This week, my husband and I attended Ottawa’s opening night of Svengali, a performance from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, at Canada’a National Arts Centre.
Although I’m not a professional art critic and my dance training is so far behind me that I couldn’t recall the names of certain moves even under duress, I thought an “amateur’s” review might be helpful. Because, really, most audience members are just like me, aren’t they? I won’t go into the plot of the performance since other reviews (links included throughout this post) already do that, and will instead simply focus on our experience.
To borrow the perfectly apt words of CBC art critic Robert Enright, this performance was a “visual turn-on.”
The choreography struck me as very unique, and in many instances, so emotionally moving. I lack the words to adequately describe this, without just sounding silly. But as example, in the car on the way home, my husband recalled a movement in particular where the dancers were fluttering their hands behind their backs. It sounds simple, right? But the way it was pulled off, combined with the music, was so effective. In an art critic with the Winnipeg Free Press, Alison Mayes describes another series of powerful movements:
“In one poignant moment, Trilby (Amanda Green), the female star, has just become the toast of the town, showered with glitter and flowers. As soon as she’s out of the spotlight, she slumps and the bouquet slips to the floor — a snapshot of emptiness that speaks of manipulated stars like Michael Jackson.“
These kinds of poignant moments were brought to life through clever choreography throughout the night. I was particularly touched by one scene where men are coming up to Trilby, the central female character, and embracing her while a split second later, pushing her away to the floor like garbage.
As much we were both mesmerized by the choreography, Paula Citron, an art critic with the Globe and Mail, panned it harshly. Her chief complaint seems to be how unrecognizable this rendition of Svengali is to its original tale, published in 1894. Since neither of us had ever read that book, this did not affect us in the least. However, she also notes:
“A major weakness in Godden’s production lies in the fact that Svengali’s hypnotic powers and charisma are practically invisible, rendering James about as threatening as a Boy Scout.”
She’s got a point here. I’m not sure if this is the fault of the choreography or the choice of James to play Svengali — who is a talented dancer but does not bring an intimating physicality to the role — or both. Citron also feels that the archetypes and symbolism fall “flatter than a pancake.” And she may even have a point here as well.
Even the costumes were captivating. Act III was an absolute highlight, with its glamorous and sexually alluring skin-coloured costumes. (I tried to find a photograph for you, but I couldn’t.)
There were a minor few elements that I thought distracting, even bizarre. The opening music was from the birth scene in in the cult film 2001: A Space Odyssey. I actually thought it was the Star Wars music at first. All in all, it seemed like a bizarre choice. Either too obvious or not obvious enough to be a tongue-in-cheek reference. Especially since no other pop culture music references were made in the rest of the performance.
In another example, during a powerful scene where Svengali is destroying Trilby’s metaphorical “hearts,” a large garbage can is pulled onto the stage. On it were bright white letters reading “GLASS.” Everything else was a metaphor … the paper hearts, etc, and here they write GLASS? Unnecessary and distracting.
Should you rush out and get tickets?
If you have any interest in dance, I would highly recommend it. The company is touring in British Columbia this spring and you can find the details on the Royal Winnipeg website.
All photos by Bruce Monk.
A contemporary feeling ballet – Svengali, The Royal Winnipeg Ballet
Svengali (Harrison James) and Trilby (Amanda Green) – Royal Winnipeg Ballet
Royal Winnipeg Ballet – Svengali
Note: This review was originally published at Coffee with Julie.