Royal Winnipeg Ballet's Amanda Green takes on a bucket-list role

Royal Winnipeg Ballet standout Amanda Green steps into a major new lead, with a new partner, in the achingly romantic Romeo and Juliet.

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      When someone becomes a principal dancer at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, it means taking on the greatest roles in the classical repertoire. That includes following in the footsteps of icons like Evelyn Hart and Tara Birtwhistle to play the tragic heroine in Romeo and Juliet, the elegant, achingly romantic ballet the esteemed Canadian troupe is finally bringing here.

      For Amanda Green, the ballet company’s newest star, the status also brings less glamorous rewards—say, getting your own seat on the tour bus. The company clocks long hours on the road, and this is a luxury the charismatic, dark-haired beauty from Alberta doesn’t take for granted, as she explains to the Straight just after the troupe rolls into Saskatoon early in its western Canadian tour.

      “Bussing takes years of experience to learn how to maintain your body and what to eat; you can’t just sit there for 10 hours straight,” the affable artist says over the phone. “Even after all these years, it’s hard for me. I like to stretch out and not sit tight, so I am fortunate to get my own seat. Drinking lots of water helps too.”

      It’s all part of taking the Royal Winnipeg repertoire across the country, something Green is used to after a decade with the troupe. She’s already danced the Sugar Plum Fairy, Sleeping Beauty, and Swan Lake’s Odette/Odile—along with leads in more contemporary ballet, as she did to stunning effect as the sensual streetwalker-cum-ballerina Trilby in the darkly hypnotic Svengali on her last visit here.

      Hers is not a career you might have guessed for a girl who grew up in small-town Tofield, Alberta, population 2,182, but her mother made near-heroic efforts to shuttle Green and her sister, Victoria Laine, to the nearest ballet school in Red Deer, 45 minutes away. The bigger sacrifice came when Green turned 10 and was accepted into residence at the far-away RWB school with her older sibling.

      “My dad had a brother who was drafted into the NHL and my grandpa wouldn’t let him go,” Green explains. “So my uncle lost that opportunity, and he didn’t want us to lose ours.”

      Green plays down the more painful moments for a young girl living far from home. “I had a little cry here and there. I was very homesick,” she admits. “For sure my parents missed out on a lot. It was difficult, but nobody regrets anything. It’s been worth it.”

      Right after graduation, Green went on to study at Florida’s Harid Conservatory, before being hired for a season in Columbus, Ohio, and then seriously injuring her foot—an accident that almost sidelined her career at only 18. But she took a year off, her foot healed, and in 2004 she called up the RWB’s artistic director, André Lewis, who invited her to open auditions. The rest is history. For the ensuing years, she’s worked her way up quickly in the company, becoming a principal in 2012.

      Juliet, the only big classical lead left for her to take on, is a part she loves. “It was the last one that we do at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet that was on my bucket list,” she reveals. She’s a huge fan of this rendition, choreographed by Rudi van Danzig for the Dutch National Ballet in 1967 and premiered by the RWB in 1981. Set to the sweeping music of Sergei Prokofiev (who composed the score for its debut in 1938 by the Kirov Ballet), the piece stays faithful to Shakespeare’s famous story of two star-crossed young lovers, with lush sets and costumes that bring 16th-century Verona to life.

      Green is particularly pumped about her Romeo in this show—always a good thing. She’s dancing, for the first time, with Liang Xing, a guest artist from the National Ballet of China, and admits it was a bit nerve-racking to take on a new partner. “He’s been just incredible to work with; we have a great partnership going,” she enthuses, adding of her initial reservations: “He’s this tall, really skinny Chinese guy and I said, ‘I’m going to knock him over!’ because I’m quite a dominant, powerful dancer.” Needless to say, that hasn’t at all been the case, and she says they’ve been able to bond with the emotional intimacy the classic work demands.

      As you might expect, the role takes as much of a psychic toll as a physical one, with everything whirling toward the inevitable tragic ending. “For me, my favourite part is the death scene, and the music is just so powerful there,” says Green, who cops to practising the sequence while her husband plays dead on the dining-room floor of her home. “Even the music alone could make you cry. There’s something about being so physically and emotionally exhausted—you give it your last little bit of energy and collapse. Usually, I’m quite hyper with adrenaline after a show, but with this I’ve been quite quiet.” With a performer of this expressivity taking ballet into such depths of romantic sorrow, expect the audience to be equally dumbstruck.

      The Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet is at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre next Thursday and Friday (January 30 and February 1).