Review: Svengali comes to life in the second act

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In our recent interview, Royal Winnipeg Ballet apprentice Alex Lantz talked about the cerebral nature of Marc Godden’s new ballet Svengali which waltzed (or should that be pirouetted) into town this weekend.  A fitting observation for a ballet based on the master of mind control for sure, but that cerebral nature ultimately worked against the ballet and it wasn’t until the second act that I was finally mesmerized.

Based on George du Maurier’s 1894 novel Trilby, Godden has moved the opera singer of the book to a ballet dancer.  Escaping the repression of his mother’s ballet studio, Svengali discovers the prostitute Trilby and transforms her into a ballet star using his powers of mind control.  Fighting against Svengali are his mother and her Acolytes who are determined to bring Trilby into their own fold.

More comfortable in theatre than in dance, I found myself somewhat frustrated in following the narrative in act one.  After a read of the program during the intermission (in hindsight something that should be mandatory before the show) I was able to more fully appreciate what I had just seen and helped in my enjoyment of act two.

As for the technical aspects, I brought a dancer to the show to help with that perspective.  While I was amazed at the gracefulness and power of the dancers, especially in the lifts, my friend was struck by the “powerful imagery and stunning duets”.  While she wondered about some of the choices in choreography, she admired the execution.  During intermission we both commented though on how there were a few times where the dancers were out of synch with each other, when clearly they should have been.

Amanda Green and Harrison James in the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's Svengali.  Photo by Bruce Monk.
Amanda Green and Harrison James in the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Svengali.  Photo by Bruce Monk.

A seemingly disparate range of music adds another layer to the ballet but while interesting in its variation, we both failed to find any common thread.

Recommended for dancers or those with more than just a passing appreciation of the art form, be sure to give yourself plenty of time read the synopsis before the show starts.


Created and choreographed by Mark Godden.  A Royal Winnipeg Ballet presentation.  On stage at the Centre in Vancouver for the Performing Arts through Sunday, 22 April 2012.  Visit for tickets and information.

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