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Don Quixote -- Spring 2013 MET Season

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I bought this ticket when Hallberg was cast (as I assume many others did) and found Stearns a disappointment. There is something odd about his partnering. In supporting her pirouettes, he manhandles her like he was working one of those old-fashioned butter churners. At the end of an Act I sequence, she did a series of complicated turns into a fishdive and they almost lost it. The flying fishdives in Act II where she throws herself into him seemed ultra-cautious, like they didn't trust each other. But he did two one-armed lifts in Act I which seemed very secure and were held for a long time. His preparations for a multiple pirouette are so long and slowly drawn out they seem like he worries about it. The barrel turns in Act III were sloppy and close to the floor.

Seo's Italian fouettes in Act II were the disaster others reported. She came down off pointe after two and just seemed to give up.

Semionova saved the day. She held several long unsupported balances throughout the evening that were stunning. Her technique in the stabbing turns and hop sequences was flawless. When she came out in the Act III fouettes carrying a fan, she had a knowing look: "Wait until you see what I'm going to do with this." She held the arm with the fan over her head for the first several fouettes, threw in lots of multiples.

Perhaps I was reading too much into things, but I didn't sense any chemistry between Semionova and Stearns - pasted-on smiles and looks.

The house seemed about 80% full, but I wonder how many had bought tickets for Hallberg.

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My area of the house was also about 80 percent full. There was zero chemistry between Semionova and Stearns, and it seemed clear that Semionova was fearful and lacked trust in Stearns, so many of the portions of the choreography that should have been thrilling were dumbed down, muted and conservative because there was a lack of a true partnership. I kept the ticket because I love Semionova. I think Cory may be more suitable to danseur parts, but he performed in a professional and respectable manner. Seo's Dryad was unprofessional, and she was not merely having an off night. These problems are a regular occurrence for her.

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Why is this ballet such an important part of the canon? I am rarely interested in the tricks, but Natalia's balances and Ivan's split turns were the only things that held my attention. Other ballets differ from the books from which they derive, and still are compelling, but in this case, the book has so much to offer, while the dance does not move me.

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I like the comedy of Don Q. More improtantly I love the dancing, especially if it is done well. It's the same with Le Corsaire. You don't see it for the stories, which are both rather silly. You seen it for the dancing. You have to accept that about Don Q going in. Again, if the dancing is good and there is chemistry between the leads and the smaller parts are well acted and danced, well - you leave the theater on such a high. I do anyway and I have seen Don Q around 20 times.

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slightly off topic, but f.y.i. Semionova is currently featured in a print ad campaign for UNIQLO, now seen in some NYC subway cars) for a simple tank top; she's shown wearing the white top in a simple, straightforward, evidently intentionally unglamorous shot, captioned by her name and identifying her as at "The world's leading ballerina."

i wonder if she was aware of the campaign's plan to identify her that way. i somehow doubt it. her interviews seem to indicate a woman well aware of her talents but not a hyperbolic one.

a companion ad for Novak Djokovic is similarly presented alongside those for Semionova, with the tennis player in a similarly plain t-shirt from the same line, etc. (i didn't register on the identification wording for Djokovic.)

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Why is this ballet such an important part of the canon? I am rarely interested in the tricks, but Natalia's balances and Ivan's split turns were the only things that held my attention. Other ballets differ from the books from which they derive, and still are compelling, but in this case, the book has so much to offer, while the dance does not move me.

Puppytreats, it is an important part of the canon because it is Petipa - however, how much "Petipa" it contains and how "Petipa" it is danced depends on the company and the version of the choreography that is danced. Petipa choreographed the ballet for the Bolshoi in Moscow in 1869 and restaged it in St. Petersburg in 1871. If you read Cyril Beaumont's "Complete Book of Ballets", he got a synopsis of Petipa's original 1871 St. Petersburg version and it is very different from the ballet as it is danced today. The story has many other characters and includes more of Don Quixote as protagonist and less Kitri and Basilio. The wikipedia article also includes this synopsis:


The Alexander Gorsky Bolshoi revision of 1900 that he restaged in St. Petersburg in 1902 is the basis for all modern revivals. It cuts out a lot of the story and mime and adds much more character dancing. That version, much altered is what ABT performs today. So we are several steps away from Petipa.

The Bolshoi does a very circusy, everything-including-the-kitchen-sink version staged by Alexander Fadeyechev (that is the one they toured to NYC in 2005 - is it still used?). The Maryinsky-Kirov version has details that western versions don't use - children interspersed with the Dryads in the Act II "Dream" sequence for example that once you see it you miss it when it isn't there. That dream sequence is the most authentic original "Petipa" choreography.

Ideally, Kitri would exude the demi-caractère Spanish dancer bravura of a Bolshoi ballerina in Act I, morph into a pure classical "Mariinsky" ballerina as Dulcinea in Act II's "Dream" sequence and then combine both qualities in Act III. She needs to dance in multiple styles and not just be a jumper/athlete virtuoso. Just like Violetta in "La Traviata" needs a soprano with a different voice for each act. Similar to Odette/Odile in "Swan Lake" she asks the interpreter to dance in many different styles - be proficient in both adagio and allegro. Nina Ananiashvili had all of these qualities. I also saw Sylvie Guillem as Kitri circa 1991 who could be very classical and very daring. Soubrettes can work too - provided they have great technical strength.

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So far I've seen three Don Q performances, and I have two more to go. Here are my thoughts so far:

1) Friday 5/24 - Reyes & Cornejo 10th anniversary

I had such a great time at this performance! Sure, Reyes doesn't have the same extension or flexibility as some of the other ballerinas, but she more than made up for it with her quicksilver turns, musicality, and her saucy charm as Kitri. Those fouettes that she did where she opened and closed the fan above her head were AMAZING! Also, her comedic timing was perfect, especially in the scene when Basilio fakes his death.

As for Cornejo, I could watch him turn and jump for days! So easy, so perfectly centered, such nice lines. Bravo! He was also perfectly believable as the hot-tempered charmer.

The two of them had great chemistry and brought some real Latin panache to the performance. They were the only pair I saw who actually made the Spanish dances look authentic, instead of like ballet dancers trying to do flamenco.

Craig Salstein was an absolute scene-stealer as the bumbling suitor Gamache--so much so that he occasionally distracted me from the main action with his antics. An unexpected highlight for me occurred when Kitri's father (played perfectly by Roman Zhurbin) accidentally hit Gamache with a large fish near the end of Act I. Somehow, Zhurbin managed to hit Salstein at just the right angle that not only his hat flew off, but also his wig!! It was a mishap--yet perfectly believable (why wouldn't the foppish Gamache wear a wig?)--that I and the people around me burst out laughing. I was laughing so hard I was crying!

Hee Seo generally danced beautifully as Mercedes/Queen of the Dryads, though she did have a little bit of trouble getting around those darts on the ground in Act I, and a few bobbles with the Italian fouettes in Act II (but so did everyone). However, I just did not really believe her as the sultry street dancer--to me she just came off as mildly coquettish.

It didn't help that her Espada--Alex Hammoudi--was not particularly charismatic, though he did look dashing in the costume. He seemed to struggle a bit with the steps, and they came off a little ill-defined to me.

Overall, however, the performance was immensely enjoyable thanks to Reyes and Cornejo's fun and fiery performances. Congratulations on 10 years as principals!

2) Saturday 5/25 - Osipova & Vasiliev

Well, I may be in the minority here, but I was really disgusted by Osipova and Vasiliev's dancing. I've been put off by their sloppiness in the past, but I thought I would be able to overlook their flaws in a ballet like Don Q, which is all about the big tricks. Unfortunately, I was wrong. They changed the steps, they totally disregarded the music, and they didn't try to make it balletic/graceful at all. As the NY Times review mentioned, "fabulously vulgar!" I understand that the vast majority of people find them immensely exciting, but I guess they're just not my cup of tea.

Tiler Peck was sitting a few rows ahead of me, and she left after Act II. Maybe I should've done the same. ;)

But, if I had, I would've missed Christine Shevchenko's lovely performance as one of the flower girls! Her performance was a real highlight for me. I hope to see her in more soloist roles (and promoted to soloist)!

In fact, I thought most of the supporting cast looked pretty good. When Osipova danced Don Q with Carreno a few years back, I felt like the rest of the cast was a total snooze in comparison to Osipova, but I didn't feel that huge discrepancy that this time.

In particular, Simone Messmer totally oozed sex appeal as Mercedes--there is the fire I was missing in Hee Seo--and I think she even made Hammoudi dance better!

Interestingly, Messmer did not dance Queen of the Dryads--Misty Copeland did. Apparently it was her first show back after her injury, so they wanted to ease her back into it so they split the roles of Mercedes/Queen of the Dryads.

3) Monday 5/27 - Semionova & Stearns

Well, I guess I'm REALLY in the minority here, but I totally enjoyed this performance, and so did my friend.

Now HERE was the BEAUTIFUL bravura dancing I was looking for! Semionova was wonderful--even better than two years ago, in my opinion. Last time, I remember she seemed a little nervous (it was her first show with ABT, after all), but this time she looked 100% comfortable. In fact, as my friend commented, she was positively glowing. She pulled off some jaw-dropping balances--in the Act III balance, she went from a back attitude to retire and then developped the leg forward, all while staying on pointe--and crazy multiple pirouettes in the fouettes section.

But I also appreciated the way that she would luxuriate in the music--slowing down a soutenu turn, or taking a backbend to the limit. Gorgeous!

In contrast to most people, I really enjoyed seeing Stearns with Semionova! I thought they make an attractive couple and to me (with my binoculars), I thought there was real chemistry there. Though she and Whiteside might be interesting!

True, there were a few iffy partnering moves--sometimes it looked like he was hindering the supported pirouettes rather than helping, and one of the fish dives looked a bit strained--but he definitely held Semionova in the one-handed lifts much longer than I would've expected.

I also have to give kudos to James Whiteside for a flashy and sharp portrayal of Espada. He certainly had plenty of attack! I would love to see his Espada paired with Messmer's Mercedes sometime!

All in all, a gorgeous performance!

More on the other Don Q's later...

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I have seen two Don Q so far, Osipova/Vasiliev on Sat and Semionova/Stearns on Monday night.


For the first time I agree 100% with every word that Macaulay wrote in his review. No one can take away the bravura of these two. They did everything in 5D, literally, they are full of energy, they are super exciting, they jump, spin, do all kind of tricks bigger and faster, and people adore them because obvously all those pyrotechnics are spectacular. In that regard their show is unique because you wont see that in any other cast. But to me, after seeing them now a few times, its not that fun anymore, it has become actually vulgar and disgraceful.

There is no reason to compromise the musicality, the classicism with the acrobatics, and yes, it is Don Q but its still Petipa, these problems could be polished, resolved, but the big question as Macaulay brilliantly said is: do they even want to ?......Osipova in Act I was completely out of control, as I have never seen her before, it was almost terrifying, her facial expression when jumping, and especially in her variation were scary for real, out of character completely, the closest thing to a real athlete that i have ever seen in a ballet. I also agreed 100% with Macaulay's point of Osipova dancing on her own, she couldn't care less about the rest of the company, or at least that's the impression that I got.

Vasiliev was surprisingly charming to me, much more engaged with the rest, but personally I have a big, big problem with his physique and more so with the way he executes all his tricks. Compare his pirouettes to Herman's or Simkim's, side by side, and I think there is no more that needs to be said. In Act II, Osipova, thanks god !! was more calmed, and it was actually the only part that I enjoyed to the fullest. To me she was here at her best. Act III was the usual fireworks of Don Q, and more on the vulgarity side for both of them, its a show off piece for them, not a coda of a Petipa ballet, and in fact, she didnt do here anything particularly spectacular, compared to the other big stars (balances, fouettes and so on), however, it did look way more unpolished and unmusical. She changed Kitri's variation completely, 100%, as she did with many steps throughout the ballet. Why can she change choreography as she pleases so she can do things that fit her better, whereas the rest has to deal with whatever is in the script ?( I guess because she sells tickets, which is also true), she did it too in Symphony in C.

Misty was apparently coming from an career threatening injury, so I think that may have been the reason for her problems not only in the italian fouettes but also in the jetes coming after that.


First Cory. I was very happy to see that he has improved a lot, pretty much in every department. It is true that there were some partnering problems here and there but overall I think he handled Semionova well, and his technique, although it will never be out of this world, is way way better compared to last year. I guess he is also more experienced now, and he may be better at administering his energy in a full length. There is a lot to work on, but i think he has reached a pretty good level now, and hopefully it will go up from here in the future.

Semionova was fantastic, omg it was like a masterclass of true classical ballet. This was like pure caviar, clean, crystal clear, solid point work. Honest, transparent dancing from beginning to end, nothing to hide, no tricks, musical, exquisite really. Act II variation was like textbook steps, rock solid penches, magnificent jetes, wonderful and tasteful extensions, rarely compromising her lines, everything with amazing control, effortless, natural, it was just flawless. In Act III, her diagonal of pas de chevals in Kitri’s solo was to dye for, one of the most musicals and graceful that I have ever seen. She balanced with tremendous control and her fouettes were beautiful as well (high leg !!).

I wont go over Seo's dancing in details. Its been widely commented here. We all agreed that she is beautiful and I enjoy her in the right roles, but honestly, I havent seen Seo one time, just a single time, go over a Petipa work without major technical flaws, at least in the last two years. I dont really see the need of putting her through this, to each their own. She is a principal now, dancing next to Semionova in front of the whole company, and having a disaster night like this can really have a major impact in a young dancer like her. She is also supposed to debut in a million things, Month...Swan Lake, SB...I mean, really ? she is going to have time to mature all this works ?.......what is the point of exposing her in a minor role like Mercedes when she has plent to work on ???? Ferri was gorgeous but she ran away from those ballets as soon as she could, and it was ok.

ABT promoted her, in my opinion, way way too early, but now that is done, please, protect her and use her wisely, give her time to develop in whatever she excels !!!!

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I know Jayne already asked this question, but did anyone see Paloma Herrera's Kitri at the May 25th matinee. I had a subscription ticket for that performance but switched to the evening Don Q. I always thought that Kitri was Herrera's best role, but I haven't seen her dance it since 2004. I haven't seen her dance at all for at least three years. I've heard and read that her technique has really declined.

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Regarding Osipova's changing of the variation mentioned by Classic Ballet:

They apparently gave her the liberty to opt to do the Bolshoi variation as opposed to the one traditional in the west.

She threw in one extra turn, but it wasn't like she made up her own variation willy-nilly because she is a star.

She used an established alternate variation.

And I am fairly sure ABT has given guest artists, at least, the privilege to do such a thing before.

There are certainly precedents for this. Tereshkina does a rarely seen alternate variation in the Vision scene.

I thought she was very engaged with the rest of the cast, but I saw last night's performance not Saturday.

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From wikipedia:

"Jumping the shark is an idiom created by Jon Hein that was used to describe the moment in the evolution of a television show when it begins a decline in quality that is beyond recovery, which is usually a particular scene, episode, or aspect of a show in which the writers use some type of "gimmick" in a desperate attempt to keep viewers' interest.

In its initial usage, it referred to the point in a television program's history when the program had outlived its freshness and viewers had begun to feel that the show's writers were out of new ideas, often after great effort was made to revive interest in the show by the writers, producers, or network.

The usage of "jump the shark" has subsequently broadened beyond television, indicating the moment when a brand, design, or creative effort's evolution loses the essential qualities that initially defined its success and declines, ultimately, into irrelevance."

It is derived from a Happy Days episode where the Fonze literally jumped a shark.

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I saw the Osipova/Vasiiev Tuesday night and agree with much that was said. They offer a string of tricks that are truly thrilling -- a guilty pleasure for some of us -- and the crowd went wild again and again. He often throws an airborne split into his jumps that gives people an extra thrill. Her turns are so fast and so precise - hard to match. She skips the hopping on pointe with the fan in the Act III variation and substitutes very fast turns - that might be the alternate version others have mentioned. But I thought both interacted very nicely with the rest of the cast in many scenes -- "chatting" with townspeople, reassuring Don Q, etc. Her fouettes are thrilling but not as much as Semionova's the night before. She does a lot of multiples, but the arm never goes over the head.

Misty managed all the Italian fouettes. She started with a feirce look on her face and swung that first leg up so forcefully, as if to say: "I am going to do these tonight, come hell or high water." In fairness to Seo Monday night, she did double-duty as Mercedes in I and III and Queen of the Dryads in II, so perhaps she was tired. But given her technical limitations, it seemed odd to ask her to do all of that in one night. On Tuesday, the roles were split again between two people.

Re: jumping the shark: The Fonz was water skiing when a shark appeared and he jumped over it.

I forgot to mention: On Monday, I did not see anything resembling the famous Plisetskaya leap in Act I. I was reminded of that seeing Osipova do several on Tuesday. Semionova does a big jete (much as Cynthia Harvey does in the Baryshnikov version on DVD), but that's all.

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If Seo was tired from doing Mercedes and Dryad on the same night, what hope is there that she'll ever be able to do Odette/Odile or Aurora? I think it's lack of technique, not exhaustion. Mercedes is essentially a throwaway role.

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Here are some other examples of that (or variations on that) variation which Osipova did:


As you can see that last passage actually has several variants. I think Osipova does more turns there but given the variety of options on offer I don't see that as a problem.

NB: I just chose various versions, I don't mean to start a discussion on any of these dancers here; it was just to show people at a variety of companies doing the "alternate" variation.

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Hi Aurora, Thanks for posting this, especially Obratzova whom I adore !!

Maybe I didnt express myself properly. I didnt mean to say Osipova danced her personal version, lol, its obvious that there are many different versions for this variation out there. In fact, Osipova has danced Kitri at abt always using this version. I am sure Semionova and Cojocaru, for example, had danced different versions elsewhere too. I was just trying to make a point about being a member of a company, not a guest, and respecting the choreography that everybody else is dancing, thats all.

Its also true and fair to say that some other people are allowed to make changes, some Albrecht for example do entrechats six vs cabrioles, Ananiashvili used to do small changes in many variations, and there are more examples, but a full variation ? and again, its not only that, she has a tendency to introduce plenty of other smaller changes as well, and I have the feeling, although I may be wrong, that is usually with steps she may not be comfortable doing.

In any case, I think she is an exceptionally gifted dancer, unique, I also appreciate that she gives you her all and more every single time she dances (I wish all the principals at abt were like that), I have loved her Medora, Aurora and even her Juliet. I just think she took it way too far on Saturday and it is sad, in my opinion, if she decided not to polish herself and continues to focus in the pyrotechnics at the expense of the art.

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The signature move of the Natalia Osipova/Ivan Vasiliev super-duper Don Quixote occurs late in the first act -- the move is a one-handed lift, with a ballerina holding a striking pose in the air for effect. But Vasiliev takes it a step further -- in the middle of holding his left, he raises a free leg in arabesque and even raises his foot to demi-pointe. It's a trick that I first saw when I saw their HD cinemacast with the Bolshoi more than two years ago.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this kind of showboating in a ballet likeDon Quixote. The choreography (a mix of Petipa and Alexander Gorsky) has long been a staple of ballet galas for its bravura requirements. Gorsky's choreography was designed to be a mix of folk dance and classical ballet at its most flamboyant. But (and here's the key): the performers have to look like they are having fun when doing these tricks and playing to the crowd. Last night's performance had this weird mix of every gala trick in the book along with a grimness that made the evening strangely joyless.

Maybe the issue is they've done this ballet too many times. It's been their calling card for years, and one can see why -- Osipova has the most buoyant jump, the greatest ability to squeeze as many revolutions as humanly possible within one rotational push, of any ballerina in her generation. Vasiliev's body type (short, stocky, with bulging, "juiced" thighs) precludes him from roles like Siegfried or Desire but does allow for him to barrel through vast spaces with Usain-Bolt-like speed and power. But even the greatest interpretations can turn stale and routine, and last night I felt like I was watching two performers who no longer had much interest in what they were presenting to the audience.

It started with Kitri's entrance. I last saw Osipova do this role live in New York in 2010, and I'll never forget the way she bounced onstage, waving her fan with a huge megawatt smile. When she jumped, she had a way of hanging in the air for a moment, as if suspended by invisible strings. Last night she entered through the same grande jete, but her face was sour and hard. This unhappy countenance persisted throughout the evening. Forget about "Kitri's friends" described in the program -- Osipova barely looked at anyone throughout the evening, including Basilio (Vasiliev). She jumped, she turned, she balanced, and in the fouette sequence she cranked out multiple doubles and ended with a quadruple pirouette. The technique is all there. But the joy (one of those intangible things that can really be transmitted from the performer to the audience) was totally absent.

Another thing: Osipova's most special ability is her ballon and elevation. This was best shown in the Dream Sequence, when she didn't jump across the stage, she floated. As I said, she seems to be suspended on invisible strings when she's in the air. But last night I noticed that more and more she foregoes the airy, lovely jumps for turns, turns, and more turns. Every variation now must end with a dizzying series of revolutions. She didn't try the head-grazing "Plisetskaya leap" that I've seen her try in every other Don Quixoteperformance.

Vasiliev doesn't have the extraordinary technique of Osipova. He's a sort of sloppy dancer, the sort who belongs in one of those "Stars of Russian Ballet" pickup tours, who changes the choreography to show off what he can do (huge Soviet-style barrel turns and split-leap jumps). His posture is poor. He dances with slumped shoulders, bent knees, little turnout, and he doesn't have the stamina of Osipova, who I suspect could quite realistically dance back to back Kitris. After a big trick he will stop, pause for a long time, and then move onto the next big "variation." When he's turning Osipova during the supported pirouettes he squats his knees in a rather ugly way. He's not really musical either -- in the Act Three pas de deux variation he did a big split leap before the conductor started the music. Oops. He simply went back to his original place, the orchestra began playing, and he repeated the same big split leap.

But Vasiliev did have a kind of boyish fun that was more endearing than Osipova's peevish SuperwomanDancer. He had some good comic timing with various props -- a guitar, Kitri's fan, and in the key moment when he's pretending to be dead from a stab wound, he did a funny bit of grabbing Kitri while mimicking rigor mortis. But really, I think both dancers need to take a break from this ballet.

The rest of the company put on an above-average performance. Simone Messmer gave a beautiful, elegant, stylish reading of Mercedes. Why this dynamic dancer hasn't been given more roles is a mystery. Misty Copeland (Queen of the Dryads) I heard flubbed her variation of Italian fouettes on Saturday, but tonight the Italian fouettes were fine. She still has a rather leaden, heavy way of dancing that I dislike. Sarah Lane really has outgrown the role of Amour -- this is a role best given to an up-and-coming soloist. Their eagerness to sparkle in the brief variation is usually a joy to watch. Lane's Amour has become like Osipova and Vasiliev's portrayals -- ossified from repetition. Alexander Hammoudi really doesn't have enough over-the-top panache for Espada, and his arms and shoulders also get sloppy when he's tired. The corps de ballet as usual has no feel for the character/folk dancing that add the spice and charm to the paper-thin storyline and B-grade Minkus score.

For all the bravura dancing, my overall reaction was a big "meh."

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Unprofessional performance is unacceptable in any ballet company - let alone a troupe like ABT, which is considered 'top 10' in the world. I have a ticket to Hee Seo's Swan Lake debut. If she is bad, I'll be the first to call it. The truth must be pointed out, good or bad. (That said, I only wish for the best.)

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