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Luke Jennings slams RB as "turkey of the year"


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Observer this morning, with its best and worst of 2015:-

 

http://gu.com/p/4ez6n/stw

 

In a week that has seen the Director of the Royal Opera unexpectedly announce his departure, I can't help thinking about the reign of the other big boss at ROH, Kevin O'Hare. "Turkey of the year" is quite something, even if one doesn't always agree with Luke Jennings.

 

Did the ugly RB policy of pushing all manner of casts into all roles, whether or not the dancer suits the part or not, take root under KO'H? Is he single-handedly responsible for reviving Raven Girl, funding Acosta's Carmen and pushing the idea that by 2020 only new works will be performed by the Royal Ballet? Is it KO'H's responsibility that Ashton continues to wither at Covent Garden?

 

Shame that perhaps the wrong person said he would leave ROH this week.

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Nothing against the dancers, who performed exquisitely, but it's hard to disagree with Jennings. Untouchable was a waste of the RB talent, as it was just another HS piece rather than a real collaboration (though the Nigel Farage moments were appreciated); the only good thing about the Raven Girl revival was Stix-Brunell's reinvention of the title character; and Carmen was a vanity project that fell flat through interminable use of cliché and a woeful score.

 

There's still time for O'Hare to react, mind.

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I'm going to let the Xmas spirit of forgiveness enter me and my thoughts. The Hofesh Schechter piece wasn't a disaster - I'd just thought he'd find something new to add to the mix. I enjoyed the start but when the new didn't happen I thought it was a lost moment. I know I'm in a minority but I appreciated the revival of RG - but as for Carmen, well at least small animals weren't injured in the process, and funnily enough the Tierney Heap cast sort of made it work. Sort of...

 

As for the whole of Kevin's reign, I won't knock it too much. Most of the set pieces which bring in the bucks are there. I think there is progress on the Ashton front, "early" Macmillan next perhaps (please), but there is lack of intellectual or visionary punch which would add to a greater sense of direction. But Woolf Works was such fantastic event for me in 2015, as was Osipova in Onegin that my heart cockles were warmed enough to end the year smiling - white doves an all ;-) !

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A mixed verdict from me.  On the plus side:

 

-  Woolf Works, fabulous

-  Hofesh Schecter - I enjoyed it and would like more

-  Winter's Tale, a triumph

-  Thanks for bringing us the fabulous Osipova but I suspect she is going to need careful managing

 

 

Downside:

 

-  Carmen:  words fail me.  What possessed RB to waste money and resources on this travesty?  Surely the lacklustre Don Quixote was warning

   enough?

-  Raven Girl.  Should have had the courage to say it didn't work, it will never work so it's gone

- Too many partnerships that I don't want to see, e.g. Osipova paired with Golding, Hayward with Golding

-  Need more performances from the rising talent.  Such a shame that Naghdi and Ball only danced one R&J - surely they should have been

   given at least two?

-  Male Principals may need re-thinking, especially as there is so much talent coming through just below.  Soares is not at Nunez's level and,

   frankly, I wonder what Golding and Kish are doing at RB.  Would have loved to see Alexander Campbell as Romeo

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A mixed verdict from me.  On the plus side:

 

-  Woolf Works, fabulous

-  Hofesh Schecter - I enjoyed it and would like more

-  Winter's Tale, a triumph

-  Thanks for bringing us the fabulous Osipova but I suspect she is going to need careful managing

 

 

Downside:

 

-  Carmen:  words fail me.  What possessed RB to waste money and resources on this travesty?  Surely the lacklustre Don Quixote was warning

   enough?

-  Raven Girl.  Should have had the courage to say it didn't work, it will never work so it's gone

- Too many partnerships that I don't want to see, e.g. Osipova paired with Golding, Hayward with Golding

-  Need more performances from the rising talent.  Such a shame that Naghdi and Ball only danced one R&J - surely they should have been

   given at least two?

-  Male Principals may need re-thinking, especially as there is so much talent coming through just below.  Soares is not at Nunez's level and

   frankly, I wonder what Golding and Kish are doing at RB.  Would have loved to see Alexander Campbell as Romeo

 

OK this is Christmas cheer overkill, but my NY resolution is to give Matthew Golding a chance. There IS something there. And sometimes I really like him. OK but. But ...I'd like him to find a niche - he was great with his wife/partner in DQ and I liked him with Cuthbertson in Tchai pdd, and there was a spark of something more in Onegin. And... the Salenko "bashing" should stop - she's good, it works with McRae so good. But I agree, La Pova may need managing, Polunin may make a calculated reappearance (My Lord, Mayerling with those two...with Lamb as Larisch!), and when Woolf Works comes back there should be an alternative to Ferri - interesting options.

 

BUT ... O'Hare seems to wander through the mix of possibilities rather than chart a purposeful course.

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For years to be director of ENB was a sort of poisoned chalice, always fighting too little funding and a high turnover of dancers. Rojo seems to have hit a wave on its way up and she is riding it to success. The Royal did not have so many funding issues and the company has the inestimable benefit of appearing at The Opera House. A real 'go to' destination.

 

However, the flip side was the RB relying on stars who have moved on and a repertoire so vast you just cannot please everyone. The company has yet to find a choreographer to match those of the past. The levels of success expected from the RB are greater than those of ENB. To have a director /ballerina/intellect of the magnitude is a huge advantage. But I think she is going to be allowed more failure than O'Hare. I feel his is now the poisoned chalice.

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Hey, it's December 13th and we're heading for 'goodwill to all men' time.  So...............

 

A very merry Christmas and happy new year  to Messrs Golding and Kish

 

I agree. But is Matthew Golding around anywhere near to receive your good wishes?????!!!!!

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I liked Woolf Works, but I am not sure I would give it the 5 stars that everyone else seems to feel it deserves.  I am not entirely sure I would rush back to see it again, unless someone of Ferri's stature was in the lead role.  To be frank, it was only her name that coaxed me into buying a ticket to start with.  I am not sure how much input she had overall, but I thought it was interesting that all her steps  remained resolutely within the classical ballet style.  No "arched- back-bum-out" wiggle for her, no hyperextensions, wild head movements, frenzied arms.  And certainly no unseemly crotch revealing lifts, either.  I just wondered if she had flatly refused to do them, and gone her own way!

 

Has Rojo had financial success with some of her more experimental programmes?  You can sell tickets for that sort of thing in London, but how did it go down in the provinces, where they like their Swan Lakes and Nutcrackers? 

 

Also, I've never seen Golding, but he must have something or he wouldn't be a Principal, surely? Maybe it is another case of finding the right partner. 

 

I would like to tell Mr O'Hare that I want him to carry on with the Ashtons that he has started to introduce back in to the programmes.  Ultimately, I think the dancers are better for having to get to grips with the classical purety that Ashton demands, and as a result their dancing in the other traditional ballets will be better.  Hopefully.   :) 

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I agree that more Ashton would be great but I'm not sure the dancers which have been recruited over the last few years are naturally suited to the Ashton ballets which favour shorter-legged very quick-footed dancers, not so much the taller, longer-limbed dancers who favour the move to a slower more Russian style.

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To be fair "Turkey of the year" seems to have been awarded because of the money spent `on reviving Raven Girl and staging Untouchable and Acosta's Carmen at a time when other dance companies are  feeling the pinch. I have to say that I think that Kevin O'Hare should have seen that he was likely to be criticised for any expenditure which failed to produce something of real artistic value which makes the decision to revive Raven Girl  wholly inexplicable.As far as the two new works were concerned it may once have been acceptable to commission a work and then leave the choreographer concerned to get on with it but reading the biographies of both Ashton and Macmillan suggests that they were not completely alone every time they made a ballet.As AD Mr O'Hare has responsibility for what is commissioned and staged in the company's name.

 

Unfortunately I think that Kevin O'Hare is more likely to be held to account for programming resulting in poor ticket sales than for lacking any real artistic vision or allowing the works,for which Luke Jennings awarded Turkey of the Year, to reach the stage. I know that there are some who think that Rojo is doing a brilliant job at ENB I prefer to wait to see what the new Giselle is like before making up my mind about her as director. I think that I am in a minority but I was not that impressed by the company's last revival of Swan Lake and I did not find the Lest We Forget programme much more than empty emoting which was rather short on choreographic interest.

 

As for Mr Holten he can't go quickly enough for me.Anyone who allows Idomeneo to be butchered as he did by not intervening and preventing the director from carrying out his ideas should not be allowed to have responsibility for what happens on the opera stage,We are "promised" that he will be involved in planning the opera seasons until 2020.Not something that I look forward to with any enthusiasm.I have taken the letter in which he states that he wants to spend more time with his family as a face saving exercise.I doubt that his failures as an opera director have played much part in the announced departure. I suspect that the fall out from Guilliame Tell production was considerably greater than the credit notes they gave to those who handed their tickets in at the box office.

Edited by FLOSS
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I first saw Golding in the Dutch production of Wheeldon's Cinderella and thought he was perfect casting.  He is technically excellent and that true rarity - a tall well-built male dancer who is masculine, easy on the eye and a natural for the princely roles.  I think he has not been given the best opportunities to show what he can do at the RB which is odd considering that the company had no problems presenting a very similar dancer to his advantage.  Does nobody else remember Michael Somes?

 

It's the same with many actors - give them the right roles and they are stunning but in the wrong parts - OMG!

 

Linda

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Well it is not as if Golding has been left out of anything much since he arrived. He has danced the princely roles in the ballets that have been performed and de Grieux, Romeo and Basilio and the only time that he has looked at all happy has been when he danced with his real life partner who came over from Holland to replace Osipova when she was injured. I know that it can take a dancer time to become part of the company.but he still does not look that happy. Muntagirov arrived after Golding and yet he looks far more at home in the company and in the repertory that he is dancing.It seems that the company is fast running out of  bread and butter roles that might suit Golding.However fine a dancer Golding may be his abilities are of little use if the RB's standard repertory does not seem to have roles which suit him. As  he has not, as yet, found a role that suits him it is increasingly difficult to understand why he was recruited, O'Hare must know the company's repertory and have had some idea of the roles that would suit Golding it is difficult to believe that he he just signed him without considering those matters.

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I do hope that those of us who have said that hey want to see more Ashton works programmed on a regular basis have posted something on the ROH website.

 

Although we tend to think of the RB of the 1940's to the early 1960's as a homogenous group who shared a common training the principal dancers did not all have the same initial training and they were not all a uniform size. It was working with Ashton and dancing his choreography that created the company style. There was one thing that they all shared whether tall like Beriosova or short like Fifield they could all do fast footwork because that had been part of their training and was part of their day to day experience.

 

What has changed is that today the fashion among dancers is for slow drawn out extended movements.A dancer's ability to dance is more often judged today on the basis of how long she can extend a phrase than how closely her movements match the music played as the composer intended and the choreographer expected.There also seems to be more emphasis by dancers on ensuring that they are seen to perform every step correctly. Some seem unable to appreciate the profound difference that exists or should exist between a step as performed in class and the step as set by the choreographer in the ballet they are dancing. The ability to dance quickly has more to do with training and the daily requirements of the repertory than to some innate ability conferred on small dancers.It was Cojocaru and Kobborg neither of whom are tall who Sibley said came to her saying that the rehearsal pianist was playing Symphonic Variations too quickly and asking it should be played more slowly so they had time to point their feet.

 

I certainly agree with those who have said that the company's dancing would improve if they danced more of Ashton;s works. The problem is that no one seems to have associated the performance of Ashton's works with the maintenance of high technical standards and until they do the Ashton repertory is likely to hang on by a finger tip rather than be seen as an essential element in company's day to day operations.The fact that there is no active advocate for his works does not help.

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Very good point Floss, about Ashton's work enabling dancers to maintain a high technical standard.

 

I was always under the impression, and please correct me if I am wrong, that Royal Ballet school students are trained to dance Ashton from a very young age. Those dancers who did come through the school and joined the company must be very familiar with Ashton's choreography, they have such a specific port de bras and fast footwork.  I am thinking of those dancers who received a full eight years of Royal Ballet school training such as Morera, Padjak, Maguire, Naghdi, Hayward, O'Sullivan, Hay (other names escape me right now) who all have such a lovely epaulement, use of their feet and great musicality  (I recall the epaulement, fast footwork and musicality of Hayward and Naghdi in Giselle's pas-de-six last year, weren't they both just glorious).

 

Under the previous AD very few students were given a contract, the AD favoured foreign investment, and the result can be seen today: it's more of a mix-and-match style. I wish we could see the RB company return to the style it was once so renowned for.

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Kevin O'Hare did not say he had...


.......... the idea that by 2020 only new works will be performed by the Royal Ballet?.........

He said he liked the idea of having one season where all the full length ballets were 21st century ones, but there'd still be triple bills of various earlier works.

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Nina, I know very little about the school.One day a very interesting book will be written about its foundation and development under each of its directors. I don't think that is going to happen in the near future as too many of the key players are still alive. The school has had its ups and downs over the years..There were problems during Ashton's directorship which required de Valois intervention.It has always seemed to me that  to a large extent the company was running on empty during MacMillan's directorship as most of the dancers whom he used had been trained at the school during the 1950's and 1960's. I don't blame either Ashton or MacMillan for not being that interested in the school because they were active choreographers during their time as director and no one can do everything.But the fact is that there were clearly weaknesses at the school from time to time..

 

I think we need to remember that the company's dependence on foreign dancers over the years was less obvious in the past when the dancers concerned were part of the British diaspora  with surnames to match.It should be noted that only two of the ballerinas on whom Ashton created Birthday Offering were British born and only one had received her entire training at the Vic Wells school. While the next generation of dancers Sibley, Dowell and Wall were products of de Valois' school few of those who followed were of comparable quality.You could argue that the graduate class from the mid 1960's which included Barbieri, Collier,Johnson and Sleep was the last truly bumper year. As these dancers were still dancing in the 1980's the shortage of good dancers graduating from the school was not obvious to the audience. It does not seem to have been  that clear to the school.  

 

The problem was that as dancers retired they were not replaced by dancers of comparable quality. By 1981 American critics were writing about the decline of the company and the lack of outstanding dancers heading the company. In 1983 Merle Park became the director of the school.She brought a number of Russian teachers into the school, presumably to improve standards.Whether she did so is a moot point. In 1999 she was succeeded by Gailene Stock who, I understand, was head hunted rather than appointed through a competitive process. I assume that it was felt that the situation at the school required  her intervention.

 

In 2001 when Ismene Brown interviewed Clement Crisp on his seventieth birthday he was pessimistic about the company and about the graduates from the school. He said that none of the British trained dancers in the company were fit to dance the classics and its Principal dancers were not world class dancers and Bussell and Yoshida were no more than first soloists.. He blamed Merle Park at the school and Anthony Dowell for this state of affairs Dowell's part in the failure to develop dancers of world class quality he said was attributable to the lack of a world class choreographer working with the company. the poor versions of the classics in the company's repertory; a failure to maintain and perform the Diaghilev  repertory and the repertory created by its inhouse choreographers,Ashton.MacMillan and Cranko.

 

I know that  many people on this forum are not great admirers of Mr Crisp but in this case I think that his analysis may be spot on. If he is correct that might explain why so many of the Principals  who were in post during Mason's regime were not products of the RBS. I have to admit  that I do not know off the top of my head how many were recruited directly into the company as Principal dancers and how many were recruited as dancers by Dowell and promoted to Principal by Mason.  

 

It seems to me that the dancers who you have named have benefitted from the improvements that Gailene Stock made during her time as director. It could well be that the sudden emergence  from the school of so many promising dancers  is the result of her work at the school rather than a series of years with exceptionally talented pupils. I don't think that British dance students lack ability. I do think that it is possible that in the past pupils  may have been let down  by those engaged in training them.. I think that we need to remember that these are still comparatively early days as far as the institutionally based provision of dance training in this country is concerned. The school in Paris is three hundred years old the RBS has only been in existence for a little over eighty years.  We shall  just have to see what happens to the dancers you have named and whether a continuous supply of talented dancers is sustained.  .   

Edited by FLOSS
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Well, I personally feel that during his tenure to date O'Hare has programmed a good balance of old and new works with the nineteenth century classics, Ashton and MacMillan all well represented. Winter's Tale and Woolf Works, whilst they did not appeal to everyone (nothing does), were generally well received by the critics and public alike. The RB's in-house choreographers (and I include Acosta in that description) do seem to be given a pretty free reign, and certainly money seems to be no object when it comes to expensive staging, but there is a limit to how much choreographers can be controlled and even the greatest have had failures and have substantially reworked their ballets sometimes more than once. I'm not convinced that a whole evening of a single choreographer makes for attractive programming unless you are a fan of that particular choreographer; there's generally not enough variety, particularly if the works are abstract.

 

I'm going to make myself unpopular when I say this, but I, personally, have more issue with the performances themselves. I have seen too many performances which have been lacklustre or which have been derailed by one of the leads who has proved to be disappointing either technically or artistically. I feel that the company is a bit stale overall and that there are too many colourless dancers in senior positions. Whilst I'm not a particular fan, and I feel that she is not suited to some roles, Osipova's absence has seriously dented the star power of the company. Like her or loathe her, she is a dominant force on the stage. With Acosta gone and Watson dancing a limited repertoire, the senior male ranks are looking distinctly low wattage. I think that a system of sabbaticals (with other companies) for principals and senior soloists could be beneficial to those dancers who have danced with the company for many years. I wonder whether Melissa Hamilton will start a trend.

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One thing that Hamilton's time at Dresden will give her is the opportunity to dance a wider range of ballets and more nineteenth century classics than the 2015-16 season would have given her at Covent Garden..As we are clearly experiencing or about to experience a period of transition as far as the regular allocation of Principal's roles,if not the appointment of Principals, is concerned Hamilton's Dresden experience has come at exactly the right time,

 

I do not want to suggest that anyone is about to retire but Yanowsky  and Watson must be coming towards the end of their careers and Morera is now in her late thirties. Two Principals have left,Acosta has retired from the company and a First Soloist has just retired. It will be very interesting to see whether any replacement appointments have been made by the end of this season, Perhaps there will not be enough money available to enable all the Principals to be replaced. My hope is that it is not lack of money that leaves the posts unfilled but desire to make the right appointments. O'Hare is the first director for years to have the luxury of having a significant number of potential candidates for the rank of the Principal working in his company who have started from the bottom and worked their way up through te ranks.I hope that he makes no new appointments for a while and leaves the prospect of promotion dangling while the dancers concerned are given an opportunity to show what they can do, particularly in the nineteenth century classics. I can't help thinking that it is a great pity that neither Hayward nor Naghdi are being given the opportunity to dance Giselle next year.

 

As far as repertory is concerned I don't think that the balance between old and new works is right nor do I think that the balance between the Ashton and MacMillan repertory is right.If the RB still regards itself as a classical ballet company then the AD will need to appoint dancers to the rank of Principal who are able to dance the classics well. In order to do that the dancers need to have the opportunity to dance them As the company can not be expected to restrict itself to the classics then it should at least be dancing works which are as technically demanding as the classics and which provide no opportunity to substitute emoting for dancing.This would mean more performances of a wider range of Ashton works each season and performing more of MacMillan's pure dance works and rather fewer performances of his one act and full length dance dramas.Wayne MacGregor's works would receive the eight to ten performances which the Ashton repertory receives in most seasons.Choice of repertory is central to the future of both the company and the dancer's in it. At some point O'Hare is going to have to decide whether his company is a classical company which occasionally dabbles in modern dance or whether it is a modern dance company which occasionally dabbles in classical dance. It can not go on trying to be all things to all people.

Edited by FLOSS
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In 2001 when Ismene Brown interviewed Clement Crisp on his seventieth birthday he was pessimistic about the company and about the graduates from the school. He said that none of the British trained dancers in the company were fit to dance the classics and its Principal dancers were not world class dancers and Bussell and Yoshida were no more than first soloists.. He blamed Merle Park at the school and Anthony Dowell for this state of affairs Dowell's part in the failure to develop dancers of world class quality he said was attributable to the lack of a world class choreographer working with the company. the poor versions of the classics in the company's repertory; a failure to maintain and perform the Diaghilev  repertory and the repertory created by its inhouse choreographers,Ashton.MacMillan and Cranko.

 

I am no fan of Mr Crisp because I loathe the way he writes about contemporary dance, it seems to me he only goes to modern performances so that he can display his acid sarcasm at the expense of creative artists whose work he hasn't the intellectual capacity to understand. 

 

His writings on classical dance however, whilst still delivered with his trademark toxicity, frequently hit the mark as shown in the extract FLOSS has quoted.  Every word is true and as for poor productions I can only say that Mr O'Hare's detractors should remember that this present director is taking the initiative to finally rid us of the execrable version of Swan Lake that has polluted the Opera House stage for far too long.  It's a start.  

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I am no fan of Mr Crisp because I loathe the way he writes about contemporary dance, it seems to me he only goes to modern performances so that he can display his acid sarcasm at the expense of creative artists whose work he hasn't the intellectual capacity to understand. 

 

Oh, crikey, MAB, does one need a certain level of intellect to be able to understand contemporary dance?  That must be why I don't like most of it; I am obviously too dim to appreciate it!  :)

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I love that the RB is creating new works and taking risks.  I think we need to allow for some not to work for others to be brilliant and inspirational.  However, it does feel like there have been more misses than hits recently - I can't say I'd like to spend another night with Raven Girl, for example. 

 

How do you think they could keep the genuine creativity and also allow dancers to be stretched by new choreography but have some sort of quality control?  Surely the fact that the RB is so well-funded means that they can/should take more creative risks than the companies who could not survive an expensive critical failure and so have to be safer.  I really enjoy the variety of work available at the RB.

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Oh, crikey, MAB, does one need a certain level of intellect to be able to understand contemporary dance?  That must be why I don't like most of it; I am obviously too dim to appreciate it!  :)

 

Fonty, if you don't like something then fair enough, but you are not rubbishing the art form in print.  Reviews I have read by this critic do suggest he is lacking in the capacity to grasp a choreographer's intent.  I am not the only one to hold that view I can assure you.  A large number of his reviews of contemporary dance have been an absolute disgrace.

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  (I recall the epaulement, fast footwork and musicality of Hayward and Naghdi in Giselle's pas-de-six last year, weren't they both just glorious).

 

 

During the dress rehearsal the tempo was so quick, the two really had to push it, but they still were in time and in sync with each other. At the end of their variation, all the other dancers gave them a heartfelt round of applause!  :-)

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I can only say that Mr O'Hare's detractors should remember that this present director is taking the initiative to finally rid us of the execrable version of Swan Lake that has polluted the Opera House stage for far too long.  It's a start.  

 

Well, there are parts that are not to my taste either (most of Act 3, and the 'business' in Act 1, the 'owl' costume). The white acts are glorious though, so I hope they don't tamper too much with those

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