CriticalDance Forum

Kirov in London 2009
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Author:  Cygne [ Tue Aug 18, 2009 9:19 am ]
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Thanks Cassandra for posting the links!

The first night "Sleeping Beauty" reviews are now online. The Evening Standard's Sheila Frater wasn't impressed with Obratzova, Kolb or the Sergeyev production. Interestingly, she was the first of the London critics to condemn Somova's "Juliet." Unfortunately, the editor attached a pic of the Royal Ballet's "Swan Lake" to this "Beauty" review. ... d=23733135

Sarah Crompton of the Daily Telegraph wasn't impressed with the ballerina or the production either. ... arden.html

The only London critic who gave Obratzova her just due with Kolb, and has true knowledge and understanding of this company and this particular production, is the Financial Times' Clement Crisp. ... abdc0.html

Talk about from one extreme to the other. I can't imagine what Frater, Crompton will report, (if anything) regarding the closing night Aurora's performance.

Author:  Cassandra [ Tue Aug 18, 2009 9:35 am ]
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Cygne, the critics only report on press nights, in this case Friday and I would be highly surprised if there was a press report about the closing night.

For the record, the applause was embarrassingly sparse with the bare minimum of curtain calls and without the traditional last night flower throw. Some actually left before the end.

Author:  Cassandra [ Wed Aug 19, 2009 6:02 am ]
Post subject:  Obraztsova/Kolb Sleeping Beauty

The Sleeping Beauty
Kirov Ballet
Royal Opera House
14th August 2009

The problem with any Russian production of the Sleeping Beauty that is presented in London; is that it will inevitably be compared with the Royal Ballet’s sacrosanct version that features so many variants in otherwise familiar passages of choreography. For example subtle but important differences in the prologue fairy variations, the substitution of a simpler move for the fish dives and the failure of Aurora to rise from the ground en pointe in the third act pas de deux.

I like Konstantin Sergeyev’s version very much and feel I’ve grown close to it over the years, but sadly London ballet goers will compare it to the Royal Ballet’s and find it lacking. This time around it was lacking in every sense as it had been pruned down on this occasion, possibly to accommodate those never ending intervals the Royal Opera House imposes on us. Even so the ballet overran to the extent that those with trains to catch were leaving before the end: a situation that can’t be good for the morale of those on stage. Finishing at 11p.m. made it little shorter than the Vikharev revival, a production we Londoners are champing at the bit to see again, though sadly with the new management’s attitude towards restorations it seems unlikely we will get our wish.

During the two weeks the Kirov was with us, we were subjected to some very inferior casting, encouraging young talent is one thing, but presenting a knowledgeable ballet audience with artists that are frankly substandard isn’t the way to establish a following amongst a new generation of ballet fans, some of whom are already questioning why the Kirov style was ever considered special. Fortunately the first night of Sleeping Beauty led with a cast that could hardly be bettered and the performances by the principals helped one overlook certain inadequacies further down in the pecking order.

On Friday night Evgenia Obraztsova danced Aurora, a role that fits her like a glove, and there was very little in her performance to criticize; perhaps in the Rose Adagio her balances were a little short and strained but nerves can get the better of any dancer. All the rest was quite glorious but she was probably at her best in the vision scene where she created a tangible air of mystery. Her prince was the ever noble Igor Kolb, the most courteous and solicitous partner any ballerina could wish for and he danced impeccably throughout.

Praise as well for Ekaterina Kondaurova’s Lilac Fairy, possibly the best exponent of the role anywhere. The evil force she had to deal with was her real life husband no less; Islom Baimuradov revelling in every dastardly detail as Carabosse. It is a British custom to boo the villain when he takes his curtain calls and Baimuradov was booed with great gusto by the entire audience, in other words they thought he was very good indeed.

Apart from these principals, the rest was a curate’s egg – good in parts, with a varied bunch of prologue fairies and last act diverts. The Lilac Fairy’s magic boat got stuck on scenery causing her princely passenger to abandon ship and apparently wade to Aurora’s rescue. Because of the over running schedule, Little Red Riding Hood and her wolf were cut despite being listed in the programme. This is inexcusable.

I’ll leave the last word to my companion that evening, a lady who is a true ballet going veteran. She was very taken with Obaztsova and at the end of the show turned to me and said “I didn’t think they made them like that anymore”. Neither did I.

Author:  Cygne [ Wed Aug 19, 2009 9:48 am ]
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Thank you so much Cassandra, for your excellent overview of the Maryinsky Ballet's Covent Garden season, and review of Obratzova & Kolb's "Beauty!" :D

Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Fri Aug 21, 2009 3:55 pm ]
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Likewise, Cassandra, I enjoyed reading your impressions of the final Beauty of this run. Thanks for sharing with us :-).

Author:  Cassandra [ Mon Aug 24, 2009 8:08 am ]
Post subject:  Some final thoughts on the London season

In the past week, now that the much anticipated Kirov season has come and gone, I have been mulling over those two weeks of limited pleasure and a degree of pain. There are London Kirov fans for whom the arrival of the company is the highlight of their artistic year, but this time around there wasn’t much for them to celebrate. Hopes of Ondine, Harlequinade, The Awakening of Flora or The Little Humpbacked Horse had been shattered when the programmes were announced and we discovered that we Londoners weren’t considered worthy of anything new. Indeed the prospect of yet more Swan Lakes, Beauties, R & J’s and Balanchine actually had me feeling nostalgic for that much reviled Shostakovich bonanza of 2006: at least we saw something new.

The season opened disastrously with the critics condemning what they saw in a rare show of united disdain and though reading those poor reviews gave me no pleasure at all, it really was a case of ‘told you so’ with that first night fiasco having been accurately predicted both here and elsewhere. The season inevitably closed on a low too with the cognoscenti staying resolutely away on the last night with a paucity of applause that must have marked a new low in the history of Kirov tours to Britain. Romeo & Juliet and Sleeping Beauty (in the Sergeyev version) are poor repertory choices for London anyway, as the frequently partisan audience compares these productions with those of the Royal Ballet’s and rightly or wrongly finds them wanting, something a little of the most basic research by the Kirov management would have revealed: clearly the Kirov apparatchiks don’t bother reading past reviews.

There were bright spots: Obraztsova and (particularly) Tereshkina built on their popularity here and Kondaurova made the female successes a triumvirate with her unique and very beautiful style whilst established male favourites Kolb and Matvienko were joined in the admiration stakes by Vladimir Shklyarov. The corps de ballet was also as lovely as ever, but although some of the soloists were excellent, such as the hard working Irina Golub, the casting choices were frequently eccentric and I couldn’t help wondering exactly what the thinking was behind the decision to put on inexperienced looking dancers at the expense of proven interpreters of roles. Has London become some sort of testing ground for fledgling dancers now? To give an example the last time the Kirov brought R & J to London the role of Mercutio was danced by Leonid Sarafanov and Vassily Scherbakov, but this time around, this less than well emphasized character in Lavrovsky’s reading faded into insignificance in the hands of a lesser performer. However Scherbakov was onstage, but making up the numbers in the corps: what a waste! Typical however, of the Kirov’s current cavalier attitude towards casting.

I was always rather ambivalent towards the directorship of Makhar Vaziev, finding his emphasis on youth at the expense of proven experience to be wrong headed. However many good things in the way of new works and those fascinating reconstructions came about during his tenure all the time having to cope with (if reports are to be believed ) an increasing amount of meddling by his boss, Gergiev. At the time of writing the company is in effect leaderless, with ballet master Yuri Fateev simply holding the title of Acting Director, which leaves me to hope that Fateev is nothing more than a stop gap until a more suitable candidate for the job emerges. Alarm bells over Fateev began to ring when I read the contents of an interview he gave to Ismene Brown earlier this year extolling the virtues of Alina Somova whilst writing off the reconstructed classics of Sergei Vikharev: it was worrying stuff. I suppose the London season without Ondine, Flora etc. but with the incompetent Ms Somova opening and closing the season could be described the fruits of Mr Fateev’s wrong thinking. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait too long for a more competent individual to take charge of the company.

Author:  Tahor [ Sat Aug 29, 2009 1:11 pm ]
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Thanks Cassandra for these thoughts, interesting, but in many ways some of the generalisations are in need of a little balance. As a member myself of the London ballet audience I don't want to get swept up in such generalisations. So....just to give an alternative view or different balance to some of your points:

1) As a point of fact, it is not the ROH, but in fact the Kirov company that causes such long is, as you know, the Russian way. The theatre find it frustrating themselves and I see no value in bashing Covent Garden when they don't deserve it (there are many other things where they do deserve it, but you can't pin that one on them!)

2) Regards rep choices for London, its no good to blame the Kirov new management, regardless of Fateyev's view about the reconstructions. The fact is the rep is totally controlled by Madame Hochhauser, and you will never or very rarely see things like Flora, Ondine, Harlequinade for that reason. As we all know Lilian is by nature conservative for commercial reasons. And if you complain about R & J and Beauty, you will find them replaced next time by extra Swan Lakes, not by Flora. We all want the more adventurous rep desperately, but know that requires travel to St P.

3) I fundamentally disagree with the sweeping generalisation that R & J and Beauty are poor choices for London. The Sergeyev Beauty has not been seen in London for many, many years, so was long overdue to be seen again - and I want to see those dancers, in that production, in London! For many of us it is our favourite choreographic text and production of Beauty, with the most beautiful vision scene of all - it is not accurate to say in general that "london audiences" do not like it. The people to whom you refer are a tiny group of 20 or so hard core RB fans who think everything else inferior - these people are tiny in number compared to the 6,000 people that saw these 3 shows. All the ballet fans I know, apart from one, adore the Sergeyev Beauty, and from what I saw and heard at two of these performances, the general audience was enjoying the production immensely, with many smiling faces and positive comments which I overheard in the intervals. So let's not give the impression this production is not welcome here because it is - many of us have been waiting years for it to return. Let's not let the strange views of 20 (often highly vocal) people counter the other 5,980! They are certainly not representative enough for such a statement to be made about "London audiences".

4) I think, to be fair, its a little harsh to refer to some of the artists we saw as "sub-standard". Things have to move on at some point. Scherbakov cannot sadly dance bluebird for ever, wonderful though he is time is marching on - the company has to develop new soloists. Inexperienced people only become experienced by getting performances both at home and yes on tours as well...I cannot blame the company for wishing / needing to show some new people. And whist currently they do not match vassily at his peak, we cannot expect such greatness all of the time, even from the Kirov. It's impossible to have any company full of all its people at that level all of the time. And Leonid was dancing in Japan at the time anyway so was not available for R & J - such things are often a matter of circumstance. It's not proportionate to refer to artists such as Maxim Zuzin as "sub-standard" - obviously not up there with Scherbakov at his peak, but nevertheless by most standards perfectly good dancers.

It was a good season, with many things to be enjoyed. Most of us knew what nights to avoid when the pain was likely to have been at its height!

Author:  Cassandra [ Wed Sep 02, 2009 9:15 am ]
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Tahor, your spirited defence of the Kirov does you credit, but I feel I should address some of the points you make.

Firstly: those never-ending intervals. Yes, I concede that over-running is a Russian tradition and you are probably correct there, but I still maintain that ROH intervals are longer than those in any other London theatre.

Secondly: you are absolutely correct that the Hochhausers probably have the last word on repertory choices, but in the past they have sanctioned such delights as Vikharev’s Sleeping Beauty and La Bayadere. The point I was making is that Yuri Fateev’s artistic policies now make it unlikely that these works will be seen anywhere again, perhaps not even in St Petersburg. What would I have preferred to see? Well, it’s some years since we last saw the company in Corsaire and surely a couple more than just two Balanchine programme performances would have sold, and that is just the conservative selection. The one ballet I am gagging to see the company dance in London is Raymonda, a ballet that hasn’t benefitted from a Vikharev make over and is a solid Sergeyev production and should therefore be acceptable to the current management, but I imagine my chances of seeing it here are nil.

Thirdly: with respect, I think I have got this one right. It is foolish to assume exactly what the ‘ballet demographic’ is. To refer to a ‘group of 20 or so hard core RB fans’ (only 20?) as being the only ones unlikely to appreciate the Kirov’s Sleeping Beauty, just doesn’t wash as the audience will be made up of many different elements of regular and casual ballet goers together with those that specifically go to watch Russian companies. Comparisons will automatically be made with more familiar productions being preferred. Likewise with R& J where we not only have the RB’s MacMillan production to compare with but countless other versions, brought to us courtesy of all the other companies that visit London. And don’t forget that on this occasion the audience grumbles were matched by lukewarm responses from the critics.

Your final point concerning casting is a little more tricky; because I do agree with the need to introduce new dancers to roles, but I also happen to think that a major venue like London deserves the best casts and not the ‘new boys’ being given try-outs. And the ‘new girls’ too as that disastrous first night Juliet, totally panned by the critics, was actually a debut in the role. New casts should be tested out at home before being exported the only exceptions being when illness or injury necessitates an understudy going on. When the Kirov dances in London the audience isn’t just local but international, and for that reason the casts should be the very best available. The reason I singled out Vassily Scherbakov is that he has a proven track record in roles that on this occasion were not, in my opinion, particularly well danced. As I have heard that he hasn’t yet relinquished the roles of Mercutio and Bluebird, it was particularly galling to see that fine exponent of those roles apparently relegated to the corps.

It was a good season, with many things to be enjoyed. Most of us knew what nights to avoid when the pain was likely to have been at its height!

I totally agree, but just wish that the ‘pain’ hadn’t been inflicted on us in the first place. :roll:

Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Sat Sep 05, 2009 8:13 pm ]
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New casts should be tested out at home before being exported the only exceptions being when illness or injury necessitates an understudy going on.

300% agreed.

It was a good season, with many things to be enjoyed. Most of us knew what nights to avoid when the pain was likely to have been at its height!

I totally agree, but just wish that the ‘pain’ hadn’t been inflicted on us in the first place.

I think that's the key point: that so many cultured balletgoers in London had to carefully calculate so as to avoid the aforementioned speaks again to casting policies that should be rethought.

It would almost, in my mind, be understandable, were this to happen in a smaller, less cosmopolitan venue, a tiny town somewhere, that wouldn't get much press. But London is home to some of the best ballet in the world, and to some of the most knowledgable critics in the world. Why go into the proverbial lion's den with something that you know will cause controversy? Or, was that part of the point?

It seems obvious to us to present the best, which may in fact mean the "tried and true." I agree, in short, with Cassandra: if the new recruits *must* be spotlighted, then certainly opening night on tour is not the time to do it.

Author:  Tahor [ Sun Sep 06, 2009 10:11 am ]
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Cassandra - it's honestly not a question of making a spirited defence of the Kirov, I share many if not all of your concerns, but one nevertheless needs to be accurate and balanced in reflecting on the London season.

Your point about rep has shifted, and mixes up several different issues. I share your sadness that the new regime do not support the reconstructions, and therefore accept that this makes it even less likely we will ever see things like Flora in London. But my point is simply that things like this are controlled by the impressario. You talk of them previously bringing the Vikharev SB and Bayadere - well that is hardly adventurous, as both these titles are mainstream rep. They i.e. the Hochhausers did bring Raymonda in 1999 with the Bolshoi, and I too woud love the St P team to bring it. I suggest you put your energy into writing to Madame Hochhauser making the plea - it is totally in her gift, not Fateev's. As you know Paris in 2010 will get the new Humpbacked Horse - so it is not the company that is reluctant to tour new rep, but the impressario here in London. By the way their Corsaire was seen in London far more recently than the Sergeyev Beauty, so the later was very overdue for a viewing here...

I really do not understand your points about the audience and do not see any evidence for your dramatic claims. Who exactly Cassandra are these hordes of people that prefer RB productions to Kirov ones? We spoke to one single individual in an interval of SB who expressed that view. Everyone else was raving about the Kirov Beauty. You keep referering to "audience grumbles" as if that was on a large scale - what is your evidence for this? I am talking about opinions about the productions themselves (not about the Somova first night which is a seperate case). Of course some people will prefer MacMillan's R&J to Lavrovskys, but equally some people, like me, prefer Lavrovsky - its just a matter of personal taste. Its also possible of course to like both - they are different and have different merits. You seem to suggest its automatic that people will always prefer home versions to visiting ones - in which case you are effectively saying that the Kirov should not bring any ballets in the Royal's rep - which makes no sense.

I saw 2 Romeos and 2 Beautys - at every one the audience was very enthusiastic indeed - where I was sitting I was surrounded by people with happy faces making positive comments. I know Cassandra that you only managed to see the very poor Ivanchenko Romeo performance - I think had you seen the wonderful Matvienko and Kolb performances you may have had a more pleasant evening yourself. I think we all must guard against catagorising our own personal "grumbles" and dissappointment with a particular performance as widespread "audience grumbles" without any evidence of that. The Sergeyev Beauty has always been loved in London and that has not changed - clearly Cassandra you have been dissappointed with some aspects of the performances, which is fine, but let's be clear they are "your grumbles", not the whole "audience grumbles". And yes, there are only 20 or so hard core RB people that write on a certain other website in constant defence of the RB - it's a very small group of people. I had assumed you were basing your generalisations about audience opinion on comments these people may have been making on the internet...if so they are not representative of the audience as a whole.

Regards casting let's seperate the issue of Somova with soloist casting. Somova is a totally seperate case much discussed already. Clearly she should not have opened the season as Juliet, it was a crazy decision. But I find it an irony Cassandra that you complain so much about the pain when you never suffered it anyway - you did not go to Somova's Juliet, Swan Lake or Beauty, as nor did I. You would not have gone to every single performance anyway even if it were a ballerina you liked. We all need a night or 2 off in an intensive tour season anyway, so Somova does have her use in that regard :D

I totally disagree that new dancers should not be used on tours - its totally impractical to hold such lofty ideals that London should not see new, younger dancers. Many of us enjoy and want to see new dancers - be they good, bad or indifferent. We want the chance to see them to make our own mind up, and see the future of the company as well as the present and the past. But in any case you keep refering to "new boys" and "understudies" - what an inacuracy, for most of the people you saw are not that anyway! The guys you saw are no such thing - Alexander Sergeyev, Maxim Zuzin, Alexander Timofeyev are not understudies, not new young guys. They are dancers, some of whom have been in the company for many years, that might have been dancing their roles for the first time in London, but were not making debuts or understudying roles, they dance these roles in St P and elsewhere. I share your wish to have seen Scherbakov do both Mercutio and Bluebird - he should definately have performed here. But presumably you are not suggesting he should have danced all 3 Bluebirds (in 2 days) - so who are all these other established soloists you wanted to see? I am not clear who from those in London you wanted to dance the other shows of Bluebird and Mercutio, even if Vassily had done 1 or 2? To whom exactly are you yearning for, or is it only Vassily? Catherine - please can you shed some light now as to who are the Bluebirds to see in the company, for example?

I think we all agree that the choice of the first night Juliet was a grave error, its easy and accurate to make sweeping statements about that. But when you move lower down to soloist roles and start talking about Mercutio, Bluebird etc it's not so simple. Who else is there anyway besides the types of guys we saw here this time (excluding Vassily)?? These guys were perfectly OK - not great, but not totally awful and certainly not deserving of being called "understudies". The company cannot use "great" people all the time, on every tour to London for every performance, if it does not have them in huge numbers at the present time.

I am sure Catherine you know the phrase "is the glass half full, or half empty"? I am tending to look upon the glass for the London season as half full, whereas Cassandra may be looking at a glass that is half empty. The balance and the truth I think must lay somewhere in the middle! :shock:

Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Mon Sep 07, 2009 12:50 pm ]
Post subject: 

Catherine - please can you shed some light now as to who are the Bluebirds to see in the company, for example?

Hi Tahor,

Well "Beauty" was only danced twice at home this year (calendar 2009). Zuizin did it the first time, for Komleva's benefice; and Kirill Safin (still in the corps) did it the second time. Perhaps of note, Safin was also placed in the first pas with Obratsova in Robbins' "In the Night" -- the company seems to like him, and he was an excellent partner in the latter performance. I did not see his Bluebird, so cannot comment.

As for others, those you mentioned -- Sergeyev, Timofeyev and previously Korsakov (pre-injury) were cast as Bluebirds. I am presuming Filippe Stepin has danced it as well although I can't provide a specific date as to when he did, but they tend to give him those roles sometimes, for better or worse.

I am sure Catherine you know the phrase "is the glass half full, or half empty"? I am tending to look upon the glass for the London season as half full, whereas Cassandra may be looking at a glass that is half empty. The balance and the truth I think must lay somewhere in the middle!

Tahor I agree with much of what you said as well. My personal point of view is that the West (anything west of Russia's border) is lucky to have the chance to see this company. It is strange, from my vantage point, to see the premieres and new works (as well as old ones) performed here and then see the production decisions of the Hochhausers, in terms of what is toured -- but the people with the money are in control, and so it has been for centuries.

I also know very well that the Kirov, as with any ballet company, often are not at their best during foreign tours, and this always disappoints me, because to be blunt about it, I"ve built my life and part of my career around this company, and I always hope for their own successes. That said, and the Somova issue aside, the Mariinsky still has so many gems in its ranks in terms of dancers, but also in terms of ballets. I"ve never seen a more fluid, lyrical "In the Night" as the one(s) the MT performed here thrice in the closing months of the season. That's not an "avant-garde" work by any stretch of the imagination, and I would think might be a good piece to tour as well (as one of many examples). "Flora" of course should be seen at least once, although it is so similar to "Beauty" in structure that (IMHO) once may suffice; it is long and slow and beautiful but some audience members are bored by that in this age of high-tech high-speed everything. Then there are the more obvious premieres like this year's "Humpbacked Horse," and next year's (Jacobson's) "Spartak." However, having seen old and new, I have to really agree with what most of the elders inside the theatre suggest, that some of the Old Old gems should be revisited. Or even old classics -- where is Coppelia, for example? This company has so much at its fingertips, if only it could tap into more of it, and share more of it outside Russia...

Author:  Tahor [ Tue Sep 08, 2009 3:49 pm ]
Post subject: 

Thank you Catherine. I agree with everything you say - and like you it's also my desire to see them at their best wherever possible.

Your report of who now tends to be dancing roles like Bluebird in St P is as I expected and backs up what I was saying i.e. the Bluebirds we saw in London ARE THE Bluebirds in the company now. I adored Anton (Korsakov) in that role but he was not in London anyway this time - he and Vassily are my two favourite Bluebirds of all time! The new to London Bluebirds certainly did not reach anywhere near those heights, but of course Anton (esp pre-injury - and I was there at that performance in Switzerland when he was injured in the Lac pas de trois) is an exceptionally great dancer, we can't sadly expect that level from everyone - it's just not possible. But the point is the company did show us, for better or worse, its current Bluebirds, not in any way debut casts or understudies.

Agree with all you say on rep - I so wish more could be explored by the company, and more toured beyond home borders. I saw the Flora in Baden Baden and adored it. Personally I could watch it endlessly - especially with those variations danced by Katya Osmolkina. For me it was pure heaven!

Author:  Cassandra [ Fri Sep 11, 2009 8:38 am ]
Post subject: 

Bluebird is a fiend of a role and it is rare to see it danced adequately these days let alone well. The biggest problem seems to me to be lack of height in the brisés but I've not seen the opening pistolets (ailes de pigeon ) danced by anyone, anywhere, for years now. I hate banging on about how technique isn't what it used to be, but the Russians are as guilty of substituting easy steps for difficult ones as western companies are.

My comments regarding comparisons with the Royal Ballet apply especially to Florine as the Russian phrasing is totally different to the RB's and yet again the RB's version is the one I prefer.

Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Fri Sep 11, 2009 6:32 pm ]
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Cassandra, your comments make me quite curious what the RB version is like, or what some of their ballerinas (and danseurs) look like in the Bluebird pas. I've been quite Russian-only (as most readers of this forum know) in terms of exposure in recent years, so I can't compare these Kirovians to the Royal (though I can compare to American companies and some European ones). I might have to foray into Youtube and see if I can get some idea as to that of which you speak.

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