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Ian Macmillan

Bouquets on way for men of ballet?

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Behind the Times paywall, so not captured for this morning's Links - a near full-page feature, plus a 3rd Leader, on the possibility of senior chaps at the RB receiving bouquets at curtain calls.  Xander Parish is heavily quoted as saying he has become used to this in St Petersburg, and it is claimed that the RB "has signalled that it is sympathetic to calls from male ballet stars that they should be allowed to get a bouquet of flowers too."  Steven McCrae is said to be in favour.

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I would very much welcome such a move.

 

I think that I have said elsewhere on this forum that I wrote to the RB about this some years ago mentioning that the Widow Simones now  regularly receive flowers and that Philip Gammon had had a bunch on his retirement. I think that I also referred to Jonathan Cope having had bouquets after his Rudolf at the Bolshoi in 2003. After some time had elapsed, I received a negative response from the RB management on the basis that it was against the traditions of the ROH.

 

However, it has been noticeable recently at the Stage Door that some male dancers, including Vadim Muntagirov, have regularly been carrying flowers as they leave and, after his debut as Des Grieux, Vadim had armfuls. It would be nice for everyone if these could be presented on stage.

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I have written on another BcoF board about my experience - while working it must be confessed for the Metropolitan Opera - of several leading ballerinas (among them Makarova, Gregory and Kirkland) who requested that the money that people would spend on flowers on their behalf be presented to specific charities (in America called 'non-profit organisations') that they, themselves, supported with in turn a credit on that donation in their behalf and a note from the artists themselves to the gift maker.  This may well have arisen out of Balanchine's determination with New York City Ballet that flowers ONLY be presented on a dancer's retirement (much as they might be in the so-called 'real' world.)  I am well aware that these traditions were fostered in the US and that the culture is very different to that in the UK.  (There have been some remarks here of rather recent late which have made that division very clear.)  I wonder am I alone in feeling that the bouquets being now presented at the Royal Ballet seem to be sometimes more numerous in number and oft times more elaborate than in the past?  I can of course - in a way - understand the reason for this.  So many of the current UK's fervent balletic supporters have come to their cultural maturity in the 80s; that period where the very idea of 'greed' itself seemed so often to be prioritised - as far as I could see at least - as a mark of achievement.  I only now wish - after the banking crisis - and a substantive period where the folly of those earlier unfortunate practices have become highlighted - that the largest cultural institution in this country (i.e., the ROH) might find a more substantive key to twist - nay, to hold as a mirror up to our current natures as t'were - as a reflection for its concern/commitment in favour of the society at large (e.g., ours) that is - at least still in some significant part - investors in its own creative pursuit.  I have a feeling - or is it just a hope? - that many of the leading artists in the Royal Ballet and other significant companies might well be supportive of such endeavours.  (Yes, perhaps it is but an ill founded folly on my part. Please know there have been others.)  Certainly some of the key RB artists have done SO much good in specific support of key outreach incentives close to their hearts.  It would be wonderful I think if for a month all monies given in lieu of flowers might go toward to, say, the Anne McGuire fund or some such.  I know it would ... well, could over time ... make a significant difference much as those practices at the turn of the dance boom did.  It allowed both the artist and their audience to share in that pride.  Still, perhaps it is just me and the leftovers from my 'American' period.  (This may well just be a personal reflection.  Although I started working in this country when I was nine - and continue to do so - and next year I will turn 60, I will not get a British state pension because I took 20 years out to get a PhD and to much work in a foreign climb.  The irony - of perhaps ALL ironies - is that I will get an American state pension - for even more money and available to me anywhere in the world - for that much shorter period of employment.  In respect of such, I, myself, have made a personal commitment to see that a substantive amount of that gift goes to a fund supporting American performing artists in need.  I am I promise deeply grateful.)  I don't want to upset anyone by this verbiage.  It's just a suggestion.  The traditions I mention above I saw framed long ago and far away.  The world, of course, it does move on.  That is, I know, .... well, am told .... a good thing.  I still - somehow - manage to keep faith.    

Edited by Bruce Wall

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I do understand this point of view, Bruce, but I try to give to charity in a number of other ways and I would rather like to have the freedom  to show my appreciation of dancers with a small bouquet every now and then. 

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I agree with Capybara.  However, much as I would like to, I have never bought a bouquet for a dancer because, as Bruce points out above, the ones they get are mostly so big and gorgeous that the only bunch I could afford would look embarrassingly pathetic and like it came from a garage forecourt!

 

I think that men should be able to get flowers just as much as women (or at least, get them presented on stage as they get them backstage already).  Although I knew what the answer would be, I asked at the stage door once whether the men would be allowed to be presented with a bottle of something onstage if they weren't "allowed" flowers.  As I thought, a big fat 'no' because of "elfin sayfety"...which of course is understandable;  we wouldn't want broken glass onstage if it fell over.  I was kind of just trying to make a point!!

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There was a rather more interesting piece in the New York Times a week ago - and not behind a paywall!

And it mentions our very own BangorBalletBoy!!

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ENB went through a period, maybe a decade or so ago, of presenting the male leads with a bottle of - something or other. I'm not sure why they stopped it. But this is a company, I think, where bouquets are from management rather than from supporters.

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And it mentions our very own BangorBalletBoy!!

Again???!!! He's hardly the only one to give flowers :) 

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The Times also said that if the leading lady doesn't get any flowers, then none of the other girls do either, but now there is a fund to buy emergency bouquets if that happens, perhaps that explains why sometimes the other girls have bigger and better ones :)

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My son dances with an European company where male as well as female dancers regularity receive flowers at the curtain call. These are usually in the form of a small bouquet/posy or a single flower. These are not just for principal roles but any member of the company who have flower delivered for them at the stage door.

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ENB went through a period, maybe a decade or so ago, of presenting the male leads with a bottle of - something or other. I'm not sure why they stopped it. But this is a company, I think, where bouquets are from management rather than from supporters.

 

The vast majority of bouquets for ENB dancers are from supporters, not management - even in the regions.

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I remember the days when BRB used to allow far more flowers than happen these days. Also we used to have more curtain calls. These days it's a couple of modest bunches at most with three bobs by way of bows. Can't say it adds much to the theatricality of the performance.

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I remember the days when BRB used to allow far more flowers than happen these days. Also we used to have more curtain calls. These days it's a couple of modest bunches at most with three bobs by way of bows. Can't say it adds much to the theatricality of the performance.

 

It is noticeable that, when ENB performs a long show, the curtain calls are minimal. Perhaps the same (overtime?) issue arises with BRB?

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I would very much welcome such a move.

 

I think that I have said elsewhere on this forum that I wrote to the RB about this some years ago mentioning that the Widow Simones now  regularly receive flowers and that Philip Gammon had had a bunch on his retirement. I think that I also referred to Jonathan Cope having had bouquets after his Rudolf at the Bolshoi in 2003. After some time had elapsed, I received a negative response from the RB management on the basis that it was against the traditions of the ROH.

 

However, it has been noticeable recently at the Stage Door that some male dancers, including Vadim Muntagirov, have regularly been carrying flowers as they leave and, after his debut as Des Grieux, Vadim had armfuls. It would be nice for everyone if these could be presented on stage.

 

It also used to be the tradition that flowers at the ROH were presented by liveried, bewigged flunkies.  If that tradition can be abandoned why not others?  

 

I read in a dancer's autobiography (think it might have been Darcey Bussell's) that the author always shared her bouquets with her male partners and I've certainly seen them leaving at the stage door with armfuls of all sorts of flowers (including lilies, which should be avoided because of the pollen stains).    I assume that the ROH allows flowers to be given to the men on retirement because Jonathan Cope did very well for flowers when he retired - he had to take them home in a specially hired people carrier.

 

The custom of presenting laurel wreaths originated in the west in Ancient Greece and they were given to victors of all sorts of contests: athletic, dramatic & gymnastic, but strictly for the men of course!

 

Linda

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The vast majority of bouquets for ENB dancers are from supporters, not management - even in the regions.

Really? And the supporters all tend to send identical ones? 

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Really? And the supporters all tend to send identical ones? 

 

I did say "the vast majority".The identical ones you have seen are, clearly, provided by management - on opening nights, I believe. However, I saw 9 performances of Coppelia/Swan Lake on tour this season where the leading ballerina had at least one bouquet and some had several. Indeed, at a couple of performances, there was some disquiet among fans that 'their' offering had not been brought onstage whereas others had.

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The Royal Ballet; a basket of roses and me: an association
 

“Patrick made me strong,” her letter read.
 

I have only given money in lieu of flowers three times.  I have never paid for a bouquet nor taken such to any stage door.  I’m the kind of person who if I felt THAT driven I would want to say ‘thank you’ in person.  Usually I just join in that celebration of the performance – that mesh of historical moments – that we all have shared through applause.  'Bravo/a/i' I might be heard to call out when warranted.  To me that is sufficiently special.
 

I have, however, given money in lieu of flowers three times to charities that had been noted as being personally meaningful to three extraordinary ballet artists, females all.  One was to a drug rehab unit.  The other two were hospices.  There was no question but that each marked a memory; each was dedicated to the end of a particular road.  One was in honour of Kirkland on the announcement of the untimely death of her friend, the dancer, Patrick Bissell.  Another was for Gregory who I knew had been devastated by the news of the suicide of Joseph Duell.  Danny and Joey Duell were dancers with the NYCB.  They were brothers.  Danny was a principal.  On learning that he was AIDS positive Joey went back to his apartment and took one final leap off his balcony.  He was 29.  It was the 80’s.  It was NYC.  It was devastating. 
 

But to my story.  I must have had 50 friends die (largely horrific) deaths from AIDS while I was living there.  This particular tale involves a close friend, Joel.  Joel Thompson was his name.  Decades later I still miss him.  For me he was one of God’s angels on earth.  I could talk to Joel about anything.  He was a chorister at the Met.  I worked there as well. 
 

It was a Saturday and I had to oversee a performance.  I remember it was Wozzeck.  It was a broadcast matinee.  I was running out of the broadcast booth back to the director’s one and I passed a singer who I knew was also a friend of Joel’s.  ‘Have you seen, Joel?’ I asked as I dashed.  ‘I’m going after this,’ David said.  I turned, now rushing backwards.  ‘If you give me three quarters of an hour after this,’ I said, ‘I’ll go with you.’  He smiled and put his thumb up.  True to his word when I came out into the security area at the Met’s stage door, there David was.  We made our way to St. Vincent’s Hospital.
 

We went to the desk for passes for the intensive care unit where Joel then was.  There was a pause.  ‘You need to go to Admitting,’ she said.  That didn’t strike me as strange as Joel had told me they were going to let him out that weekend.  Maybe he had left … or maybe he was just preparing to leave.  We got to Admitting.   ‘There are three Joel Thompsons,’ the receptionist said.  The woman showed me a list on her computer screen.  (In those days it was but a simple green on black; no other colour).  ‘Give me a minute’ she said smiling as she disappeared into a back room.  David and I sat down.  We waited for what seemed an age.  We were laughing, I remember.  We were trading tales about Joel.  (Joel had - and was - a great laugh.)  Suddenly the receptionist reappeared.  She seemed disturbed.  ‘Your friend,’ she said with some difficulty …’Your friend died half an hour ago.’  David and I stood frozen.  Joel was 26.  It was if a gun had gone off. 
 

After a pause she said: ‘Do you want to go up?  He’s still there.’ I looked at David in silence.  We looked back at her nodding ‘yes’.  We went up to the unit.  Nothing was said.  There was noise around us but somehow I didn’t hear it.  I recognised some of the nurses on the unit because they had been there when I had visited Joel on other occasions.  We were ushered into his room.  He was at peace.  David and I just stared.  A nurse came in and asked if we were alright.  I nodded ‘yes’.  ‘Did his parents know?’ I asked.  ‘They were called last night,’ she said.  There was another pause.  Joel’s parents lived in Pennsylvania.  That’s not a world away from NYC.  I looked back at her.  ‘They didn’t come,’ she said.   She pursed her lips, turned her head away and quickly left.    There was a single envelope on the bedside table.  It was open.  There was a letter sitting in it.  Maybe they had written I thought.  I picked it up and took the remainder of the contents out.  I looked at the back of its second page.  It was from Joel’s sister.  I turned it over and read the first line.  ‘Dear Joel,’ it read, ‘Now is the time to repent.’  I couldn’t read any more.  That’s when tears – (silent I fear – I am British after all) - flowed from my eyes.  I couldn't help it.  I handed the letter to David.  ‘His sister,’ I mumbled.  David looked at it.  He must have read what I did.  He tore the letter up and threw it on the floor.  “For Joel,” he said.  ‘For Joel,’ I whispered back nodding. 
 

There was a store then in Greenwich Village.  There were so many (largely young) men dying of AIDS at that time that they had to have somewhere to get rid of their goods.  Apartments usually had to be cleared in a day or two.  Time waits for no man after all.  Better the cause than a skip. I agree.  The people who staffed the unit usually also volunteered to go and clean out the flats of the dead.  That was one  volunteer effort I could just never bring myself to subscribe to somehow.  I did however make a point of going into the shop at least once every every week and trying to buy something to support the cause. 
 

As the death rate became ever increasing the prices became more and more absurd.  I remember  staff members at the Met laughing.  Suddenly I – who always used to wear more or less the same thing – became a fashion plate.  All the clothes, of course, had come from that stock.  I remember once buying a tailored Cardin suit with documentation that it was an original for $20.00.  (When I sold my flat in NYC in 2001 I took it and gave it to the costume collection at the Metropolitan Museum.  I had only worn it a handful of times.  They in turn handed me a tax credit for thousands of dollars.  I laughed and returned it saying it wasn’t mine to have in the first place.) 
 

Sometimes I would go into the store more than once a week.  Usually this was when one of my friends died.  I wanted something of theirs to hold onto.  When Joel died I knew that his flat – in which I had spent many a happy hour – would be cleared.  I went into that store every day that week – taking time off work to do so.  (Not that I ever said precisely why.)  It was Wednesday morning I remember. Suddenly I saw things that were Joel’s.  I bought a goodly number.  I know it sounds absurd but that’s what people did then.  I bought the sweater Joel was wearing when he first told me he had AIDS.  I still have it.  I’ve never worn it.  It’s Joel’s.  We had gone to that cheap chicken restaurant – a chain whose name I cannot now remember – on West 72nd Street.  I liked the sauce.  Joel liked the cornbread.  It was difficult for him then.  He hadn’t actually told anyone else at that point.
 

I left the shop with my treasures and went less than one block.  I felt ill.  I went into one of those alcoves that introduce those chic gated mews terraces you find in the Village.  I tossed my bag to one side and knelt down at the bottom of a crevice and wretched into it.  Violently.  ‘Are you OK?’ he said.  I looked up and there was this square jawed young man – beautifully attired – like out of a film - looking down at me.  I remember he spoke with a sense of Massachusetts regality.  I nodded ‘yes’.  He knelt down and put his arm around me.  ‘Don’t worry,’ he said quietly.  ‘You’ll be OK.  I know.’  I smiled meekly back at him, again nodding.  He handed me his business card.  He was a vice president at Merrill Lynch when that was still an honour.  ‘If you want to talk, call me,’ he said.  Me being British, I didn’t.

 

I would never go back into that shop.  I couldn’t.  It’s not there any more.  The world has moved on. There are protease inhibitors.  It – and we – are simply a product of our time.  I now, once again, more or less daily wear the same thing.  I once remember my late mother looking askance at me and – shaking her head – saying: ‘You have to be rich to do that’. 
 

But my story … my title … my association:  That day in the 80s when I bought those mementos of Joel’s there was in the window of that shop quite the largest basket of roses I had EVER seen.  They had obviously been brought from a memorial service.  (It had to be memorial service – rather than a funeral - for in those days young men had to be burnt without ceremony as soon as possible after their deaths.)  The flowers were obviously there to be now sold to support the cause.  The basket I vividly recall was white.  It was ENORMOUS.  It took up the full centre of the shop’s front window. The roses were of the deepest red.  It seemed to as if they would cover a cricket pitch.  I remember while waiting for the store to open I was trying to count them.  Indeed, there were several of us waiting.  We were all trying to make a competition out of it.  No one won.  Beside that arrangement of fat stems was a picture of a handsome – lithe - young man.  It was obviously the headshot of a young actor.  Below it the words ‘My Son’ were proudly inscribed in black ink.  I only wish there could have been something like that for Joel.  Heaven knows he deserved it.
 

Now you mush flash forward decades and thousands of miles.  It is now 21st Century London.  We are inside the Royal Opera House and I am standing at T43 – a number now forever emblazoned in my memory – in the Amphi standing room.  It’s the end of a very fine performance and suddenly the curtain rises on a VAST white basket of red roses.  How lovely I thought to myself … and then my stomach – with a mind to itself – began to churn.  VIOLENTLY.  It was, I guess, sense memory.  I dashed up that small flight of darkly wooden stairs, out the door and down several carpeted others.  I could still hear people cheering as I ran into the gents and incarcerated myself in the panelled toilet.  Again I wretched. VOILENTLY.
 

I came out of the toilet and washed my hands.  A man came into the loo.  I smiled.  I was still ‘being British’.  He went to the urinal.  I left.  I wasn’t worried.  I knew all too well why I had been so suddenly ill.  It was but a reflex from long ago.  It had been actioned through that basket of flowers presented on the RB stage.  Still, it was Joel I thought of as I left the Opera House that evening; not the performance.  Somewhere in my mind those roses had been for him.

 

Ironically perhaps, that made me feel better. 
 

“Patrick made me strong,” Kirkland’s handwritten letter to me still reads.  I know what you mean, Gelsey.  Joel did the same for me.
 

Edited by Bruce Wall
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Many years ago when Northern Ballet were performing Michael Pink/Christopher Gable's Dracula a friend asked the then company manager if a bouquet could be presented to the dancer performing the eponymous role.  (The dancer in question is Russian and had commented to my friend that he was surprised more flowers weren't presented on stage and were never presented to men).  The company manager approved the idea.

 

Well my friend contacted the florists' department in Fenwicks in Newcastle.  Up to that point I had not been a huge fan of bouquets and cut flowers full stop but to this day it is the most spectacular bouquet I have ever seen!  My friend is one of those people who can charm the birds out of the trees and explained what the bouquet was for.  Well the florists really went to town.  We had 24 of the largest and deepest red rose buds I have ever seen, 12 of which they sprayed black, these were supported by dark green foliage and black, red and gold tissue paper and cellophane.  It was totally appropriate and absolutely gorgeous and the dancer really appreciated it!

 

Very recently one of BRB's Beasts received a bouquet on stage following his debut in role.

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I find the whole idea of not allowing men to get bouquets bizarre. Why not? I know in Stuttgart when I wanted flowers to be presented on stage, the administration did say that if I wanted to give flowers to the lead man I also had to provide flowers for the ballerina (which was fine by me). If you're throwing flowers, you can throw at whoever you like. Angela, it seems to me the last time I was in Stuttgart there were fewer flowers thrown though. Is this correct?

One time here in Toronto I was ordering a bouquet for Robert Tewsley for a Nutcracker Prince performance. The florist was quite bemused when I started specifying what I wanted. I hadn't explained that it was for a dancer.

"I want it to look good with what he's wearing".

"What he's wearing?????"

"Yes. It's.... scarlet. And yellow."

"??????"

No doubt she thought my man had very weird taste in clothes.

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The florist was quite bemused when I started specifying what I wanted. I hadn't explained that it was for a dancer.

"I want it to look good with what he's wearing".

 

 

 

 

One of the reasons it's handy to have some florists here who used to be ballet dancers themselves...

 

Also helps when one is ordering a basket of flowers to present to someone who has just performed Gamzatti!

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I remember the days when BRB used to allow far more flowers than happen these days. Also we used to have more curtain calls. These days it's a couple of modest bunches at most with three bobs by way of bows. Can't say it adds much to the theatricality of the performance.

I would be interested to know about the practice of flower throwing. I believe it is now reserved for farewell performances and the occasional gala, yet I have seen many recordings from Covent Garden to suggest it used to be a more frequent occurrence. Is the rarity of this practice a case of health and safety gone mad/ the cost of flowers or for some other reason ? And, I'd be interested to hear of any recent performances when there has been a showers of flowers. Returning to the original post in this thread, this is a lovely way of showing appreciation for both male and female dancers.

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We have discussed on here before the reasons why flower throws are now discouraged at the ROH - but I can't remember what they are! It used to be the case that spring debuts in a major role were greeted with a throw of daffodils, usually, I think it was, which must have been particularly messy, given their sap, but now you mention it, that hasn't happened for a while. Farewells for principals, yes: Tamara Rojo's last Marguerite & Armand (guesting with the company) a couple of years ago, and I think the previous three were all Mayerlings: Cojocaru/Kobborg, Galeazzi and Benjamin. But I think I'm right in saying (and I'm sure that someone who has the DVD can confirm) that the last Watson Mayerling of the run which was filmed in 2009, I think it was, also had a flower throw. Or was it Different Drummer? It was something unexpected, I know that.

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The ROH doesn't like impromptu flower showers or throwing from the Stalls as there is a risk to orchestral instruments. As has been said on here before, it is possible to pre-arrange such things and, sometimes, if no audience member has taken the initiative or if there may not be enough, the ROH will provide flowers itself for a significant farewell performance.

 

Flower showers at ENB performances usually mark the end of a season and/or celebrate a particular dancer. For Daria Klimentova's farewell at the RAH last June, the dancers themselves arranged a flower throw and audience members contributed to, and made, two very large baskets of flowers - in addition to all the individual bouquets, of course.

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I certainly have no objection to men getting flowers too, but I have to say that I really adore that little curtain call tradition, where the ballerina takes a single flower from her own bouquet, kisses it and with a small curtsey hands it to her partner, who then bows and kisses her hand.  Oh  - that is so heart melting and olde worlde gracious!  And I really do miss those bewigged, red coated major domos!!!!

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Going back to the 60's and 70's there was nearly always a flower throw at the end of a full length ballet, of course the market was still there and daffodils, which it often was, probably would be cheaper by the evening, but even so many fans took the time and trouble to stand in the slips both sides and create a shower of flowers. Curtain calls could go on for ages too, never know how my mum and I could always get the 11pm train from Victoria, well I do really, short 20m intervals :)

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Guillaume Cote received a much deserved bouquet last Sunday when taking his bows during the last performance of "Nijiinsky" at NBOC.  It made complete sense, considering the audience adored this impressive production.  

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