Meeting Ms Olga

Meeting Ms Olga

Our destined meeting with the prima of Perm

who's sharing her gift with American youth

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Olga & Christine pose with older student

This meeting had been a long time coming, more than just the several weeks between the call to Olga and our arrival at her studio several weeks ago. 

It was some two years ago when we first found out that a Vaganova trained dance professional was teaching in LA. Shortly thereafter we drove over and stepped into a vacant studio with no one at the reception desk… so we thought we’d return another time… and we did, two years later. 

We finally made it to Olga’s studio on December 13th in 2019 … it turns out just in time for her annual Nutcracker recital featuring her ballet students from Arabesque.

Following our acquaintance, Olga ushered us in to watch her class and group rehearsal for the Nutcracker taking place that weekend. It felt great to connect with someone who understood the world of ballet.. even moreso, the world of Vaganova.

Afterwards, Olga invited us to her production taking place that weekend in a venue next to the Hollywood dive called Paper or Plastik. It turns out the two joints are connected under the same owner who happens to love the performing arts.

On December 15th, we arrived with enough time to check out the hip cafe… along with a bunch of others attending the event. As we looked for a table to enjoy a hot latte on what was an unusually cold, windy LA day, and pondered on a drink to choose from their unique specialty offerings, my eye fell upon the perfect cup of frothy white, plant-based milk… a novel choice!

As it turns out, the table we found was right next to that enticing drink.

It was not until several minutes later when Olga came out of the performance hall to get us audience members (mostly parents and families of the ballet students) to take our seats for the show, casually introducing us to her star student, that we realized we had been sitting next to ABT principal Christine Shevchenko.

Olga & Christine in rehearsal; photo by Michael Cornell

After the show we went over to congratulate Olga and spoke to Christine who turned out to be as unpretentious as her drink.

We chatted a bit and Christine graciously offered her contact info telling us she’d be happy to provide us with backstage tickets for an interview during our visit to NYC in May. “Just tell me which performance you’ll be attending,” she smiled.

I conveyed my appreciation to Christine about her refreshing simplicity and ease with which she conducted herself… an admirable trait given that, for anyone who knows anything about ballet, beneath the lovely exterior of a classical dancer lies an interior of steel.

It takes a warrior in mind and heart to reach and stay on top of your game in this arena.

It is a life of dedication to a higher beauty that requires the ultimate discipline, willpower, unrelenting devotion to the craft and abstinence from most desires in which our human animal nature partakes.

Passing on a Priceless Legacy.

Aside from these gifts of the evening, the greatest joy was to see Olga’s work.

It was really something to watch young girls of different ages, different backgrounds being molded into a beautiful version of themselves. 

It was also palpable to see the inordinate amount of effort the girls expended into fulfilling what they were taught on stage – focusing on their steps and repertoire, while keeping in mind all the instructions their teacher instilled about correct technique, musicality and presentation.

And the courage to go out on that stage! — which was quite scary for many – was altogether an extraordinary feat.

You could see that this experience would change the rest of their lives – they were no longer who they were when they started out, they were already something greater.

To see this transformation before our eyes, was to see the result of teaching a precise framework built on principles of presence, focus, order, strength, balance, coordination and such through the ballet system of Agrippina Vaganova

… a system with the power to transport our mind and body to a place of greater awareness, integrity… a higher caliber life.

... may this year bring the magic of ballet into your life!

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image sources

https://www.olgakova.com/the-miss-olga-blog/2019/3/3/0j8cmxmnhfy1tquw4i90jj0ohuyjro
https://www.latimes.com/food/la-fo-coffee-scene-20110714-htmlstory.html
https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/paper-or-plastik-cafe-los-angeles-dance-studio-michelson
https://medium.com/@erin_5063/behind-the-counter-with-anya-michelson-and-family-of-paper-or-plastik-cafe-b639f5b982bf
https://mimodastudio.com/

San Francisco’s Nutcracker

San Francisco’s Nutcracker

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Here’s a rundown on our short, but memorable trip to the way-steep hilly city with the famous golden bridge.

As we are in the R&D phase of The First Guild School of Ballet & Arts, our focus is on exploring ballet schools and programs that exist in the US. With this in mind, we drove up direct from LA, just in time to make it to San Francisco Ballet School (at the Chris Hellman Center for Dance) before their closing for the holiday break.

It was indeed a frantic day with everyone either getting it together for the Nutcracker performances starting that night, or busy wrapping things up at the end of the school session.

In the midst of it all, the receptionist was happy to share her take on the school’s modern approach to ballet, in attitude, structure and training style — emphasizing a clear departure from the virtues of more traditional classical dance education.

A few snapshots, a take-in of the environment, a brief but telling conversation with the receptionist — and we were off to find our Airbnb pad!

The next day, before the main event we discovered a great French restaurant located right across the entrance to SF’s famous Chinatown district adorned with a lavish store complex called Michael’s featuring rich stone sculptures, statues and high end art pieces.

The French bistro really hit the spot! Café de la Presse was a happening place with just the right amount of Parisian culture – including my drink called “April in Paris”.

A wall of photos featuring great chefs including Julia Child and Jacques Pépin adds extra flavor to the authentic charm of the establishment founded by a French chef who learned of his zest for culinary art from cooking with his grandmother.

Bottom line: they know how to make food and they know how to do business!

The performance itself was a bit of a letdown due to a foundation lacking in technical strength and seriousness of principles taught in more traditional ballet schools.

There were of course exceptions… the male clown doll, clearly a talented dancer in energy, artistry and unusual bending ability; the ‘middle-man’ of the Russian trio at the Sugar Plum Fairy Palace with over-the-top acrobatics; and the princess ballerina into whom Clara transforms for the finale, evidencing a more serious classical training background – showing in both technique and stage presence… still, this level is soloist, not principal material for a top-tier world ballet company.

But with that said, ballet is ballet, it is an artform like no other, and just being in a climate where there is such a focus and striving towards what is basically an elevated state of being, is enough to commend a genuine appreciation for all involved.

... here's to exploring the extraordinary world of the arts!

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Ballet and Identity Blog Index

Ballet and Identity Blog

The card that stole the show

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The Card that Stole the Show

I was looking for a memorable card to gift my aunt for her birthday this year, when I came upon an unexpected surprise.

Unsuspectingly, I approached “the great wall” of cards – you know what I’m talking about! — I barely embarked on my mission when I spotted the tip of something buried within the collage that just caught my eye.

I reached for it and pulled it out… or perhaps it pulled me in.

It had a visceral effect on me at first. The image exuded a whimsical beauty interlaced with richness of detail, and an unusual time portal effect.  It took my intellect several seconds to catch up and figure out that this was exactly what I was looking for. I loved it!  And, I loved it for my aunt!

More than a card… this was a piece of art which quickly revealed to me that it was taking center stage – it in effect became the real gift.

My aunt, whom I affectionately call “N”, is a connoisseur of vintage, antique and rare art collector items, and I am inextricably connected to the world of performing arts through ballet. So this was a perfect union – the place where our worlds meet.

Part 2: The Artist

I did a tad of research on the artist, BELLA PILAR, who grew up in New York and studied fashion design at Boston’s Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

What got me right off the bat in Bella’s story is that precious milestone that all of us yearn for yet only few of us ever find: stepping into our Identity.

Bella says when she was just 9 years old, her mom began taking her to art classes, which appealed to her at once: “I immediately caught interest and quickly discovered how happy it made me.  I knew then that creating art would be a part of my life forever.”


Identity is what we see when we are connected with our qualities, our innate talents, and it’s what makes us and those around us happy.

For those of you who follow my work, you know that this topic is paramount in my writings because this is what we are all looking for, and it is what makes a blog or an article relatable to each one of us.  It is what makes Bella’s story meaningful for me.

Bella focused on her work at Papyrus (South Coast Plaza, June 2017)

For years, Bella worked as a makeup artist before her craft was discovered by an art director through an illustration she presented on her business card.

Today, Bella lives in Los Angeles and works out of her home studio.

Something else Bella said captured my attention because it shows how she sees the world:  “I love to paint other people’s visions. I feel like it’s a way of sharing my world with other people.”

It’s all about her ability to CONNECT – a most important aspect of success in any endeavor.

You can read up on Bella in a 2017 WAG magazine article and her profile on Papyrus Behind The Card.

til next time!

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SOURCES
http://www.wagmag.com/bella-pilars-most-fashionable-art/
http://www.prgreetings.com/papyrus/btc-detail/bella-pilar#.XY7LLJNKiqA
photo of Bella’s card by Elena Alexandra
photo of Bella from Papyrus Air on Twitter

The London Trip Day 4: meeting the daughter of Vaganova’s famous student

The London Trip

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meeting the daughter of Vaganova's famous student

here I am (studio booties still on) with Olga Semenova (middle) and Lana (right) at Masters of Ballet Academy

Do you remember my blog on Ludmila Komissarova, the central figure in the famous Vaganova graduating class photo of 1951?

Ludmila Nikolajevna Komissarova was one of the last students to train under the scrupulously watchful eye of legendary Russian ballet master Agrippina Vaganova.

Komissarova was in turn the teacher of my dear ballet friend Anna Korotysheva who actually inspired me to write the piece.

Well, this is the day Lana and I visited the London based school of Komissarova’s daughter, Olga.

famous photo of Agrippina Vaganova's final graduating class with Ludmila Komissarova in forefront with Vaganova (April 1951)

Herself a graduate of the revered ballet establishment on Rossi Street, Olga Semenova has continued to carry on her mother’s tradition starting from her teaching days at the Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Moving to the UK some decades ago, Olga eventually set up her own shop, founding the Russian Imperial Ballet School where she continued to teach the unparalleled system of classical dance. Today, her establishment is known as Masters of Ballet Academy (MOBA)

This was the day that we visited Olga at her MOBA school, where she arranged for us to observe an advanced class with one of her male instructors, and afterwards join her in her own rehearsal with a select group of students she was preparing for a trip to St. Petersburg where they would perform Olga’s choreography at the Hermitage Museum

As it happens, the group was shortly leaving for the trip and the atmosphere was frantic – though it somehow felt that there’s always something brewing at Olga’s place with her temperamental character at the helm.

Still, we managed to get her out for a snapshot before saying adieu.

On the walk back to our neck of the London woods, we passed by several landmarks you’ll see below.

Located at Langham Place, All Souls Church (the building with round porch enclosed by columns) is an Anglican church designed in the early 19th century regency style by one of England’s most notable architects John Nash, and often serves as the broadcast site of BBC
Olga with Nikolai Tsiskaridze, Principal of Vaganova Ballet Academy (photo from Russian Imperial Ballet School site)
Next to All Souls Church, this building with the clock on its facade is Broadcasting House, BBC's headquarters, an Art Deco style building constructed in the 1930s to the design of architect George Val Myer
All Souls Church entrance
Olga with Zhanna Ayupova (far right) Artistic Director of Vaganova Ballet Academy and Irina Gensler (2nd from left), the Vaganova professor known as “Queen of Character Dance” (photo from Russian Imperial Ballet School site)
walking through the subway station, saw this marquee advertising international ballet superstar Sergei Polunin
Olga with her talented firecracker of a student Maya - Maya stole our attention during the classes we observed (photo from Russian Imperial Ballet School site)
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visit back for more on "The London Trip"

The London Trip Day 3: London’s West Side & our first ballet at Royal

The London Trip

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London’s West Side & our first ballet at Royal

This is the day we were going to see our first ballet, Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden!

But before that, it was time to get to know the city, so we booked an excursion with the ever popular Strawberry Tours exploring London’s West End and Westminster district.

With our ‘mostly on-hiatus’ actor as our guide (we found this to be the case with many of the Strawberry Tours chaperons) – who by the way was able to remarkably channel his expressive talents towards our group – we made our way past world famous statues, monuments and landmarks in this government centered division of the regal European city.

After a quick change of attire back at our place, we headed for our ballet venue, and with a bit of  time on our hands, ventured into the indoor Covent Garden Market with an array of specialty shops and booths.

This is where I spotted the sketch of an artist who for me, taps into an ethereal quality of feminine beauty with a surprising element of innocence. I was able to take a photo of this piece (see it below!) but then was shooed away by a neighboring pit bull shopkeeper (or perhaps an assistant) from taking another that really caught my eye – a black and white sketch of a female form in a bodice exuding the likeness of a ‘nymph meets femme fatale’.

I’ve since visited the artist’s website and found a piece that somewhat approximates what I believe I saw on that day of May 11th. I’ve included it in the gallery below 🙂 

By the way – turns out this sketch girl has a PhD in Astrophysics, topped off with what is called a Zeldovich Medal for excellence and achievements in the field.  “For me art and science are a natural pair,” she says. This immediately also clicks for me because it’s what essentially defines classical ballet. 

And then it was time for the performance! –which did not disappoint! It even impressed with the display of talent exhibited by the Royal principal who happened to be dancing that night. The American-born, Russian-trained export from Boston, Sarah Lamb, won me over in the final act where she not only technically delivered, but was truly able to pull out the emotional energy making the scene of Romeo dancing with the lifeless body of Juliet genuinely work. 

Also worthy of mention is the beyond-the-norm athleticism and artistry of the company’s 1st Soloist Marcelino Sambé (recently promoted to principal) who was in the role of Mercutio that night.

So there it is, Day 3 of our London Trip in a nutshell!

Duke of York Column commemorates Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany who is perhaps most known for his lack of military prowess and character defects summed up in England’s famous nursery rhyme "The Grand Old Duke of York"
Bronze relief of Queen Elizabeth meeting people of London during World War II (located on The Mall road along our route from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace)
Walkers Of Whitehall alley entrance
sculpted by John W. Mills, “Monument to the Women of World War II” is a British national war memorial that was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II in July 2005 on Whitehall road in London
statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square sculpted by Philip Jackson; Parliament Square in Westminster is famous not only for its collection of government buildings and statues, but also as the place for many demonstrations and protests
Arch into Royal Opera House shopping Arcade (below it, buggies in Covent Garden offering old-world rides)
at Royal Opera House gift shop: Margot Fonteyn as Aurora in Act II of “The Sleeping Beauty” (1951); Roger Wood Photo Collection
memorial statue of Queen Elizabeth (between two bronze reliefs paying tribute to her monarchical rule (located on The Mall road)
Walkers Of Whitehall: the last stop on our London West tour, we peeked into this ye olde pub with a history dating back to 1694 (when it started out as a bank) en route back to our flat to prep for the ballet
Walkers Of Whitehall
Cabinet Office building responsible for supporting the Prime Minister and Cabinet of the United Kingdom (located off Whitehall)
Westminster Abbey: this Gothic abbey church is the final resting place of historical figures including Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, and more recently the ashes of Stephen Hawking
Portcullis House in Parliament Square area opened in 2001 to provide offices for 213 members of parliament and their staff
My discovery by artist by Diana Shaul
Lilac tree which I believe I captured just steps away from the medieval St James's Palace on Marlborough Road, the giveaway is the ancient brickwork pattern that matches the St. James castle
The other bronze relief panel commemorating Queen Elizabeth’s work
“Monument to the Women of World War II” displays 17 individual sets of clothing and uniforms as well as a nursing cape, a police overall and welding mask around the sides, symbolising the hundreds of different jobs women undertook in World War II
“Monument to the Women of World War II” … view from the side
crowds gathering for the Horse Guards Parade from Whitehall with the Queen’s Household Cavalry guarding the entrance arches
Broad Sanctuary Houses, next to Westminster Abbey
this Abraham Lincoln statue, known as "The Man" or "Standing Lincoln", is located on the west side of Parliament Square outside the Supreme Court; it is a replica of the original in Chicago
my take on ‘nymph meets femme fatale:’ an ink and graphite pencil drawing by Diana Shaul

Romeo & Juliet Curtain Calls

Marcelino Sambé, as “Mercutio” in Romeo and Juliet (left)
Sarah Lamb as “Juliet” and Royal Ballet’s principal, Russian dancer Vadim Muntagirov as “Romeo” emerge for curtain call
Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov acknowledge each other
inside the Royal Opera House: view of stage from orchestra section
Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov greet the audience
Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov return for another curtain call
Marcelino Sambé and fellow artists bow to a cheering audience
Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov turn to head backstage
Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov final farewell to audience as they turn to go backstage
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The London Trip Day 1: The Juice Bar Adventure

The London Trip

The Juice Bar Adventure... and NOPI

Our first full day out we decided to explore the city by visiting a well-rated pressed juice bar – a staple part of our daily nutrition – and get there via subway, or the “tube” as Londoners call it.

The place we found had really good ratings and was located right around the famous Notting Hill neighborhood.  What could go wrong?

As bona fide LA drivers, who rarely use any other mode of transportation, apart from the exceptional Uber, it turns out learning the London subway system is a serious task.

With a whole lot of bumping around and general confusion in the underground transport system, we worked our way through a maze of subway lines and tried to figure out the directional alphabet. Somehow, we got off at the right station and proceeded to our destination on foot.

We were getting close, we thought, as we passed a dingy biker’s hangout… but after a few more blocks we realized the building numbers were getting away from us… so we went into reverse.  Heading back to where we came from, we watched the numbers count back closer to our juice bar address. Lo and behold, there we were – right in front of the biker dive we hurried past a few minutes before … I’m sure you’ve guessed by now that it looked nothing like its online counterpart. yes, the age of virtual reality is upon us.

Well, since we were exploring, we decided to go in and have an ‘experience’.

The staff was  nice enough, inviting us to sit down at one of the 3 available spots in the joint, after removing a biker’s helmet from our table.  And the juices came out within 5 seconds of our order, which was certainly not enough time to press’ them through a machine. All forgivable… except for our front row seat to a local street gang character who entered the bar raging and looking to relieve his state through some violent altercation.  We just sat there, blindsided tourists.

All’s well that ends well, and that’s all that needs to be said here.

Actually, towards the end of our sit down, we met a tourist-friendly biker who enthusiastically directed us towards the famous Notting Hill neighborhood where the movie was made…living on a 24/7 production site in Tinseltown we weren’t as excited as he was, but we trotted in that direction enjoying the quaint streets and European culture.

In the second part of the day, we explored the area around our Leicester Square flat and found the Middle-Eastern inspired NOPI, award-winning eatery of the famous Jerusalem-born chef-restaurateur Yotam Ottolenghi, whose book “Plenty” we discovered several years back.

Lana went in and made us a reservation for the following evening.

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Hotel Café Royal, a historic establishment whose clientele has included Oscar Wilde, Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf and David Bowie ... and yes! cars pass through here all the time!
club advertisements on historic buildings around Piccadilly Circus
close-up of our NOPI dish, courgette and manouri fritters with cardamom yoghurt; photo by John Carey
UKAI contemporary Japanese Restaurant on Portobello Road in Notting Hill neighborhood of London
award-winning eatery of chef-restaurateur Yotam Ottolenghi
my Coconut, Passionfruit & Turmeric non-alcoholic drink (made with coconut milk, turmeric root, passionfruit, lime, spiced syrup)
Yotam Ottolenghi's book
walking along Glasshouse Street in Soho, London
... the next night at NOPI
at NOPI... our veggie selections with my Saffron Chase Cocktail (Chase gin, Pierre Gerbais Champagne, elderflower liqueur, saffron)
close-up of our NOPI dish, roasted aubergine with feta yoghurt, pomegranate jam, green chilli, walnut; photo by John Carey
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The London Trip Day 2: St. James Park & Buckingham Palace

The London Trip

St. James Park, Buckingham Palace and the Punishment Parade

With plenty of time before dinner at NOPI and plenty of sightseeing choices, we headed towards St. James Royal Park, a walk’s distance from where we were staying.

As we happily meandered through the old narrow streets of London towards our destination, we came upon a medieval fortress right out of the history books. In fact, it captured our attention enough for us to latch onto the tour group in front of it. Turns out it is called St. James’s Palace.

The next major stop on the tour was Buckingham Palace.  As we stood in front of the majestic sight, the tour guide told us what we later learned is every tour guide’s favorite story – the 1982 Michael Fagan incident – where a down on his luck inebriated Brit broke into the Palace, no less the bedroom of the Queen … a huge security breach with major staff restructuring repercussions.

Soon enough it was time to head back towards Leicester Square and change for NOPI.  On the route back, passing by yet another historic manor we saw batches of people heading towards an opening in the place.  We couldn’t help but to veer off to see what all the fuss was about.

Turns out it was time for the “The Four ‘O’ Clock Parade” ceremony (there’s no shortage of parades in London). We made it just in time to squeeze into a spot with a partially unobstructed view. Showtime! 

Also called the “Dismounting Ceremony” and “Punishment Parade”, this ritual takes place at 4 pm, or 16:00 hours, in the courtyard in front of the “Horse Guards” building facing Whitehall road in the City of Westminster.

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BAFTA iconic London home at 195 Piccadilly in the heart of London's West End and Soho neighborhood
...on the way to St. James Park
… on the way to St. James Park, this medieval era building on Marlborough Road is St James's Palace, the most senior royal palace in the United Kingdom. Located in the City of Westminster, although no longer the principal residence of the monarch, it is the ceremonial meeting place of the Accession Council and the London residence of several minor members of the royal family.
... turning onto Marlborough Road headed for St. James Palace
section of the medieval St. James Place manor
Burlington House is located in Mayfair, London, the city’s affluent West End originally a private mansion owned by the Earl of Burlington it was purchased and expanded by the British government in the mid-19th century Today it houses art exhibitions from the Royal Academy, which is housed in the north end of the main building - with the other 4 sides occupied by the 5 learned societies together called “Courtyard Societies”
Buckingham Palace is the London residence and administrative headquarters of the monarch of the United Kingdom
Buckingham Palace landscapes
St. James Park Lake
St. James Park info
people head towards "Horse Guards” courtyard entryway for “The Four 'O' Clock Parade”
one of several entrances into St. James Park
heading towards Buckingham Palace
St. James Park Lake
St. James Park Lake
St. James Park Lake
heading towards "Horse Guards” building
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The London Trip – Arrival Day: our tiny flat

The London Trip

our tiny flat

Literally sandwiched between two sides of an “Award Winning Gay Bar” called KU, we finally found our shoebox apartment in the bustling, smoke-filled Chinatown part of Covent Garden, London.

I say finally as it took us quite a while to find our hidden dwelling – even the bartender from downstairs didn’t know that #28 Lisle Street was the doorway next to theirs.

After climbing 4 floors up the quaint, narrow stairwell – which incidentally felt more like 6, if you count the windy turns and extra stair sets along the way – with our travel trunks in tow, we entered and collapsed.

But we were finally here – and that’s all that mattered!

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just around the corner, towards Piccadilly Circus
from rooftop window of our London flat
dining table accents
Piccadilly Circus, a few minute walk from our flat
KU Bar, just outside our doorstep
Kitchen
Buddha next to rooftop window
kitchen plant... the one and only
Piccadilly Circus shops
mini dining table
living table with deco accents
… from our rooftop window
Bathroom
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