Edmonton-born dancer directs ballet adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale

Alanna McAdie stars as Offred, the protagonist of Margaret Atwood’s harrowing dystopian tale

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Alanna McAdie has a hard time letting go of Offred when she steps off stage.

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The Edmonton-born dancer previously performed the role of island protagonist and narrator in The Handmaid’s Tale, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s harrowing dystopian tale. It is the story of a futuristic society, called the Republic of Gilead, ruled by an oppressor, totalitarian, religious right military theocracy. Fertile women are forced to produce children for the commanders, the male ruling class. Her character, like many women in the story, is a sex slave whose name literally means she is the property of her commander. It’s a dark and violent world, but McAdie says inhabiting the role is anything but daunting.

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“I love playing Offred,” says the dancer, who will perform the role again with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet as part of Alberta Ballet’s season at the Northern Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton from September 22-24. “I really feel empowered at the end. There’s a lot that Offred has to go through and it’s almost hard to disconnect from it. At the end of the first act, there is a rather aggressive scene with the Commander. I find that when you play and be part of this performance, you don’t come out of it. But towards the end of the ballet, you start to get really angry and take responsibility for the whole story. I think every time I dance the role, starting at the beginning of the book and telling the whole thing, it’s pretty cathartic.

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“I think when Lila first did the ballet, just before the TV show, I think she was diving into something that was recurring,” McAdie says. “It was the beginning of Donald Trump and it was shaping up to become a similar storyline and it was very relevant again. The TV show obviously made it more relevant and all the #MeToo stuff, all that movement, and now abortion rights in the United States, I think that’s extremely relevant and I think that’s going to be pretty timeless Her writing is dystopian but she picks things up and down but those are long term issues – there are environmental things – I think it’s important that we find ways that art can provide an outlet for those things.

York began speaking with Andre Lewis, artistic director and CEO of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, years before she started working there.

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“I remember how much (the book) affected me when I first read it,” York says. “I had nightmares, really. That moment when (Offred) first tried to use his bank card to buy a cup of coffee and can’t because his bank card was canceled and all his money was given to her husband, so she has no money at all. She has no access to money. Single women, all the money went to the government. Without money, they could not not work. It hit me like a bomb. It was so real to me.

Difficult adjustment

When Lewis approved the idea years later, York wrote a script, asked for and received Atwood’s approval, and began translating key scenes into ballet motion to “give it some sort of subconscious color so that it is not merely a literal retelling of the novel. It has many other aspects. »

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Still, adapting the work to a non-verbal art form had its challenges.

“The hardest character to choreograph is Offred because she’s the storyteller,” York says. “She tells the story in her head and she doesn’t act,” she thinks. She plots her escape but she is non-verbal. On the surface, she seems to be very obedient and accepting of everything, but that’s not the case. But since he’s a cerebral character and everything happens in his head, it was hard. It was hard to find the movement to indicate something deeper was going on even though we don’t see her rebelling and escaping.

For McAdie, who joined the Royal Winnipeg Ballet at age 15 after training in Edmonton and was promoted to principal dancer with the company last year, York’s reading of Offred is “very precise”.

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“I’m in awe of that,” she said. “It’s so well done. I think the character, as Lila said, is really internal. It’s a very different acting game: finding stillness and more subtle. It’s like a tension in your body. The reactions read better if they are not so giant.

Alberta Ballet will perform the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's production of The Handmaid's Tale at Jubilee Auditorium September 22-24.
Alberta Ballet will perform the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s production of The Handmaid’s Tale at Jubilee Auditorium September 22-24. Photo by David Cooper /Provided

McAdie’s past work with the company has included more family roles such as Aurora and Princess Florine in Sleeping Beauty and Clara in The Nutcracker.. She also performed the role of Niska in Going Home Star: Truth and Reconciliation, Mark Godden’s story about a young urban First Nations woman. While ballet is often a family-friendly, easily digestible art form based on fairy tales, it’s a form that can also push boundaries, McAdie says.

“People come to see ballets to get away from it all,” she says. “Maybe you need to do some research on what you’re coming to. But I also think it’s important to challenge viewers to see things from different perspectives and to go out and have discussions. I think it’s very important and necessary to share this stuff.


Royal Winnipeg Ballet in The Handmaid’s Talehttps://www.jubileeauditorium.com/edmonton/royal-winnipeg-ballet-handmaids-tale

Where: Jubilee Auditorium, 11455 87 Ave.

When: Thursday to Saturday

Tickets: From $63 on Ticketmaster.ca

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