Vaganova Technique: Myths vs. Fact
By enigmaticpheo
On 03/14/2009 02:06:29
Hey everyone! I have a long day of rehearsal tomorrow, but seeing as how I am awake and thinking, I wanted to share something with all of you. Most of you around here know me, but for those who don't, I am a largely Balanchine trained ballerina with a huge insatiable thirst for learning any and everything about ballet and its methods. That said, after being accepted into Bossov's summer program in November, I decided to look into taking Vaganova classes. I found an incredible (and I mean WOW!!!) academy in my area, and have been taking class there about 4x a week, 3 classes per day in addition to my twice weekly Balanchine routine. Having studied Vaganova now through both the academy and through my EXTENSIVE research via videos, DVDs and books (including the one by Vaganova herself) I wanted to share some of the things I have learned! There seem to be many myths and mysteries surrounding Vaganova technique, some of which I believed in before training in it. So here are common ones that I confronted and dispelled or proved. 1. [b]Vaganova Method encourages forced turnout. [/b] Verdict: FALSE! Now, this seems to be the most popular myth about Vaganova. All the students in the Russian schools have flawless turnout, and it is assumed that this standard is imposed on those in the USA as well. However, it's not really true. My teacher was trained in Russia and does not ever FORCE turnout. She will make you use everything (and I mean everything) you have, but always safely, knees over toes and no pronating/rolling of the feet. Because I was blessed/cursed with 190 degrees of natural turnout, I am expected to maintain perfect turnout. But there are others that do not have as much naturally, and therefore are encouraged to use everything they have, but never to force it, and always to do it safely and effectively. 2. [b]Vaganova teachers are more strict and tougher.[/b] Verdict: Neither true nor false. In my experience, Vaganova method teachers (or at least mine) are indeed of a different teaching methodology than the American teachers I have studied with. I'm half Russian, so culturally I know there is a difference. The bottom line, I have discovered, is that Russian teachers tend to be both tougher and more loving with their students. While my American teachers usually maintained an even keel, never being too tough or too sweet, I have found the opposite in my Russian/Vaganova teacher(s). They want very much for their students to dance correctly, beautifully, and well, and will enforce discipline in terms of concentration and physical technique. Again, perhaps thanks to my heritage, I'm not at all bothered by this! Though I could perhaps see how a student from the outside may feel a bit leery. On the other hand, where American teachers have tended to maintain a strict student/teacher relationship, my Russian teacher cares very deeply about every student and expresses such. Hugs, endearments, and nicknames are very common and frequent. If you are a Vaganova student, you are a Vaganova child, reared up by this glorious ballet technique. 3. [b]Vaganova method does not produce good turners.[/b] Verdict: False, but with explanation. One thing I have absolutely discovered in Vaganova technique is its absolute attention to detail and perfectionism. In contrast with the Balanchine method, in which I learned pirouettes and big jumps fairly early, the Vaganova method (as I am learning it) teaches you to have a flawless foundation before advancing to the next level. If you do not do it right, do it again till you do. This is a principle I have seen applied very heavily and to great avail in my class and within myself. By never, ever bypassing a little mistake or wobble, the dancer learns to be 100% confident in their foundation technique, allowing for easier, more flawless advanced technique, including both turns and jumps. In terms of the actual technique and process of Russian turning style, it IS different than what is often taught in the mixed RAD/Cecchetti world of American ballet. Arms are a bit different, as is takeoff, landing, and the height of the passé. But with a Vaganova foundation, a Vaganova turn, I have found, is actually more effective for me! 4. [b]Vaganova method stresses body type more than any other method. [/b] Verdict: This is sticky. This is a commonly held belief in the ballet world, or at least what I have been exposed to. That the Vaganova method teachers are more selective and demanding of the types of bodies they will train. This is both true and false. Aesthetically, there is not much difference in terms of the ideals of Vaganova trained teachers and non Vaganova trained teachers. When it comes down to physical features, though, I have seen that the method is more selective. Since the method is very focused on proper and full turnout, range of flexibility, and VERY demanding on the body (in my experience, more so than any other method I have tried) the teachers take into account what bodies will be able to assimilate the method with the least amount of injury. This is NOT an aesthetic choice, but a safety decision made for the student's best interest. My teacher has been able to train girls of varying body types, but all of them have the key features that allow them to assimilate the Vaganova technique safely and with a minimum of injury. That includes: -A high degree of natural turnout flexibility -Well arched feet for pointe -Flexible torsos and hip joints -Fully stretched knees -A decently long Achilles tendon These features allow for injury minimal practice of Vaganova method ballet. Someone lacking one or more of these features may still learn the technique, but I think with a greater risk of injury, as it stresses things like a VERY deep plié and high demi pointe. It is impossible to completely separate the aesthetic from the physicality in ballet, but let me just say that the general technical aesthetic of the Vaganova method allows little room for otherwise normal physical features that may be considered deficient in ballet. 5. [b]Vaganova technique is focused more on gymnastic aspects of ballet than on musicality and artistry[/b] Verdict: Definitely FALSE! I have heard this many places from many people, and never really believed it, but had my stance confirmed in my recent training. While many accuse Zakharova or Somova of beign deficient with their musicality and artistry in favor of "tricks" like high extensions, this is NOT a hallmark of the Vaganova method in any way. As per those dancers, I have my opinions and everyone else is entitled to theirs! I like them both and that is that. I have noticed that natural internal rhythm is absolutely key in the Vaganova method, in a similar way to Balanchine technique (but of course, Balanchine was Russian!) Steps are done with a sort of music-less rhythm that is beautiful and difficult without a good natural musicality. When actual pieces are rehearsed, a dancer that is off the music will be corrected just like a dancer who is standing turned in, no exceptions. As per artistry, I am seeing firsthand just how much it is valued. The Vaganova technique is very interested in preserving the art and tradition of the ballet, not just advancing its technique. The gaze, the head, the port de bras, the EMOTION of pieces are taken very, very seriously. One never "throws away" a single gesture or movement, as it is considered the ultimate insult to a beloved art. Overall, this is what I have learned so far, and hope to learn and share more in the coming months as I continue studying! It has been quite the journey so far, and I feel as though I improved more in my first class of Vaganova than I did all six weeks of summer intensive last year. I hope some of you find this helpful! I HIGHLY recommend reading Vaganova's Principles of Classical Ballet for anyone who is studying or curious about the Vaganova technique. It was only $7, and a great read! VERY insightful and enlightening. Thanks for reading! Da skoray fstreyechee!
re: Vaganova Technique: Myths vs. Fact
By ballerina123
On 03/14/2009 03:08:59
What a great post! This was very informative which I really enjoyed. I myself learn vaganava and I find it really annoying when all these myths goes around! Thanks for clearing a couple of things up :)
re: Vaganova Technique: Myths vs. Fact
By sugarfairy_
On 03/14/2009 05:12:28
I am a Vaganova trained dancer, and I agree with everything you said. It's a very informative post, thank you for that! Karma!
re: Vaganova Technique: Myths vs. Fact
By nycsylph
On 03/14/2009 10:01:47
Excellent job in breaking it all down for those intimidated by the technique!!!! Ballet techniques do have these "urban legends" attached to them that someone needs to dispel. I think you did a very effective job in doing just that!!! And you did so in a manner that was clear, concise and very easy to understand and follow!! Karma to you, hon!!!
re: Vaganova Technique: Myths vs. Fact
By marielondon
On 03/14/2009 11:13:03
this is the technique my ballet academy uses and I cannot find it anymore right. my friend from my studio recently took an open class at another school and informed me that, compared to our academy, they gave her almost no corrections on her technique. At my studio, everything on barre is expected to be perfect, and we're always getting corrected on our technique. good turnout and a high demi-point are a necessity, and it is true that my teachers are so loving and nurturing, they're like second mothers to me. :D
re: Vaganova Technique: Myths vs. Fact
By enigmaticpheo
On 03/15/2009 00:37:53
Thanks for reading and sharing your opinions guys! I hope to share much more with everyone as my learning process continues into this beautiful and time honored technique. The Russian at the end of the post means "See you soon"! :) I suppose the casual way of saying thanks for reading would be something like "Spasiba chitayet!"
re: Vaganova Technique: Myths vs. Fact
By Tickles
On 03/15/2009 01:01:14
Thanks for sharing all that info :) If I ever have a chance, I'd love to try Vaganova method. It sounds exactly like a style of ballet that would really suit the way I learn!
re: Vaganova Technique: Myths vs. Fact
By Effortless
On 03/15/2009 13:57:09
First of all, I’m glad for you that you are so happy with your classes and teachers, they really seem to inspire you and seem to help you reach another level. Quite a few people read and commented on your post already. I would like to add my personal experience, as my first ballet teacher was a Vaganova trained teacher from Bulgaria. I started with jazz classes late as an adult with 25 in a school that offers hip hop, jazz, tap, modern as well as ballet classes. To help me improve my jazz technique I decided to add ballet two years later. I’m far away from having the perfect ballet body, far away from the key features you mentioned above (A high degree of natural turnout flexibility, well arched feet for pointe, flexible torsos and hip joints, fully stretched knees, a decently long Achilles tendon). Well, to make it short, these ballet classes with this strictly Vaganova teacher were the opposite of „having fun“ classes: no smiling, no little jokes, a very strict, tense and often humiliating atmosphere, also due to constant examinations and no encouragement at all, I walked out of each ballet class with the feeling „ I know, I can‘t dance„. A huge emphasize was placed on being able to execute steps in small examinations in front of everybody else watching: in the 12 week absolute beginner workshop this was sth like „show us what is a tendu/ frappé/ grand battement…“, so we had to remember all these things before the actual exercise was given (we were all taking one ballet class per week); in the lower level classes the center work consisted for months completely of examinations about the 8 directions of the room, croisse/ efface/ ecarte, the four Arabesques, all done by approaching a single student, one afte the other, telling the chosen one to eg „do first Arabesque - right foot back“ and snipping her fingers - and then jumping around this student screaming „wrong, wrong, wrong“ for every little mistake. Never any sign of any improvement, any sign of having done right a tiny little thing, always only pointing out mistakes and how horrible everything was. In these days the only „dancing“ part in the center with music was an exercise consisting of the 6 port de bras, with some plies between, and the reference at the end of the class, the rest of the time in the center we spent with this „wonderful“ examinations. Well, why not devote one class to these things, but we did things endlessly, not just two or five times. And we could feel so clearly how horrible everything looked and no improvement at all. When somebody asked a question, her favorite answer was „My absolute beginner class is on …(whatever day whatever time), you should come to this class“ before she eventually answered the question. She also had a quite humiliating way of correcting people, it was nothing unusual that somebody left the room in the middle of the class - in tears - and never came back again. For these reasons I felt it was wiser to ask a more advanced student how to do things after class and not the teacher, as she made me feel like the biggest idiot on earth - and the other student would try her best to answer my question and help me figure out things. Later I realized that it was not only me feeling like this, other students asked me for help instead of this teacher! So these were my first two years of ballet class with this strict Vaganova teacher, nothing joyful or encouraging at all, with the feeling, that teaching adults is a very hard task, and that I was the worst as my turnout is very small and she was either constantly shouting at me or ignoring me completely (which I felt was a lot better). Unfortunately from my personal experience I can‘t agree at all with your pointe that Vaganova teachers are more loving with their students. At this time I got a little extra payment at my job and I decided to fly to New York and take dance classes there for 2 weeks, I considered this to be a once in my life experience I would tell of my future grandchildren. There I saw completely different ballet classes, even beginner classes consist of dancing, dancing, dancing, and the teachers even seemed to enjoy teaching beginning adult students. I realized that ballet can be fun, and that ballet does not necessarily mean to force my body do do things it is not build for (forcing turnout…). It was so great being encouraged to try doing steps even if they were still not done 100% correctly in order to reach a higher level, to see so many new things done by other adults many of whom I could see had not started ballet at age 7 but a lot later. This inspired me so much and made me desire to be able to do the same. This first stay made such a huge impression on me, six more have followed so far. I started pointe there, sth. that had seemed completely out of question before. One day after my first stay in New York back at home I was told in class that “there are more beautiful things to watch than you dancing” (it was a comment out of the blue without me doing anything specific wrong). This would have been the day I would have walked out of ballet class and never ever return again, if I hadn’t already booked my next flight to New York and was joyfully anticipating taking classes there again. You might be asking yourself, why nobody talked to this teacher especially when on some days students are leaving in the middle of the class crying. For me and I guess for my fellow students this was simply the way ballet class was (at this time she was the only ballet teacher for adults at this school). Also, I noticed on several occasions that the SO as well as other ballet teachers and the local dance store owner spoke very highly of this "great teacher" who prepared a few young students to get accepted at the local John Cranko School (similar to SAB). And I felt that this school just considered beginning adults to not put enough effort into ballet, that adults were considered to prefer taking hip hop or jazz classes as there results can be seen a lot easier. So my conclusion is that a great teacher for somebody else doesn’t mean that this is also for me a great teacher. You seem to be very happy with your current situation, I’m glad for you. But each person has to make her own experience. Also from what I’ve read and seen, and what you also mention, the Vaganova method is usually very restrictive, they only accept young people with a somehow perfect body, students which are trained in this method on a daily basis. Adults with a less than perfect body and aiming to do ballet on a recreational basis, but still having a deep passion for ballet and also wanting to enjoy ballet and moving on, they also have the right to be taught in a nurturing atmosphere. In order to make progress I need to feel a little bit of trust in my abilities to master things, a bit of encouragement and being welcome in class, which this teacher didn’t offer me. And personally, I don’t think this teacher was happy teaching us. I felt that she was pitying herself that she had to teach us once a week adult beginners with less than perfect bodies, when instead she was capable of preparing young dancers with the perfect ballet body for a career in dance. (In class she was often sitting on the window sill looking dreamingly outside, while we were doing the exercises or just left class in the middle of the class, coming back after some time). I’m aware not every Vaganova trained ballet teacher is the way I experienced my first teacher, there are also many who give great classes for adults, too, but nonetheless I wanted to share my personal experience. Thanks for your patience!
re: Vaganova Technique: Myths vs. Fact
By YellowFairy
On 03/17/2009 20:42:23
Wow, Effortless, I'm sorry for your horrible experience with that teacher. I also started taking ballet at the age of 25. I did a lot of observation and research and found that I preferred the look of Vaganova styled ballet. I've studied Vaganova style with various teachers not only in America, but also in Europe, and I have never had an experience quite like yours. Sometimes, a mean teacher is just a mean teacher, regardless of what style she or he teaches. Every Vaganova class I've ever been in focuses on strong technique, meaning behind motion, strong balances, and very good musicality. In fact, I had some teachers (I'm not very musical) who would turn off the music and ask for the whole class to sing/hum the song if we were off music. By singing and humming the song and executing the same movements, it helped for us to match the movement to the music. Also, any conservatory program like Moscow Choreographic Institute or School of American Ballet and San Francisco Ballet has the luxury of being able to choose their students through both skill level and body type. They know they can be selective, and they choose the best looking body that can perform the best technical capability. Being an adult beginner, I dont' think I'm in the position to criticize these prestigious schools (Vaganova, Balanchine, and American in general) for continuing their selection process in this way. It's a shame I haven't got the hyperextended legs with beautiful high instep. It's a shame I'm not all neck, legs, and lean strength.. but I will tell you, the Vaganova teachers I've been with have just taught me to use what I naturally have to the best of my ability and limit. Sometimes, I don't think it should be Vaganova Myth vs. Fact if no one's going to start a Balanchine Myth vs. Fact. It should be Bad Teachers.. fact.
re: Vaganova Technique: Myths vs. Fact
By emodancer94
On 03/18/2009 13:05:37
great post! I'm currently at a russian method ballet school, and my teacher is Vaganova trained, and she's great! I've had people ask some interesting questions when I tell them I'm learning the Russain method. I've done the English method and the Balanchine method, and I'll have to say I like the Russian best. I love how it focuses so much of having strong technique before moving on to bigger things like turns and jumps. Anyway, I loved the post,it's really helpful.
re: Vaganova Technique: Myths vs. Fact
By BlackTights
On 03/18/2009 17:53:27
Nice post, EP, but most of this is highly situational and specific to your limited experiences. I have different experiences with Vaganova teachers, as do many others. as evidenced in the thread. So it isn't so much myth vs. fact as it is your personal interpretation of Vaganova based on what your thoughts are after five months of study. All I am saying is I think it prudent to be clear and precise with the words, here. This is not at all a "myth vs. fact" in the true sense, but rather your opinions based on your five months of Vaganova study and extracurricular research.
re: Vaganova Technique: Myths vs. Fact
By enigmaticpheo
On 03/18/2009 18:08:03
Hey guys! :) I want to clarify a few things that I think people are misunderstanding in this post. First of all, OBVIOUSLY this is simply my opinion and experience. I made the post. It'd be absolutely absurd to assume it wasn't my opinion. In my opinion, these statements are indisputably true. Secondly, I don't feel that it is at all jumping the gun to state the assumptions I listed as myths, and I'll tell you why: My teacher was trained at one of the state schools in Russia under a strict syllabus. This syllabus included rigorous training on how to TEACH. What she was taught in terms of how and what to teach is the same as those in her school and all state Vaganova schools (Vaganova academy included) in Russia. The pedagogy class follows a method just like technique. As such, what I said about the teaching methodology is not really my opinion; it is merely stating what students in Russian schools are and are not taught about pedagogy and how to teach. It is fact that Vaganova trained students in Russia are explicitly told not to teach forced turnout. Now, certainly there are outliers, but these are students who grew up and did not follow the teaching principles they learned in school, simple as that! The same goes for mannerisms, actually. How to teach and in what tones and speech is also included in pedagogical training. So yes, obviously this is through my experience. But nothing I wrote was invented or pulled solely from that; I also pooled HEAVILY from both my teacher's oral reports of her pedagogical training as well as Vaganova's book. Hence citing it at the end. Sure, there are "bad" Vaganova teachers. There are also bad Cecchetti, Balanchine, RAD and non-style teachers. Duh. But my aim in this was to break myths about Vaganova. And yes, specifically Vaganova. We assume MUCH more than other methods that Vaganova teachers force turnout or are not good turners. I never hear this about, say, RAD. So these myth busters are designed for Vaganova. If the styles of ballet were not different and did not have a different focus and system of principles, there would be no difference. I honestly think it is a bit silly to say the only difference is terminology. I highly recommend anyone who wants a ballet education to read both Vaganova's book and Asaf Messerer's book on Vaganova ballet/Classes in Classical Ballet. You'll find that terminology is poppycock compared to the greater picture in style foundation--which is the thesis that each style approaches ballet with. Balanchine's thesis you could say said, "Dance beautifully and always ON the music. You learn to dance by learning to emulate the music with your body." Whereas Vaganova's thesis was more along the lines of, "Everything you need to know is contained in a Grande Pas, and if you can do that, you can do anything." The foundations differ endlessly!
re: Vaganova Technique: Myths vs. Fact
By BlackTights
On 03/18/2009 23:02:55
Except you have a very limited idea of what and how they are taught in pedagogy courses in Russia as you have not studied in one yourself and have only read up on it and spoken with your teacher, who I am guessing only trained in one pedagogy program herself. I simply feel you are speaking as an authority on a subject you have VERY little real knowledge of. I mean, sorry, but 5 months is an incredibly short time to know anything. My son is much younger than you and has more experience with Vaganova and, since you like capslock, they are REAL TEACHERS from REAL RUSSIAN SCHOOLS who were TRAINED IN PEDAGOGY at these fine institutions. Ok? See what I mean? And our experiences are not the same as yours. My son's teachers currently teach in a world renowned school, are actually famous ex-dancers as well as teachers in their own right. So again, I am saying to you that you are inexperienced in the grand scheme of things, and your book learning and experience/inquiries with a single Vaganova teacher isn't going to really make up for that. The only bit that is an actual fact here is that there are bad teachers of all methods and styles. The rest of your post is situational and limited to your 5 months as an older teen with Vaganova training. Might be fun to hear an updated report on your strident views of Vaganova training after another 5 or 10 years and see how many of your "facts" held up. Not sure where that bad turning "myth" comes from. Never heard it. Good luck at Bossov.
re: Vaganova Technique: Myths vs. Fact
By TutuU222
On 03/20/2009 21:46:19
Very interesting observation and I'm glad you are having such a wonderful enlightening experience. You sound like you are really enjoying the journey. I sometimes wish that I had the luxury of picking very young children out by body type alone. As teachers, we know that a particular body type can usually be molded and formed as they grow -- and if they are born with that perfect hip structure for ballet for example, they will soon achieve that 180 degree turnout without a problem -- they were born that way. I don't believe this has anything to do with Vaganova technique and if all teachers had the choice of choosing dancers who were more naturally inclined, we'd probably do the same. But those children were hand picked due to their natural body type and there were only a certain number of students accepted into the classes. I don't ever think it was Vaganova's intention to take a dancer without that perfect hip structure and force them to turn out 180 degrees -- but I think other teachers that followed, who are less informed, misinterpreted and insist that 180 degrees is a must - natural hip structure or not - hence the myth I suppose? Just like was said above, there are good and bad teachers in all forms of dance. You happened to find a very good teacher who doesn't insist that you force it, but that is not always the case. In fact, I have a Vaganova book right here and these little dancers, about 8 years old are doing their demi-plies in 1st with 180 degrees with their feet -- but their knees are going forward and their feet are rolling in. And it was a class from the Vaganova school itself, taken many, many years ago from the class of Vera Kostrovitskaya, who was once a student and protege of Vaganova. And we wonder why they have that reputation? I know it's one moment in time and who knows if they were corrected after the photo was taken, but why put it in the book if it's incorrect? It would make anyone second guess whether this method forces 180 degree turnout -- from the picture, it sure did look like it to me. As far as Vaganova picking out body types. Originally I think this was VERY true as ballet was not open to everyone, but the chosen few -- the ones that had the body type to actually do ballet. Because let's face it -- there IS a particular physical body type for ballet and if you possess this type of body, you will be able to dance with fewer injuries -- whether you do Vaganova technique or some other form of ballet. Vaganova is not the only one accused of choosing dancers by body type. Look at SAB -- okay, yeah it's Balanchine, but the list goes on. To make it as a professional dancer you HAVE to have a certain type body -- and I'm not just talking about ultra skinny, but the structure of the body itself. One thing you said though that I have never, ever heard of was that Vaganova dancers are bad turners. This is the first time I'm hearing it. I don't know where this comes from, but take a look a Baryshnikov -- he certainly was not a bad turner at all! I am very happy that you are learning so much and truly enjoying your experience because after all, it truly is about the journey and not the destination. And perhaps your post has helped others who have been terrified to try Vaganova because of the stereotypes we've heard. There are good teachers and bad teachers everywhere and it sounds like you have found some very good teachers. THAT is the key -- to find a teacher who is knowledgeable, is able to pass that knowledge on to you in a way that you understand and to turn you on to ballet in all its forms. I do happen to agree with BlackTights here -- that this is of course just your experience and your opinion and isn't really dispelling any myths over facts, but if it has helped you to open your eyes to a whole new side of ballet and dispel the facts/myths for you -- how wonderful is that? You sound like you are joyful indeed!
re: Vaganova Technique: Myths vs. Fact
By RCreate
On 03/22/2009 10:32:48
I enjoyed your post very much, enigmaticpheo. My dd, 12 years old, has studied under the Vaganova syllabus for 4 years, but with an American teacher who studied the syllabus with another American who had been one of the first Americans to be invited to the Vaganova Academy and obtain certification to teach the syllabus. Recently, she moved to a new school that is what I would call hardcore Vaganova. All of the teachers of the advanced beginner through advanced levels grew up in the big Vaganova academies and are master teachers of the method. We have noticed some significant differences between the teaching from a "Vaganova-based" American teacher, and her teacher who was steeped in Vaganova from an early age. As you say, they are not working on the "flashier" skills at this age. They do not even do petite allegro combinations, nor do they do any grande allegro! This surprised my dd quite a bit at first, but she's realizing that they are working on all the little details, and developing strength, balance, and proper placement first. As far as turning goes, when I was observing my dd's initial audition for the Vaganova school, I noticed that the girls in the class were very precise turners. In fact, the word "precision" kept coming to me as I observed, also the word "strength." At first, I thought you and my dd might be attending the same school, but the adult class schedule you are taking is not available at my dd's new school. I wish you continued enjoyment and discovery on your journey, and hope that you report about your experiences at Bossov. :)
re: Vaganova Technique: Myths vs. Fact
By mkballet16
On 03/26/2009 15:05:55
What an awesome post thank you so much for looking into this, because I'm a vaganova trained dancer, but I've always admired the Balanchine trained dancers, so it's cool to see a comparison in how we train differently. Thanks!!
re: Vaganova Technique: Myths vs. Fact
By toji_667
On 03/26/2009 16:43:22
great post!!! This should be a sticky (:

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