Writing for Svengali: Creating a Ballet’s Tagline

Several months ago, we looked at the process of designing a poster for Waiting for Godot, showcasing how the final product emerged through the careful assembly of smaller elements and ideas.


Interestingly, the process we employ when creating a compelling image or identity for a show is very much the same when carefully selecting the right words or tagline to represent a production. To explain, we thought we would walk our readers through the process of developing a tagline for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s upcoming production – Svengali.


A tagline is a short sentence or bit of copy that immediately captures the essence of a show in a manner that will excite and educate potential audiences. The tagline appears on every advertisement, poster, and subsequent marketing piece promoting the production. There are few hard and fast rules for the content of a tagline; it might draw attention to the company or individual who created the work (ie. From the award-winning playwright of…), it might draw attention to themes or emotional content (ie. The heart-wrenching work of unspeakable beauty…), or it might even be a review quote from the media. For Svengali, a work with a rich and complex narrative, we decided to use a tagline that would offer a glimpse of the ballet’s narrative.


Svengali tells the tale of a grim young man, who grows up under the oppressive rule of his mother, the owner of a ballet studio who is obsessed with the notion of aesthetic perfection. Svengali possesses a secret power – the ability to hypnotize women, rendering them powerless to his control. Having escaped his mother’s studio, and being set lose in 1930’s Paris, Svengali uses this power to bring Trilby, a beautiful courtesan, under his grasp. Through Svengali’s manipulations Trilby becomes the toast and envy of Paris, but as her star rises, Svengali’s control weakens, and a struggle for freedom ensues.


When developing the tagline for Svengali, LMPR began by identifying key terms that captured the ballet’s essence and emotion, while helping educate audiences on the ballet’s narrative. These terms included:


Intrigue     Desire     Passion     Control     Light/Dark     Captivating     Power  

Clash of Wills     Domination     Mesmerizing


From here, a series of simple descriptions emerged, testing how the various terms worked when placed together, such as:


A mesmerizing new ballet of passion and intrigue


A captivating new ballet of power, mystique, and desire


While these phrases captured emotional essences, they did not encapsulate the significant power struggles that exist in the ballet – between Tribly and Svengali, between Svengali and his mother, and those of darker forces beginning to take hold in 1930’s Europe. A series of taglines then emerged from the above, including:

The compelling story of forces struggling for control and the woman who rose above it all


The inspiring story of a compassionate woman in a brutal world

These offered too literal a reading of the story and lacked a certain spark. Having isolated the importance of the struggle, we were then able to use certain elements, combining them with earlier key words to create a tagline that both reflected the story and resonated excitement:


Power that could not be Denied.
Desire that could not be Resisted.


Vancouver residents will likely have seen these words on street poles, bus sides, and in newspapers throughout the city. As for the critically acclaimed production itself, Lower Mainlanders can look forward to experiencing the mesmerizing new ballet Svengali, April 20 – 22 at The Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts.


Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet presents Svengali


Tickets are on sale now at: Ticketmaster.ca.


Categories: Client News, MPMG, Musings