I'm Taylor Krasne, an aerialist currently training/studying at the National Institute of Circus Arts to be in Cirque du Soleil. Specializing in aerials and cyr wheel. AMA!
Hi everyone! I'm a student at the National Institute of Circus Arts in Melbourne, Australia. I'm 25 and originally from NYC, but moved out here to get my bachelor's degree in circus arts by 2017. Currently prepping for a Cirque du Soleil audition that's in a few weeks!
This is my first AMA/still trying to figure things out. I'll try to answer as many questions as I can and apologize in advance if my responses are a bit delayed :)
Aerial Reel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HlhE6Qh9ekc
Cyr Wheel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Kyhlq9PGUI
Instagram (does this count as proof as well? Still new to Reddit...) https://www.instagram.com/taylorkrasne/
Thanks for wishing me luck! Really appreciate it.
I vividly remember watching the DVD of Cirque du Soleil's Quidam when I was about 10 years old, and I immediately knew from that moment that I wanted to be in Cirque du Soleil. That show is responsible for my passion. The original hand balancer in the show, Olga Pikhienko, became my hero and motivation to wanting to become a hand balancer (at the time), and so began my daily journey of teaching myself handstands in the living room, which transitioned into other apparatuses. Fate had it that when I moved to Los Angeles in 2013, we became roommates, and during that time I submitted my video audition to NICA (National Institute of Circus Arts) and luckily got in!
In terms of becoming interested in "spinning stuff," I'm actually not really interested in it-- I surprisingly dread it. I love the look and artistry of cyr wheel, but it took me almost half a year of daily training to not get extremely nauseous from the spinning. It SUCKED. I still struggle with it if I've gone more than a couple of days without training on the wheel. With aerials, again, I'm surprisingly afraid of heights, but the artistry and grace of a performance is worth facing my fears every day. I live by that quote, "Decide that you want it more than you're afraid of it."
Honestly, I feel as if I'm not even in the circus world yet. I've done some great gigs in the recent years, but it feels as if I'm just breaching the surface. In 2013 I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's Disease which left me unable to train for over two years, and my first year at NICA was essentially getting my body and mind back-- I feel very behind compared to others in my year. I almost had to defer from school, but luckily things got better and I stuck through it :)
When I'm not spinning around, I'm acting! I got into the stunt industry a little bit when I was in LA, but moved out here before it got to anything. I did workshops with The Actors' Gang in Los Angeles and studied with Bruce Ornstein in New York, and have been extras in some mainstream shows. I've still got a lot to learn though. Hopefully once I'm back in the states I'll get straight to it. Also, a massive hobby of mine is petting any and all dogs I see, because priorities.
(TL;DR- Love at first sight when I saw Cirque. I get dizzy/dislike spinning, but do it anyway. Lived with my childhood idol before going to NICA. Also enjoy acting/stunts.)
Thank you for the detailed response, it's fantastic!
I've always wondered what it's like on 'the other side', for the performers. I just remember as a kid looking at this girl swinging around in top of tent and thinking "Oh dear, look at how high she is and she is still able to do her act. (I'm not a fan of being above 4 feet of the ground) and I got to ride an elephant, it was a glorious day for a 5 year old me.
Is there anything else you learn while at NICA, besides "spinning stuff"? (pardon my awesomely precise terminology), I really don't know how circus university works..
Elephants are incredible, that's awesome you got to ride one!
I guess it depends on how hard you want to work at things. There are basic classes in handstands, tumbling and manipulation (juggling), and your third specialty is a group act. I really don't enjoy juggling, so I focus my time on other things. I've collaborated with one of the riggers here to make a completely new apparatus and am experimenting with that in my free time, so you do have to pick and choose what you want to focus on. In each class, your determination and focus determines how much you learn while you're at school-- you can go into school early to train handstands or conditioning, which I'm slacking on/being lazy. My eyes also kind of glaze over during circus history, but I think that's only because the class is in the afternoon and at that point I just want to take a nap.
Well napping is essential anyways, that and petting dogs.
A new machine sounds fascinating. So it pretty much sounds the same as a regular college, which makes sense. I had imagined some mad show, where you had to dodge flying people and flames when going to class.
Don't worry about the eye glazing, I start daydreaming my professor is a big dogs in a shirt and tweed pants, teaching me the way of the canine.
Ha! Flames aren't allowed in school fortunately (I'm terrified of fire spinning/anything to do with fire).
Oh dear, that sounds like some something that could go very wrong very quickly
Which is why I don't go near fire. Ever.
It would be pretty cool if you did a drill with a flaming Cyr wheel. well..not really, you wouldn't have any hair when you're done. Or skin for that matter.
A friend of mine actually does cyr wheel when it's on fire. It's insane.
That awesome that you and Olga were roommates!! I remember watching Varekai and being mesmerized. She and Anton Chelnokov were my idols for a long time!
Still shocked that it happened- I used to have posters of her on my wall when I was a kid, I was probably one of her biggest fans. Now she calls me her little sister and she's one of my closest friends. It's crazy how the world works sometimes. I also got to meet a lot of my circus idols, and recently hung out with the cast of Quidam for a couple days when they came to Australia a few weeks ago. I even hung out backstage during the show, it was AMAZING. It was a huge childhood dream come true for me and one of the best days of my life :) (Also, Varekai= everything.)
I'm seeing Quidam on Sunday! It's my first cirque show and I'm super pumped!
I AM SUPERBLY JEALOUS
If I spin you around like a quarter on a table while you are in that cyr wheel, would you get dizzy??
There's actually a name for that trick, called the "coin spin" (naturally). It's the one trick where I don't get dizzy for some reason. If you go to the video I posted, that trick is at 1:02.
How many hours of practice did it take you to get your basic waltz down? (I took a class from Tommy Daynger and Olive Marie a year ago at Kinetic Fire)
Have you messed with a German wheel at all?
It took a few hours to get a waltz, more hours to control the location of the spin. I played around on German wheel one time and it was really fun! I'd definitely do it again.
Ever run over your fingers on the cyr?
I get that question a lot! It's actually not my fingers that I'm worried about, it's more about my toes, and hitting my head on the wheel if I fall out of a trick. There are lots of concussions with this apparatus. Thankfully I haven't experienced that yet. A helluva lot of bruised knees and shins though.
I'm a ballet dancer but I took a hiatus and have been back to dancing for ~6 months now. I'm 19 and at the age where I should be auditioning for apprenticeships at companies. I really do fear that I won't get in anywhere because of my hiatus (3 longggg years), so my question to you is this:
You mentioned they audition dancers. Would it be enough for me to have ballet and -some- gymnastics training to get into the circus world? I'm sure I could learn aerial stuff, and a lot of my gymnastics will come back with some practice.
I've been thinking it's a fairly reasonable alternative to ballet or contemporary ballet companies if I don't get in anywhere, but the main things I see from circus people are the ridiculous handstands which I don't think I'd ever be able to do.
Well, I took a 2+ year hiatus from performing/training, and I still got into a training school when I was at my lowest-- NEVER give up hope! Age isn't as big of a deal as people usually think it is. Maybe in the dance world, yes, but I think the thing to think about is being open to a ton of different options, and to just audition for EVERYTHING. I recommend not listening to that voice in your hear that says "I'm not good enough" and focus on what you CAN do, and work on your best self, and eventually things will fall into place with what you are "meant" to do in the performing arts. Circus has a really great blend of dance, acting, circus and gymnastics; why not give it a shot? I'd really take a look at the documentary I posted somewhere in this thread (if you can't find it, just YouTube search "Getting into Cirque" and it should pop up).
I heard that the average career of a cirque performer is 4 years because their bodies get beat to shit and can't perform anymore. Is this true? How do you provide for yourself afterwards like medical/retirement etc?
Edit- heard it from a stagehand that was touring with them
Definitely not true! I have friends who have been in the industry for 20+ years. There are still performers in Cirque shows who are over 30 (sometimes 40) that have been in the company for years and still going strong. Like anything else, it all depends on how you take care of yourself.
I can't imagine that there are more than 100 people on the entire planet that can do some of the things that you do, as well as you do them, and far fewer of those that can do all the things that you do. What would be something that you could see a person do that would make you take note and say, "Wow, that is incredible!"?
I wish there were only 100 people in the world that could do what I do, then the competition wouldn't be as fierce :P There are THOUSANDS of people in the world that are much better, faster and stronger than I am. It kind of depresses me knowing that there are hundreds of 6 year-old kids in China that could shit on my skills with their eyes closed. Pretty much any of those superinsanelytalented kids that were born into the circus world make me say, "Wow, that is incredible! And I also want to quit and go to sleep, bye."
Also anyone that does the "Wheel of Death." YouTube it-- it will make you sweat.
What is your favorite sandwich?
The "Simon Says" chicken burger at Grill'd: grilled chicken with tomato relish dressing, avocado spread, onions, bacon and tomato on a gluten free/low carb bun. (Not a hipster joining the GF fad-- genuinely allergic to gluten.)
What kind of audition process do you have to go through for Cirque du Soleil? How does one manage to aquire such an audition?
Btw, top work. Good luck!
It depends on what you're auditioning for, and if it's a private vs "general" audition for the public. Also if you're auditioning to be a circus performer, athlete, dancer, clown, or "other." In 2011 I was invited to a private audition in Orlando at the La Nouba theater. As a 21-year-old, self-taught aerialist, it was extremely nerve wracking. The audition consisted of two days: day 1 was showing your routine, and day 2 were callbacks, which included dance, acting and physical conditioning/strength tests. In my audition, everyone warmed up on the stage (which was a dream come true for me already- I teared up when I stepped onto that stage), and we showed the two talent scouts our routines one by one. There were almost 30 of us at the private audition.
"Fun" story: that day, the guy performing before me fell 40+ feet from his apparatus and broke his heel open to the bone and broke his elbow. There was blood everywhere, he was screaming, and people actually had to mop blood off the stage. And I was next to perform! I got through it (after requesting a crash mat), but I kind of lost my shit when he had gotten injured and was crying a bit. I guess the talent scouts saw it, because when they approached me to let me know if I was invited to the call back the next day, they said no; since I had been self taught, I didn't know exactly what tricks/sequences put into my routine that would showcase my abilities, and primarily because, "we saw you crying and you have to understand that this is something that happens all the time in this industry," and so on. I didn't have the heart to say that I wouldn't have cried had I seen that sort of injury in any other scenario. To me, I saw someone's dream shatter in front of me that was the same dream as mine, and as far as I knew, his career was over, and it really got to me since emotions were high that day to begin with. I ended up being invited to another audition four months later, but didn't go purely because of the fear of being rejected once again. It was dumb and I regret not going, but I'm pretty confident that looking back, it wasn't the right time in my life. Either way, I'm very excited and thankful to be getting a second shot at auditioning in three weeks.
Here's a fun documentary showing the process for each type of audition (the female talent scout was the woman who auditioned me in 2011): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BLouxprAHtQ
EDIT: spelling (again)
You have a very broad skill set! Which do you prefer; handbalance, aerial, or cyr? If aerial, favorite apparatus? Favorite skill on favorite apparatus?
Favorite apparatus: I'm not entirely sure yet. Everything is so different. Cyr wheel is great to continue improving on, but one of the most challenging mentally. Aerial silks/rope is the most challenging because of the strength required in order to make yourself look graceful. I'm starting to flirt with dance trapeze but also want to work on aerial hoop. I think not having a favorite apparatus is posing an issue for me since I don't really know which to focus on and fully develop! I'm always bouncing from one thing to another, which can be a blessing and a curse.
Favorite skill that I've achieved recently on aerial silk is a split balance from standing. It's a difficult trick to do from a standing position-- I'm pretty proud that I'm able to do it now all thanks to my awesome coach :)
What is the pay like for the main Cirque Du Soleil troupe?
To be honest, I'm not really sure as I'm not in the company (but hopefully soon!). It all depends on what kind of act you're doing, and with how many people, and how long you've been in the company/how long your contracts are and what you negotiate. My old roommate is one of the most famous hand balancers in the company and she would get top dollar for every performance. If you're in "house troupe" or if you're a generalist, you will most likely get less money. I have a few friends in Cirque doing completely different things, but I never straight up ask them what their pay is unless it's brought up in the conversation organically.
So - what is your backup plan for a career if this gig doesn't work out? Will you stay in the circus industry? Does the degree equip you for any other sort of work?
I don't really enjoy answering this question mainly because the term "backup plan" subtly hints that there's a possibility of not reaching your goals. I will always be in love with circus arts and be involved in any aspect I'm able to, whether it's performing, directing, dancing, or company creation. The degree equips you for any and all aspects of the industry, which is awesome.
My other focus is acting, and that only helps progress in the circus world. For now I'm combining both, but they may split at some point in my career, especially when I move back to New York City once I graduate. I'd like to also get more involved in the stunt industry.
Have you sustained any injuries or witnessed any? ( this looks very risky) why don't you like petting cats, lady?!? I never knew there was a bachelor's in circus arts, what exactly does the degree cover? Thanks for your time and it's very impressive what you do!!!
Thanks for your kind words, I appreciate it!
There's only one other school that I know of that offers a bachelor course, and that's the National Circus School in Montreal. That and NICA cover a wide range of things in the degree. In terms of the education part/courses, all the years have an anatomy class. First year has circus history and rigging basics, second year has a class on marketing I believe, and third year is more in-depth with business management and company/act creation. My physical part of the day consists of a 30 minute warmup, an hour of handstands, two hours of specialty training, and after lunch is three hours of dance/movement and performance.
This year was a toughy with injuries since I was recovering from an autoimmune disease that I was diagnosed with RIGHT before I moved to Australia, so I was essentially left to figure things out on my own without a consistent doctor. For two years prior to NICA, I was unable to train due to constant dizziness/weakness/"brain fog," etc. Hashimoto's Disease is a huge bitch, especially for athletes, but thankfully I'm on the right medicine and have found out what foods I'm allergic to, which was a major factor in my illness. This year, I did something to my knee (a minor strain I think), grade 1 pec major tear, dislocated my left ring finger, and had a nerve impingement in my left shoulder. Biggest one was spraining my ankle. How did I do it, you ask? I was walking and rolled it in the crack between two crash mats. The irony still astounds me.
I have a cat!! His name is Harvey and he is dapper as hell. I also volunteer at a lion and tiger sanctuary in South Africa every couple of years to help raise the cubs and teenage cats. I love cats just as much as dogs; cats just aren't on leashes outside as much as pups are.
Picture of Harvey: http://imgur.com/1ixbfzF
TL;DR- got an autoimmune disease, getting over it now. Couple of torn muscles and a sprained ankle. I love cats and dogs equally.
wow that degree sounds cool!!!!!!!! 6 1/2 hours you put in a day, that's very intense, day in and day out- you must have determination and willpower. I would burn out by the end of the week. I'm glad you are doing better now and i hope you come back famous and do another ama. p.s i'm afraid i'm more impressed by your cat now. so majestic and cute.
Thanks so much! And yes, of course Harvey is more impressive than I am. Look at that face.
you really ought to put jetpacks on the cyr wheel and then you can do parkour between buildings in sydney. also, one last question: how have you survived in austrailia? you know, all the creatures trying to kill you.
I faced death once: http://imgur.com/8U6Tzjf
Have you ever gotten badly injured while practicing stunts?
Worst injury was in September when I sprained my ankle... by stepping in the crack between two crash mats.
Why choose a school in Australia? If you're from NYC, there are some very strong programs closer to you in Montreal.
I'm a production manager at a circus/performance venue in the Middle East and we have TONS of freelance/circus performers come in from all over the world. I've learned if they're not from Eastern Europe, they train in Montreal.
Also, do you mind if I forward your videos to my producers and we can keep them on file for when you graduate?
Hey jomo777, I don't mind at all! I'd love to chat with you about your company/venue and hear more about it. I have a friend currently performing aerial hoop at Pacha, and another friend with a company performing cyr wheel (not sure the name of it). It would be a very small world if you knew them! (I'm still a little new to Reddit, but I'll try to figure out how to PM you.)
When I researched NICA, I realized the school has a similar structure to ENC in Montreal. I applied mainly because my fiancé is Australian and my life was naturally gravitating in that direction at the time, and it's worked out wonderfully so far. The circus community in Melbourne is amazing, and the coaches here (most either former Cirque or Moscow Circus) are incredible.
What are you favourite books? Additionally do you feel like there is a demand for this job or a surplus of performers?
Harry Potter by default because I grew up reading the books. Other than that, I'm currently getting into Game of Thrones, and in the middle of a book called "The Ordinary Acrobat" by Duncan Wall. It's the story of an "ordinary," non-circus guy spending a year at a circus school in France. He writes a lot about his experience there and it really relates to my current lifestyle.
EDIT: didn't realize I forgot to answer your second question:
This topic grinds my gears and is a huge problem in the circus community. There is a very good amount of performers in this industry, but there are way, WAY too many people out there who take a couple of aerial classes for a month or two, learn the "basics," and then decide that that is enough to title themselves "professional acrobat" in their FB or Instagram/websites, and then proceed to promote themselves and take gigs for way under the minimum price that actual professionals would typically charge. Of course you have to start somewhere, but there's a respectful, correct way to do it that won't screw over other working professionals. Circus performers are constantly battling this issue with clients because there is always someone else that will take the gig for less, so when veteran performers charge their normal rates, it seems too high. Same goes for photographers/artists, I'm sure. The circus world is expanding more and more with a lot of benefits to the expansion, but it also gives more room for people that will take gigs that hard working, true professionals should probably be taking. It can really cause a ruckus when it comes to appropriate rates and payment, and also purely for safety reasons.
Whoa. How many pullups can you do? Have you ever considered doing something like American Ninja Warrior? I don't know if they have an equivalent show in Australia.
Right now I can only do about 8. My peak was 14 without cheating. Still recovering from my autoimmune disease a bit, but slowly improving and getting back to my old self each day.
I was actually on Wipeout last year (they only aired a brief clip of me since I got stuck in a mud pit and didn't get to the top 12), so I've tasted a tiny bit of that world. Hated it. I feared for my life and got a small neck injury because of that show. I don't think I should compare Wipeout to ANW though, because Wipeout is horrifying.
I haven't watched much of wipeout, but I do recall thinking how I thought I might be able to fare pretty well, but after hearing your feedback, I'll just be content sitting on my couch.
As for the pullups, I used to think I was good at them since I could do close to 30. And then I realized I wasn't going down completely to a dead hang. When I tried that, I could only do 5. I was a bit crestfallen, haha.
And good luck to you in your recovery! Sorry to hear you're going through the autoimmune disease thing and hope you get better fast.
Thanks! Things are much better now thankfully :)
I thought I was going to have a pretty good shot at Wipeout due to my circus/gymnastics background, but it only made me more aware of just how dangerous the course was and how badly you could get injured.
Good to hear that you're much better!
Can you tell me a little bit about your exercise regimen? Do you primarily exercise through practice or do you do supplementary workouts?
Also, given that you're a very gifted athlete with such good control over your body...what's the clumsiest thing you've ever done?
Thanks so much! Exercise regimen typically starts with a 30 minute warm up, an hour of handstand drills, an hour of cyr wheel, an hour of aerials, another hour of group act training, and then an hour and a half of either contemporary dance or ballet after lunch. At the end of the day I usually try to do sets of pull ups, push ups, and leg lifts, sometimes mixed with 20 minutes on the elliptical or treadmill. Right now I'm trying to go for a run outside every day since cardio is my weakness.
Clumsiest moments: - Sprained my ankle by walking in between two crash mats. - As I was running, I tripped over my own foot and literally dove into a crowd of people on the sidewalk. I have a scar on my hand from it. - Baked a cake and immediately dropped it on the ground. - General spilling of beverages.
I did the math and counted all those hours and it turns out you exercise forever. That's a lot.
And the cake story is sad. I mean, the autoimmune disease and the ankle injury seem pretty bad, but the cake...
What kind of cake was it? How did it taste after falling on the floor?
Red Velvet. It tasted like shame.
kudos, i think you're awesome! joining the circus was something i'd actually wanted to do :(
Wanted to ask... it seems like you're just a touch too tall for the cyr wheel (maybe because I've only seen 1-2 other cyr performers who're physically shorter with shorter arms and legs) - do you feel that way? do they make them in different sizes?
Yep, cyr wheels are custom made specifically for your height, which is partly why they're so expensive. Mine fits me perfectly, as much as it may seem like it doesn't :)
How much was yours???
Do you believe you have a genetically 'gifted' inner ear that allows you to have balance/special awareness, or do you feel it's just average and you trained it to be as good as it is now? Or it's a combination of both?
When I was younger I tried out to be a professional wrestler but my sense of balance was terrible. Every time I got body slammed or flipped over I was so dizzy I could not stand for a whole minute. No matter how much I worked at it I never got better. So I gave it up.
Maybe both? My parents were high level gymnasts (one almost went to the Olympics) and my father also did trampoline and owned a gymnastics academy, so I grew up around the sport and was jumping around all the time as a kid. Maybe it's a combination of genetics and environment, who knows! I did gymnastics for a while and got the basics pretty much embedded into my muscle memory and will always be able to do it. I'd like to think it's due to hard work as well :)
Are you familiar with Sufism and the Whirling Dervish?
They spin,clockwise, in a circle as a way to reach "religious ecstasy". I was wondering if you've ever experienced anything similar in the Cyr Wheel?
It sounds vaguely familiar, but I'm confident that I'm not yet at the point where I reach any sort of "ecstasy" while spinning since I still get nauseous pretty often :)
Ah. I've learned to spin for 20-30 minutes straight at concerts. The only reason I ever need to stop is for water. The trick that I was told was to "listen to the music" and I left the music control my spinning. Find a rhythm to pace your breathing. I find when I get completely lost in spin dancing it's as if I'm not spinning at all. More like I'm in a vortex with electricity filled light patterns washing over me...
To counter any dizziness, stop and spin the opposite direction for a few rotations. Should leave you out just fine. I gather this could be difficult in a Cyr Wheel and you probably already know this.
Thanks for the reply and best of luck to ya
Ha! I do that every time! I spin to the left-- when I get dizzy, I stop and do a slow turn to my right and it evens things out!
Circusses nowadays have a difficult time, certainly in Europe where many countries forbid the use of wild animals in their show, how do you see the future of circusses and how hard will it be for you to have a job (in Cirque du Soleil or in any other place)?!
I think circus is moving towards contemporary and modern styles more and more, with maybe a little less use of animals. I feel like competition will become bigger the more circus expands, which it seems to be doing at a fast rate. I'm sure it will open up tons more projects and companies!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qMAUYZvdic will you learn to do this
I just recently got back into aerials (silks focus) after about a 2 year break, due to life and health issues. I am very fortunate to have learned from professionally trained aerialists - where form and safety was rigorously stressed. With what feels like a recent burst in popularity in aerials, and no required certificate for someone to be an instructor, what are your thoughts/opinions on being professionally trained versus students learning either from other non-professionally trained individuals and/or learning off the internet? I struggle watching so many people on instagram attempt drops etc without proper form or attempt things that seem way more advanced than they should based on level of experience or their strength. I really wish it didn't bother me, but it does!
I'm right there with you. It frustrates me constantly, as those are always (ALWAYS) the people who will eventually title themselves "professional aerialist" after doing maybe a month or two of open gym sessions and then start to market themselves for gigs that they're not physically prepared to do. I completely understand that everyone has to "start somewhere," but there is a way to go about it safely (and respectfully). I could debate this topic for HOURS :)
Have the heights at which you perform ever made you nervous or do you charge in fearlessly?
I'm always hyper aware of my safety and surroundings, so there's always a hesitation in a sense. I get the most nervous doing a new drop on silks. Even when I practice the wraps and positions down low near the ground first and logically understand that I won't fall or get hurt, it's still terrifying the first time around. You can't really predict how flipping around in a new trick is going to feel, and what part of your body is going to feel the pinch/burn of the silk-- you're essentially blind in the air and have to trust that you wrapped it correctly and it will catch you. It always sucks when your shirt isn't fully tucked in and you get a massive burn on your waist.
Here's a clip of a drop I'm working on that still needs some getting used to. To me, the setup/wrap is scarier than the drop itself, because if you're not keeping your weight in a certain position, you can fall out of it: https://www.instagram.com/p/-uyUjZsgq2/?taken-by=taylorkrasne
are these tricks as dangerous as they look from the audience seats?
I have a couple of questions, I hope that's cool.
What got you interested in becoming a circus artist and why all the aerial and spinning stuff? (I just watched your Cyr Wheel and fell out of my chair, because I got so dizzy)
Do you want to stay in the circus world for the remainder of your carrier or will you also try something else?
And finally: What do you do when you aren't spinning around?
Good luck on your audition, I'm sure you'll nail it!
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