for some time and would require considerable time allocated to rehearsal to make them stage ready. The 2004 tour gave the impression that a great deal of the Ashton repertory was readily available for revival at any time but it needs to be remembered that 2004 was the centenary of Ashton's birth. The 2006 London season which celebrated the seventy fifth anniversary of the company's foundation was, understandably, heavily dependent on repertory that was of significance to the history of the company. But the revivals in those years did not result in regular performances of the revived works in subsequent years. Les Biches was last revived in 2005, The Rake's Progress in 2006 and Checkmate in 2007. Mason was criticised in some quarters for spending too much time on reviving "heritage works" but she did at least restore them to the living repertory and company memory. O'Hare seems to be moving towards the way in which Bintley programmes works which involves new works every year and in most years a limited number of revivals of works by Ashton and MacMillan. I think that many people here are curious about how the 2015 tour will go as far as repertory,casting and performances are concer.I do not think that it should be assumed that the revival of Fille this year and the revival of The Two Pigeons next season,which has taken everyone by surprise, is evidence that O'Hare has suddenly changed his mind about the direction in which he wishes to take the company. It could be that the cuts in government support for the arts and lack of apparent enthusiasm for Woolf Works despite the popular prices may force a review of his plans for the repertory.Woolf Works is unique in my experience as a new work which has not sold well.I can not recall a new three act ballet by a well known choreographer that has required advertisements on Tube stations, newspaper articles and mentions on serious radio news which usually deal with politics and genuine news items, to shift unsold tickets.,
  23. Like MacMillan with his "holy palmer's kiss" in Romeo and Juliet Ashton introduced at least one direct and one indirect reference to the spoken Shakespeare text In his ballet the Dream. The direct reference is to Puck's boast about putting a circle about the earth the indirect reference is to Puck's ability to transform himself. There is a short sequence and I am trying to remember precisely where. I think it is before Puck is sent to fetch the flower Love in Idleness when Puck is downstage and moves like an ape dancing. It is not always clear. It very much depends on the dancer. Wayne Sleep did not make much of it, too involved in showing off his technique,Brian Bertcher made it very clear. I imagine that even Ashton was stumped when it came to portraying Puck's boast about his ability to transform himself. How do you impersonate a joint stool? So he settled for something that would do just as well and would be picked up by those who knew their Shakespeare or at least knew A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest. Caliban describes the activities of the spirits on the island on which the action of the Tempest takes place and says "...Sometimes like Apes that mow and chatter at me And after bite me..." Not quite as funny as impersonating a joint stool "then slip I from her bum and down topples she." but in the same area of supernatural activity. Well Zucchetti does not make much of this section of the choreography as Stojko and Kay certainly do. It's another one of those areas where Ashton puts in detail that builds the character for the audience but which a dancer who approaches ballet performances as being simply about technique will tend to gloss over as not being that important. I suspect that Hay will fall into the choreographic detail style of performer but on the basis of the single that I saw him in I can not say with absolute certainty.
  24. I imagine that the official version will be that they are bringing Carousel pas de deux because it is the last choreography that MacMillan created and its inclusion means that both programmes contain works by the company's two greatest choreographers.But the choice of this piece and the Beau Gosse solo may not be entirely unconnected with the fact that they were both recently performed at an Opera House gala. So it cuts down on rehearsal time which is probably at a premium at present.The revised Age of Anxiety programme will give you even more opportunity to see a lot of the company than the original programme would have done
  25. There is a fourth Puck Michael Stojko. Of the four potential Pucks. Zucchetti, in my opinion, is all technique and little else he tends to skip the little bits of mime that are physically incorporated into the dance about mowing apes and so on, or rather he does not make sure that they register. He does not draw a character in the way that the other three do He has been off injured and so unable to dance his performances in Fille. .It would have been interesting to see if he reduced Colas to technical display or whether he managed to create a character. Paul Kay is the company's best Ashton dancer in the roles created by Alexander Grant but he is also good as Puck. Stojko is good and so is Hay. Kay, Hay and Stojko get the balance right and dance the character rather than merely reproducing the steps and displaying their technique. Bottom will be either Jonathan Howells or Bennet Gartside.
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