How to dance the sugar plum fairy

Beginner Sugar Plum Fairy Variation — Broche Ballet

It’s that time of year! It’s the season of chilly weather, great food, family, and of course, Nutcracker! This classic holiday ballet is just a must! If you’ve never been, I highly recommend you go check it out at your nearest ballet theater.

We are so excited to help you learn this version of the Sugar Plum Fairy! Our version is great for adult beginners, even if you haven’t been dancing for that long! If you’ve recently gotten onto pointe as an adult and started work off of the barre, this is a great level for you. You could even try it hanging onto the barre if you haven’t left the barre on pointe yet.

Enjoy our adult beginner ballet adaptation of this iconic and favorite variation.

History of the Nutcracker

Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without Nutcracker. Before we learn the variation, Let’s talk about some history…

We’ve all heard that iconic Sugar Plum music, but where does it come from? “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” was written by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in the early 1890s. Lev Ivanovich Ivanov and Marius Petipa are the mastermind choreographers behind the Sugar Plum Fairy’s gentle and carefree movements. When creating this piece, Petipa wanted the music for this fairy to resemble “drops of water shooting from a fountain”. Seems like he got just what he wanted! The Celsta was a recently invented instrument during the time and caught the attention of Tchaikovsky. This is what makes that signature Sugar Plum sound. The first ever Nutcracker performance was showcased at the Mariinksy Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia on December 18th, 1892. Surprisingly, the ballet did not receive the best reviews. Some people loved it, and others hated it.  Antonietta Dell'Era was the very first Sugar Plum fairy to take the stage. She had wonderful technique and received great reviews for her work. After this first show with all these mixed reviews, the Nutcracker ballet wasn’t really repeated too often until later in history when it became the ballet we all know and love today. When George Balanchine's The Nutcracker was televised in the late 1950s, interested for ballet grew, and more people began to enjoy it.

If you’d like to read more on this, there’s a great little article we found on Dance Advantage!

Click here to see it!

So… What’s Nutcracker even about?

The Westchester Ballet Company has written a beautiful summary. Let’s check it out!

The Nutcracker Ballet is based on the story “The Nutcracker and the King of Mice” written by E.T.A. Hoffman.  Although what is seen on the stage today is different in detail from the original story, the basic plot remains the same.  The story of a young German girl who dreams of a Nutcracker Prince and his fierce battle against a Mouse King with seven heads.

It is Christmas Eve 1830, in the home of a European city official, President Stahlbaum.  He and his wife and children, Clara and Fritz, welcome their guests to the annual Christmas party.  The party grows festive with music and dance as Uncle Drosselmeyer, Clara’s godfather, arrives. Drosselmeyer is a skilled clockmaker and toy maker. He is a mysterious figure and when he first arrives he scares all the children except Clara and Fritz. Every Christmas, Drosselmeyer brings the children strange and wonderful toys.  The mood of the party changes when he presents magnificent life-size dancing dolls. Clara asks her uncle if she can keep the dolls, but he has brought her something even better — a toy nutcracker. Clara loves the Nutcracker but Fritz is jealous and snatches the Nutcracker from Clara and breaks it. Uncle Drosselmeyer bandages the Nutcracker and Clara puts him to bed for the night.

The guests leave and all is quiet.  Unable to sleep, Clara tiptoes downstairs to check on her beloved nutcracker doll. She falls asleep with the Nutcracker in her arms.  Suddenly strange things begin to happen and large mice invade the room. Then, as the clock strikes midnight, Drosselmeyer returns, and, to Clara’s astonishment, he magically makes the Christmas tree grow high above her and brings the Nutcracker to life.  The toy soldiers around the tree come alive while the room fills with an army of mice, led by the fierce Mouse King. The Nutcracker leads his army of toy soldiers into battle against the mice. After the Nutcracker has fallen and all hope seems lost, Clara kills the Mouse King with her shoe. Drosselmeyer reappears, and raises the Nutcracker, who is transformed into a handsome young prince.  He invites Clara to journey with him to his real home- the Land of Sweets, the Kingdom of the Sugar Plum Fairy. They are guided on their way by the Winter Snows, who have been brought to life by the magic of Christmas.

Arriving in the Land of Sweets, Clara is welcomed by the Sugar Plum Fairy and Clara’s most beautiful dreams come to life. The Nutcracker Prince tells the Sugar Plum Fairy about their daring battle with the army of mice and how Clara saved his life in his battle with the Mouse King.  The Sugar Plum Fairy announces that a huge banquet shall be held in Clara’s honor where she is rewarded with a celebration of dances. From near and far, marvelous characters come to entertain her. When Clara thinks she has seen everything beautiful in the land, the Sugar Plum Fairy dances with her Cavalier.  Soon the Land of Sweets begins to get hazy and Clara opens her eyes to find herself in the old armchair in her parents’ house, wondering if it was all a dream…”

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Learn the Steps!

We created this video to help you follow along with our adult beginner Sugar Plum Fairy variation, and we had so much fun making it! Even if you’re just starting your ballet journey, this is a perfect little variation to help get you familiar with some of the classics. Here at Broche Ballet, we believe anyone and everyone can dance, even grownups! That’s why we’ve created this simplified yet super fun version of the Sugar Plum Fairy, so that we can include anyone who wishes to learn :)

Download the written follow-along

Download and access our online course and 16-page PDF of detailed steps, counts, arm movements, vocabulary, and stage directions!

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Watch the whole video below! Feel free to leave us any questions or comments!

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Happy dancing!

-The Broche Ballet team

Visions—and Variations—of Sugar Plum

Timeless as it may be, The Nutcracker has undergone a number of face-lifts. Yet for all the changes in setting, story and characterizations, the Sugar Plum Fairy variation always looks the same—well, sort of. A loose blueprint of Lev Ivanov’s original choreography serves as a go-to model for almost all Sugar Plums (or adult Claras, who sometimes perform the pas). But just as companies tweak their productions, ballerinas often alter the variation to suit their strengths.

Choreography isn’t the only variable. Sugar Plum can have different motives depending on the production. She could be the regal queen of the Land of Sweets welcoming Clara to her kingdom, a maternal figure teaching her the beauty of love, or Clara herself showing that she has come of age. In addition to overcoming the difficulty of the choreography, it’s up to each dancer to make artistic choices that really bring the steps to life.

Fairy-in-Chief or Ingenue?

Shading your characterization depends on whom you’re trying to portray. In traditional productions, the Sugar Plum Fairy performs the variation. “She’s queen of the Land of Sweets,” says Sandra Brown, who coaches the variation every year as ballet mistress at Colorado Ballet. “She’s very regal and authoritative, so really bend and use your port de bras to show that. Dance with maturity and strength to establish her place in the hierarchy.”

In other productions, the variation serves as a moment for Clara/Marie to enter adulthood. “You want to show her transition from a wide-eyed, naïve child to a mature human being,” Brown says. “Your movements should be grander and more lyrical than earlier in the ballet. Your energy should be more grounded and subtle than that of a giddy child.

Let Technique Be Your Guide

A common opening begins with a dainty pas de bourée couru in sixth position to tendu devant in plié. With a light relevé, the dancer then beats the working foot in battements battu before lowering back to tendu. Make your movements match the quiet delicacy of the music—and be sure to maintain your rotation. “Because dancers are coming from a parallel position, sometimes they don’t get their tendu as turned out as they should,” says Brown. “Be sure you’re lifted on your supporting side.” The upper body movement is designed to help you shift your weight. “When you’re in tendu, bend and gesture toward that foot with an open palm. But as you relevé, you have to arch slightly back. Then bend your body over the tendu as you come down.”

For the arabesque allongée that follows, Brown again stresses the importance of engaging your turnout. “As you passé through to arabesque, you have to bring the heel of the supporting leg forward. Otherwise, you’ll collapse out of it.”

After repeating the opening step three times, the dancer then travels on the upstage diagonal with a series of piqué battements battu in écarté. “Don’t dance underneath yourself here,” Brown advises. “Really extend your left leg out and piqué onto it.” In most versions, the arms flow gently in the opposite direction of the legs. “The feet are sharp, but you have to soften your port de bras.”

Delicacy and Attack

Another familiar passage midway through can prove especially troublesome. The steps seem simple enough—glissade, piqué first arabesque and pull into retiré en face four times. Yet sometimes dancers struggle to maintain their position and fall off pointe. “To get from arabesque to en face, keep your pelvis lifted to switch your hips without arching your back,” says Brown. She also emphasizes pulling up and out of the supporting leg to maintain your balance. For best results, avoid muddling through the movement. Be sharp to show the precision of your technique—and to accent the music.

Afterward, the choreography can vary. In some versions, the ballerina performs a sustained series of relevés passés. In others, including Colorado Ballet’s, she bourrées backward in either fifth or sixth position with a light, soft port de bras—a perfect moment to add in some characterization. “Anything that will make you feel beautiful,” says Brown. “You can extend one hand, and then the other, roll the hands, and even bring them up to high fifth and turn around yourself.” Think about what your arms might be expressing: Perhaps you’re presenting your kingdom or, if you’re Clara, falling in love. Whatever you are trying to convey, generously bending your torso and keeping your bourrées tight and fast will keep the movement dynamic.

Coming Full Circle

The final manège gives ballerinas another opportunity to apply a personal stamp, with endless possibilities including piqué, step-up and chaîné turns. “Some like to jump,” says Brown. “For instance, one of our Sugar Plums does piqué turns and coupés jetés.”

No matter which combination you choose, you have a dizzying 32 counts to complete it. You’ll probably need to change your spot up to five times, so be strategic with your timing to stay in control. “Don’t switch your spot during one of the harder steps, such as a double step-up pirouette” says Brown. “It’s better to change spots right at the beginning of the next step, whether it’s a single piqué or a soutenu.”

The ending presents a special challenge. From your final set of turns, you need to push through any blurry vision and finish crisply without wobbling. Again, versions vary—some dancers glissade pas de chat to B-plus, for example, or do a double step-up pirouette to fourth or sous-sus. No matter what you choose, deepen your plié before the final step to slow your momentum. “If you do a step-up turn,” says Brown, “really engage your left side. Your turnout will help you put the brakes on.

The beauty of the Sugar Plum blueprint is that it allows dancers to explore their understanding of the role and show off their strengths. Don’t be afraid to bring the iconic choreography to a completely new level in the Land of Sweets.


Dry winter air mixed with a tiring pas de deux is the perfect recipe for cotton mouth. During your partner’s variation, quickly rehydrate with water backstage. In addition, suck on a cough drop to help remoisten your mouth. Sandra Brown also suggests rubbing a dab of Vaseline on your pearly whites. “Just a pindrop. It prevents your lips from getting stuck on your teeth.”

"Dance of the Dragee Fairy" from Tchaikovsky's ballet "The Nutcracker"

"Dance of the Dragee Fairy"

It is difficult to imagine the New Year period without music from Tchaikovsky's ballet "The Nutcracker". Whatever fragment you choose, you will almost certainly hit. Whether it's a march, Waltz of snowflakes or Waltz of flowers, Chinese dance or Trepak. But still, the Dance of the Dragee Fairy occupies a special place.

When a crystal melody is heard, one wants to slow down the breath a little and make it quieter. If only by all means to keep the atmosphere of magic and not frighten her away. In one popular advertisement, red and yellow chocolate jelly beans tiptoe to the fireplace at night to catch Santa Claus. This is a foretaste of meeting with the holiday, when the gifts have not yet been opened. Similar feelings are given by the Dance of the Fairy Dragee.

Pyotr Ilyich created The Nutcracker almost in pain. In the letters he complains that nothing sensible comes out. And the plot itself seems to the composer frivolous and too childish.

Get rid of the ballet - that's what the classic wanted! It is impossible to get distracted and find inspiration even in France. However, the spring trip of 1891 was fateful, without it, no Dance of the Pellet Fairy would have happened. It was in Paris that Tchaikovsky heard the sound of the instrument that was to become the main character at the upcoming premiere.

“I discovered in Paris a new orchestral instrument with a divinely wonderful sound… I would like it not to be shown to anyone”,

— the composer writes to the music publisher Petr Ivanovich Yurgenson, who soon ordered this instrument from the capital of France. But Tchaikovsky is relentless:

"For God's sake, keep in mind that no one but me should hear the sounds of this wonderful instrument."

The regime of secrecy was justified: what if Rimsky-Korsakov or Glazunov find out about the instrument! In a word, almost an arms race, but in an orchestra.

On the premiere day in December 1892, St. Petersburg gathers at the Mariinsky Theater to see a Christmas performance. Tchaikovsky himself looked at the stage with difficulty: the costumes and scenery seemed clumsy to the composer. He also worried about the music, which critics will react ambiguously. But the former at the premiere remembered the sound of the secret instrument for sure.

The Nutcracker ballet - the history of creation and performances

Closer to the climax of the ballet, the Dance of the Dragee Fairy begins, and the audience is perplexed, because no one has heard such a sound before. In the orchestra pit is a wooden box that looks like a small piano, which makes amazing sounds of crystal chime. It was a heavenly and delicate celesta - a keyboard instrument with metal plates. Celesta became the main character that evening.

Tchaikovsky won the arms race and linked the celesta forever with a halo of celebration and magic.

As is well known, in the very first production of The Nutcracker (1892), after all the repetitive and battles with mice, as well as overcoming the snow-covered forest, Clara and the prince found themselves in the realm of sweets - Confiturenburg, where fountains of currant syrup and lemonade beat, and They were greeted by the Dragee Fairy (the mistress of Confiturenburg), Prince Whooping cough (her cavalier), as well as various sweets - sweets, petit fours, macaroons, etc. Hoffmann had a similar magical land, where Konfetenburg (-hausen) appears, and Dumas père (where there is Varenenburg).

In the end, it was the Dragee Fairy and Prince Whooping Cough who closed the ballet - at the end they performed the pas de deux. It is danced by Masha and the Nutcracker Prince in modern Russian productions.

However, neither Hoffmann nor Dumas have any Fairy Dragees. Where did she come from and why does she have such a name? Why weren't some von Warenenburg sisters greeted Clara and the prince, as in Dumas' arrangement, for example?

The Nutcracker and its author: facts not too well known, but remarkable

One of the aspects of the answer is obvious – they just needed a spectacular number, including a duet, for a foreign ballerina-star and a partner, because before that there had not been a single classical dance in the performance (the first act was mainly pantomime, the second was a divertissement from characteristic dances). This number did not correlate in any way with the plot, and this was one of the points for which the first "Nutcracker" was criticized, and which, among other things, prevented Lev Ivanov and Pyotr Tchaikovsky from being fully correlated with music and choreography.

At the premiere, the Dragee Fairy was danced by Italian Antonietta Del'Era. The public was looking forward to her release - she had already come to Russia at the end of 1886-1887, and her dances received many laudatory reviews. Then, however, she limited herself to the scenes of private theaters, but the second entry - immediately to the Mariinsky Theater - seriously provoked the St. Petersburg balletomanes.

Del'Era was a virtuoso ballerina who was remembered for her 16th fouette (at that time no one else was doing it on the Russian stage), as well as for her pointe technique - she could stand on the toe of one foot in attitude for many seconds with virtually no support from her partner .

Antonietta Del'Era

That is, it doesn't make much sense at first glance. More precisely, it is purely practical - you just had to bring in a star ballerina to demonstrate her brilliant technical capabilities, which has already been done more than once in relation to other Italian ballerinas, who were much stronger in technical terms than domestic ballerinas. Not particularly at the same time correlating the invented choreography with the music and the plot. The solution is rather artificial.

But why give the heroine the name Dragee? Firstly, obviously in order to continue the “sweet” logic of the second act. Second…

On January 30, 1934, the very first performance of The Nutcracker in the West took place at the Sadler's Wells Theater in London. According to the poster, Sugar Plum Fairy danced in the pas de deux - that is, literally translated, the Sugar Plum Fairy (danced by Alicia Markova). And to this day in many Western productions (USA, UK) you will see this name on the posters. That is, the Fairy Dragee was renamed in the West. Or not? And what about plums?

Sugar Plum (sugar plum) is an obsolete term used in 17-19century in English precisely to refer to what we call “draggers” - small round (or oval) sweets. And these sweets could not necessarily be plum - just in ancient times they were quite large and resembled the shape and size of a plum.

Therefore, there are no discrepancies between our Dragee Fairy and its American-English analogue - we are talking about dragees, not plums.

But the term Sugar Plum is not limited to sweet overtones and has many other meanings. In addition to the actual “sugar plum” and “jelly beans”, these are:

  • Flattery. There was such an expression: “Your mouth is full of sugar plums”, meaning the flattery of the interlocutor.
  • Bribe. The expression “To fill someone else's mouth with sugar plum” meant “to give a bribe”.
  • In the 18th century, Sugar Plum was a slang term for 100 pounds. a lot of money. Someone who was rich was called a "plum".
  • Later, in the 19th century, "sugar plum" denoted a particularly desired thing, a prize, a place of work or a successful appointment.
  • Finally, seeing the dragee fairy dancing meant a happy dream.

Thus, in Clement Clarke Moore's 1823 poem "The Night Before Christmas" there are lines:

The children were nestled all snug in their beds translate: The children were carefully placed in their beds while visions of sugar plums danced in their thoughts.

Literary translation:

…Children in their beds are like birds in a nest.
Close your eyes. Lie down on pillows.
They dream of sweets…

So, we can conclude that sugar plum in particular is a kind of generalized synonym for something desired.

The presence of a fairy in a ballet was not something special for those times - what are only 6 fairies in Sleeping Beauty staged 2 years before The Nutcracker. But exactly what the creators of The Nutcracker had in mind when introducing this character into the ballet will remain a mystery, unless one finds some exact, documentary evidence of the authors of the libretto (either Marius Petipa, or Ivan Vsevolozhsky, or both) about their idea.

Probably, one could say that this is a symbol of Clara’s (Marie) happy dream, if not for one “but” - neither the libretto of the original production, nor both choreographer’s plans, nor the violin tutors, nor the well-known descriptions of Ivanov’s first production contain an indication to the fact that Clara is sleeping, and the journey to Confiturenburg is a dream. That is, as in Hoffmann, reality intertwined with the fictional world there.

The Pellet Fairy disappeared from Russian productions in 1924 (not entirely, but more on that separately), when Lev Ivanov's original left the stage. At 19In 1919, Alexander Gorsky staged his The Nutcracker at the Bolshoi Theatre. His main character was again called Clara, and her party combined both the party of little Clara and the classical dances of the Dragee Fairy from Ivanov's original production. It was Clara who danced the adagio with the Nutcracker (which, in turn, was joined by the part of Prince Whooping Cough), and then the variations. That is, Gorsky became the first choreographer who led Clara through the entire performance.

As for the name Masha, it appears for the first time in The Nutcracker by Fyodor Lopukhov 1929 years old

A fairy tale told at night

But the Sugar Plum Fairy has taken root in Anglo-Saxon productions. That was the name of the heroine who danced the pas de deux, both in 1934 in the production of Sadler’s Wells, and in 1944 in San Francisco (the first Nutcracker in the USA), and in February 1954 in the famous production of New York City Balle by George Balanchine. That is also the name of Peter Wright, whose production is at the Covent Garden Theatre.

In many European countries, she is called either the “sugar fairy” (“Tanz der Zuckerfee” in Germany and Austria, “Danza del Hada de Azúcar” in Spain and Latin American countries, “Dança da Fada Açucarada” in Portugal and Brazil ), or, again, the Dragee Fairy (“Danza della Fata Confetto” in Italy, “Danse de la Fée Dragée” in France).

Based on the materials of radio “Orpheus” and “About ballet and not only”

On this topic:

About the ballet “The Nutcracker”. Part 5. Sugar Plum Fairy - who, what and why

See beginning
About the ballet The Nutcracker. Part 1. From Hoffmann to Petipa and Tchaikovsky
About the ballet The Nutcracker. Part 2. Surprises by Tchaikovsky
About the ballet The Nutcracker. Part 3. Outlandish celesta
About the ballet The Nutcracker. Part 4. Dragee fairy dress
During the 125 years of its existence, Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker has probably bypassed all ballet scenes in the world. The richness of the musical score and the branching of the plot of Hoffmann's fairy tale allows directors and choreographers to reflect their vision in the performance. By making changes to the libretto, many of them are trying to make the production different and memorable. Now I am not talking about cases of radical reshaping of the plot, but even in the most classic versions of the performance there are discrepancies.

Photo from the site of the Krasnoyarsk State Opera and Ballet Theater (staged in 2008).
This applies not only to the dance, but also to the names of the characters.
Hoffmann's main character is called Marichen and her favorite doll is Clara. In the original version of the ballet, the heroine was renamed Marie , later the name Clara began to appear. The latter can be understood - adventures in the toy world are, as it were, delegated to the doll, this is a completely natural decision.
The beginning of the First World War (1914) was marked by the growth of patriotic sentiments in Russia, and the plot of the ballet became Russified. The main character began to be called Masha . On the Russian stage, this tradition is still valid.
Much less clear to the Russian audience is the transformation of the name of another of the iconic characters of the performance - fairy Dragee . In foreign productions, she is called Sugar Plum Fairy ( Sugar Plum Fairy ). In the West, the term Sugar Plum is usually perceived without hesitation - as a proper name. Many even at a tender age get used to this name, listening to "old" nursery rhymes, in which, for example, sleep is considered happy if you dream of dancing "sugar plums". 0122 [ e.g. ] For example, a couplet from Clement S. Moore's poem "The Visit of Saint Nicholas" (1823), better known as "The Night Before Christmas":
"The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads".
(Children lay down in their cozy beds,
and visions of sugar plums danced in their thoughts).
Well, what kind of happiness is this - "sugar plum"? Prunes? Plums boiled in sugar syrup? Or just sprinkled with sugar?

And imagine our surprise when it turns out that they are not even plums at all.. Moreover, they do not contain any parts of plums in any form..
The Oxford English Dictionary qualifies the term Sugar Plum as obsolete, so it is . The term was widely used in the English language from the 17th to the 19th centuries, as a name for what is now called .. dragee. Sweets of small size, spherical or oval in shape with a core covered with several layers of sugar icing.
So our domestic fairy Dragee is exactly what she should be!
Dragee is not considered a serious candy these days. However, its history is long.
Dragee appeared in Ancient Babylon, when anise, cumin and coriander grains were invented to be poured with honey syrup. In medieval Europe, they began to cover almonds with syrup, inventing nut dragees. Since the end of the 18th century, cranberries in sugar have become a Russian national delicacy - the prototype of dragee with candied fruits, dried berries and fruits. At the same time, the French kings invented dragees in chocolate icing, for which any core is good.
Before applying each next layer of glaze, the previous one had to harden, moreover, while maintaining the spherical shape of the candy. To do this, mechanically or manually rotated trays were used in ovens that maintain a certain temperature.
Making dragees in a artisan workshop was one of the most difficult and tedious techniques, requiring specialized equipment, careful temperature control and experience. Depending on the size of the finished product, one batch could take several days. It was not so easy to make these sweets at one time. Before the advent of modern machines, dragees or Sugar Plums were a luxury item, more likely to be found in the pockets of aristocrats or at expensive receptions. So many children had to be content not with sweets, but with dreams about them.
So many things become clear, but what about plums?
The same Oxford Dictionary gives some clues. For example, candies may originally have been sized and shaped like a real plum.
When the term Sugar Plum came into use in the 1600s, it had other meanings that had nothing to do with food.
"The mouth was full of sweet plums" - you say sweet, but possibly false words.
If you "filled someone else's mouth with sugar plum", then this is a handout or a bribe.
In the 18th century, British slang for a plum is a term for 100 pounds, or a large pile of money. And the one who was rich could be called a plum.
By the nineteenth century, the plum had come to mean the possession of a particularly coveted item, prize, job, or appointment.
So the plum is not only a fruit. It can mean a lot of valuable and desirable things!
And now everything that has been said finally explains another incomprehensible moment in our theatrical history - the peculiarities of the state structure in the magical Konfiturenburg. Why are such subjects as precious Marzipan, Chocolate, Arabic coffee and Chinese tea, in the absence of the prince, ruled by some kind of pea of ​​Dragee? Indeed, in the time of Tchaikovsky, the name Sugar Plum was not only the name of a certain type of sweets, but also a universal concept that meant many desired things..
In today's world culture, Sugar Plum is closely associated with Christmas.
By the way, it is believed that P.I. Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" .. The circle is closed ?! J
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