Because I spent a lot of time studying Victorian literature and Victorian illustrated fiction, the name “Svengali” brings up very fond memories of my first glimpse of interest in text-image relationships. I read Trilby in my last year at Concordia in a fin-de-siècle course that began at 8h30 at night (which meant it finished at 10h45). But the course was so awesome (and so was the teacher, Jason Camlot) that it was worth the extra coffee.
The novel, written AND illustrated by George du Maurier, starts with a trio of British men (Taffee, Sandy and Little Billee) living in Paris as artists. One day, they attend a show featuring a rising diva, La Svengali (whose real name is Trilby). Little Billee falls in love with her, but him and the band discover that she is being controlled by an Eastern European hypnotist, Svengali. In reality, Trilby is tone-deaf and a terrible singer; she is only successful because of Svengali’s mesmerism. Adventures ensue, until Trilby is released from Svengali’s spell and is free to marry Little Billee.
Du Maurier’s Trilby is the quintessential example of a Victorian best-seller. It started what was called “Trilby-mania”. Victorians bought Trilby soap and Trilby mugs and Trilby shawls. Promotional merchandise? The Victorians had theirs too.
The stereotype of the mesmerizing hypnotist has its origins in the character of Svengali. This novel has lived through a few revivals, either on print, on stage or on film. But the RWB’s Svengali, based on a movie version of the novel, is probably its first choreographic adaptation (and please feel free to correct me on that).
Svengali has been touring Canada for a while, and is visiting Victoria from April 26th to 28th at the Royal Theatre. If you’ve read my review of the National Ballet of Canada on Hummingbird604, you’ll already know that I know nothing about dance, except for a few years spent doing beginner’s ballet classes, both jazz and classical, and some gymnastics.
In any case, my experience with the NBC really turned me on to dance. I’m thus really interested in the way Mark Godden adapted such an iconic Victorian illustrated novel into a choreographed story. From the DanceVictoria website:
Mark Godden’s choreographic genius brings us an explosive new look at the original master of mind control. RWB’s newest creation takes its inspiration from a film treatment born of the fevered imagination of international film sensation Guy Maddin. Yearning for public recognition, Svengali escapes the repression of his mother’s ballet studio to a decadent world reminiscent of mid-century Weimar, where he finds the beautiful and malleable young dancer, Trilby. Under Svengali’s entrancing influence, Trilby is transformed into the darling of the ballet world, but her star ultimately rises beyond Svengali’s powerful emotional grasp. This complex psychological drama will unfold with riveting choreography by the creative powerhouse behind RWB’s Dracula.
I’m still debating whether I will attend the show or not, but in any case, I really hope you will give it a look if it’s the kind of thing that interests you. Victoria is lucky enough to attract some of the best Canadian and international touring shows, and I wouldn’t miss the chance to see this unique production.