Royal Winnipeg Ballet set to hypnotize audiences with Svengali

Amanda Green will enchant and entertain in Svengali. Supplied

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s 72nd season is set to open with a steamy affair.

Set in the 1800s and inspired by a film treatment by Guy Maddin, choreographer Mark Godden’s Svengali is sure to be spellbinding.

Based on the novel Trilby by George du Maurier, Godden has taken the story down a different path. The ballet instead focuses on Svengali, a hypnotist that seduces women.

Oppressed by his domineering mother, the younger Svengali yearns to escape the confines of her dance studio where he is also a student.

RWB company soloist Amanda Green stars as Trilby, a woman just out of Svengali’s reach.

“Trilby is a street walker, and she is desired by all men,” Green says, taking some time out of her intense rehearsal schedule. “Svengali is intrigued and pursues Trilby because he can’t get her.”

After a while Trilby gives in to Svengali’s charms and he is able to mould her into a famous dancer, who eventually outgrows his control.

The RWB has released a series of interviews with the choreographer online, in which Godden describes Trilby as “wanting a sensuality about her.”

An interesting aspect of the ballet is the development of Green’s character.

“Trilby is grungy to start,” Green says. But as she is influenced by each of the other characters she begins to take on their traits and dance styles.

“She becomes famous half-way through and puts on a show with Svengali for the elite patrons. She becomes seductive and free.”

When Svengali’s mother takes Trilby under her wing, Trilby becomes much more classical, developing in the mother’s purist style, with clean lines and stricter poses.

Green’s character is continually growing and adapting to her surroundings.

“It’s exciting,” she says of premiering an original work. “I have never had an entire ballet created on me and been part of the whole process. Everything is done solely to make me look good, and I am honoured to have been involved in the creation of the ballet.”

Green has nothing but glowing kind words for Godden, the creative mind also behind the RWB’s Dracula.

“The process has been incredible. Mark is so intelligent.”

Svengali is a neo-classical ballet, as opposed to a more traditional piece, like Swan Lake, in which Green marked a milestone by performing in the dual role of Odette and Odile two seasons ago for the first time.

However, that does not make Svengali any less difficult to perform.

Swan Lake requires a different kind of energy. We train so much in classical repertoire, but the company is versatile.

Svengali is quite hard stamina-wise. There is partnering and it is all en pointe.”

Where Svengali differs from Swan Lake is in the technical aspect.

“The technical elements are not as pure,” she says. “You can move your hips, sway your back, your arms can be out of alignment.” In other words, it is a lot more free and sensual, like Trilby’s character.

Svengali is bound to be a sexy time, but Rebecca McCauley, the RWB’s publicity manager, stresses that the ballet is still appropriate for younger audiences.

“The adult content is simply suggestive and not overt,” McCauley says via email. “It is not that the ballet is unsuitable for young audiences, it is just that there are adult themes (like prostitution) that we want people to be aware of.”

Svengali is at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet from Oct. 19 to Oct. 23. Visit for more information.

Published in Volume 66, Number 7 of The Uniter (October 12, 2011)

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