NV dancer follows in mother's footsteps

Royal Winnipeg Ballet hosting a master class during Svengali run

- Svengali, presented by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, April 20-21 at 8 p.m. and April 22 at 2 p.m. at The Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts. Tickets: $44-$96, visit www.ticketmaster.ca. Info: www.rwb.org.

IT didn't take long for Samara Rittinger's natural talent for dance to be recognized.

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Enrolled in a beginner class led by Vickye Allard through the North Vancouver Recreation Commission, the then four-year-old's potential was clearly evident.

"It was one of the first or second classes and Vickye looked at me and said, 'Uh oh, she's got it,'" recalls Samara's mother Leslie Fields, a former professional ballet dancer.

Leslie is extremely proud of her youngest daughter, who now 13 and a student at Argyle secondary, is continuing to excel at the art of dance.

"She loves dancing and she's very, very talented. She's got natural ability, far more than I ever had, and she loves to do it," says Leslie, 52.

Not only following in her mother's footsteps in the general sense, Samara has her sights set on one day joining the same company her mother once danced for, and incidentally met her husband Blaine Rittinger through, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

Samara, who currently studies at the Goh Ballet Academy, is on a positive track, having been accepted for two summer programs at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's dance school, as well as a master class Sunday as part of the company's local performance of Svengali, April 20-22, at The Centre in Vancouver for the Performing Arts.

According to the company, the work is a complex psychological drama focused on Svengali, a young man with hypnotic powers. After escaping his mother's repressive ballet studio, he finds beautiful and malleable young dancer Trilby in a decadent world reminiscent of mid-century Weimar. Under Svengali's influence, Trilby becomes the darling of the ballet world, but her star eventually rises beyond Svengali's powerful emotional grasp.

It's based on the novel Trilby by George du Maurier and the film by Guy Maddin. Svengali was choreographed by Leslie's one-time dance partner Mark Godden, likewise a former Royal Winnipeg Ballet company dancer.

The Fields/Rittinger clan is excited about the performance, a reminder of just how close things are to coming full circle for their North Vancouver family.

Leslie, who is now an associate director, development and alumni engagement in the faculty of arts at the University of British Columbia, danced all her early life, retiring at age 29.

Born and raised in Vancouver, she danced with the Maria Lewis School of Dance and the Pacific Ballet Theatre before moving to Winnipeg in 1978 to enroll in the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's professional program. Leslie went on to join the company and was with the organization from 1981 to 1988.

"When I was in Winnipeg, that was during the '80s when Evelyn Hart was dancing and we were performing many full-length ballets as well as the company's mixed repertoire. We also did a lot of travelling," she says.

Her husband Blaine, 54, had been working as a stage manager at the time. He currently works at North Vancouver's Centennial Theatre as the technical director.

"Our life at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet was a highlight in our careers," says Leslie. "It was a wonderful time and we did do a lot a performing and we were ambassadors to the rest of the world through the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. It's wonderful to be able to keep that link going through my daughter. . . . It's like a second family."

Leslie and Godden, who's based in Montreal, Que., were paired up on a number of occasions during their time with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet; for example, a performance of Agnes de Mille's Rodeo set to music by Aaron Copland. They see each every so often.

"It's like an old friend. Years sort of disappear once you get back together again," she says.

Leslie is looking forward to taking in a performance of Svengali.

"Mark Godden is a wonderful choreographer," she says. "He brings in both the theatrical and the dance elements. His musicality is wonderful and the way he presents stories is very unique. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet is always such a fresh company. They're beautiful dancers."

The presentation is also providing an amazing opportunity for Samara, who is scheduled to participate in a master class led by the company's senior ballet master Johnny Chang on Sunday.

The class is being presented in partnership with the Vancouver Ballet Society.

"I'm really looking forward to that," says Samara.

Both of Leslie and Blaine's daughters, Samara and Makayla, 17, were introduced to dance, though only Samara decided to continue on.

Makayla is much more interested in horseback riding and basketball, says Leslie.

"I just love to move and the music and being able to put myself in my dancing," says Samara.

Following her introduction to dance with Vickye Allard, Samara moved to the Anna Wyman School of Dance and for the last three years has studied at Goh. She's performed a number of solos, including filling the role of Clara in the school's holiday performance of The Nutcracker for the last two years. She's currently rehearsing for Goh Ballet's upcoming performance of Coppelia, June 1-2 at the Vancouver Playhouse.

"That's a big show for us," she says.

Samara attended the Royal Winnipeg Ballet professional division summer school last year on a scholarship from the B.C. Investors Group and has been accepted again this summer.

Her participation has resulted in a homecoming of sorts for her mother.

"I hadn't been back to Winnipeg for, I'd say, 20 years," says Leslie.

"I walked around all of Winnipeg looking at all of the places where I used to live and went to the ballet and the principal of the school, I used to room with when we were going to school at the professional program. . . . It's one big cycle and they're all going, 'Oh my God,' I can't believe we're teaching one of your kids. We don't feel that old.' And I'm going, 'I don't feel that old either.' It's a nice cycle. Actually it was quite funny, when the principal of the school called me last summer to say that Samara had gotten the B.C. Investors Group scholarship she said, 'And it has nothing to do with you or Blaine. It's all based on Samara's talent,'" she adds.

Having a mother who was a professional ballet dancer is a great resource for a rising star.

"It's nice because we get to watch some of her videos and she gives me corrections on my ballet," says Samara.

However, Leslie knows she can sometimes get carried away.

"I can give her some pointers, but sometimes I can go overboard, you know, 'OK mom, that's enough. I don't need any more corrections.' (It's all about) finding the balance," says Leslie.

It's also helpful to have someone to lean on who's well-versed in just how tough the dance industry can be.

"It's a hard career and just because you're talented, doesn't mean you're going to make it. It's a lot of hard work," says Leslie.

That said, she fully understands the attraction and will continue to be in her daughter's corner.

"If you want to dance, you've just got to do it," she says.

emcphee@nsnews.com

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