From book to ballet: Anne of Green Gables ballet set to tour Canada, U.S.

L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables was published in 1908 and was an immediate critical and commercial success. Over the past 111 years, it’s been a cultural touchstone both at home in Canada and around the world.

The novel has been adapted numerous times — Canadians who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s will remember Megan Follows’s turn as the iconic red-headed orphan. Prince Edward Island has been running a musical version for a staggering 55 consecutive summers. CBC’s own Anne with an E begins its third season on Sept. 22, 2019.

Now, for the first time ever, Anne of Green Gables is being adapted into a full-length ballet by Canada’s Ballet Jörgen.

Turning Anne into a ballet

Anne of Green Gables is the story of an orphan who comes to live with siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert in the fictional town of Avonlea in Prince Edward Island. An unusually outspoken and poetic girl, Anne is, at first, unwelcome in the quiet community. But the very traits that paint her as an outcast eventually win the town over.

Ballet Jörgen spent three years securing the rights to mount their own adaptation.

Except for a one-act version staged by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in 1989, this marks the ballet debut of Anne of Green Gables.

“Anne is a very vivacious character and it lends itself very well to dance,” said Bengt Jörgen, company founder and choreographer. “You’d be hard-pressed to find a better character to put into dance.”

Anne is a very vivacious character and it lends itself very well to dance.– Bengt Jörgen, choreographer

Turning Anne Shirley into a dancer is what Hannah Mae Cruddas has been working on for months. The Nova Scotia dancer read the books as an eight-year-old and has been in love with the story ever since.

“I reread it and dog-eared all the pages where L.M. Montgomery talks about the physicality of Anne… the way she holds her body,” said Cruddas.

“There are a few moments where they talk about Anne clasping her hands in front of her or lifting her eyes skyward. I can use those moments from the book in my movement. That was my research.”

Ballet dancer Hannah Mae Cruddas reads from her old copy of Anne of Green Gables. (Andrew Nguyen/CBC)

Cruddas isn’t the only cast member who discovered the book as a kid. Hiroto Saito, who is working on the roles of Matthew Cuthbert and Mr. Phillips, remembers reading the story growing up in Japan. His mother is such a huge fan of the books that she will be making the trip from Japan to Halifax to attend the show’s premiere on Sept. 28.

“It’s a little different than a classical ballet because the characters are fairly young, so the movement is a little more energetic and explosive. It’s very unique and it’s quite exciting to see what’s going on. I can’t wait to see the final result,” said Saito.

The famous scene

An illustration from Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. (Public Domain)

One of the most memorable moments from the book — and all its subsequent retellings — is the moment Anne loses her temper and smashes a slate over the head of Gilbert Blythe.

It’s the beginning of a feud that will simmer for the rest of the story. The scene also serves as a benchmark for how much room Anne and Gilbert have to grow as characters.

In the novel, it’s a comedic moment as much as a powerful one, and that’s how Ballet Jörgen has chosen to approach it as well.

Daniel Da Silva is playing Gilbert Blythe and so far doesn’t mind getting hit in the head over and over again.

“Those kinds of scenes are really hard to do because the timing is really important,” said Da Silva, who grew up in São Paulo, Brazil.

“If it’s not quite right with the music or if I flinch before the slate hits me in the head, it doesn’t work.”

The biggest tour to date

Ballet Jörgen, whose mandate is to “tell Canadian stories,” is comprised of young dancers from Canada, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, the U.S. and the U.K. The cast of Anne of Green Gables features 20 dancers, all of whom will play multiple roles.

Jörgen, along with stage director Heinar Piller and set and costume designer Sue Lepage, have created 22 dance scenes to tell a 342-page story.

Orchestrator Alexander Levkovich adapted Norman Campbell’s score from Anne of Green Gables – The Musical™ for the ballet.

The cast of Ballet Jörgen’s Anne of Green Gables. (Andrew Nguyen/CBC)

The company’s tour will bring them to small towns and cities across Canada and the U.S. It’s already their biggest tour ever, with plans to extend it to 2021.

Here are the Canadian dates planned so far. The complete list of tour dates is available on Ballet Jörgen’s website.

Nova Scotia

  • Sept. 28-29, 2019 — Halifax
  • April 14, 2020 — Mabou, N.S.

Ontario

  • Oct. 4, 2019 — Markham, Ont.
  • Oct. 5, 2019 — Markham, Ont.
  • Oct. 6, 2019 — Markham, Ont.
  • Jan. 12, 2020 — Guelph, Ont.
  • May 20, 2020 — Ottawa
  • May 30, 2020 — London, Ont.

Quebec

  • Nov. 6, 2019 — Victoriaville, Que.
  • Nov. 8, 2019 — Saguenay, Que.

British Columbia

  • Jan. 24, 2020 — Cranbrook, B.C.
  • Jan. 28, 2020 — Oliver, B.C.
  • Jan. 30, 2020 — Nelson, B.C.
  • Feb. 2, 2020 — Vernon, B.C.
  • Feb. 5, 2020 — Campbell River, B.C.
  • Feb. 7, 2020 — Duncan, B.C.
  • Feb. 12, 2020 — Maple Ridge, B.C.
  • Feb. 14, 2020 — Chilliwack, B.C.
  • Feb. 16, 2020 — West Vancouver, B.C.
  • Feb.21, 2020 — Terrace, B.C.
  • Feb. 23, 2020 — Kitimat, B.C.
  • Feb. 26, 2020 — Prince Rupert, B.C.
  • Feb. 28, 2020 — Burns Lake, B.C.

Alberta

  • March 6, 2020 — Ft. Saskatchewan, Alta.
  • March 8, 2020 — Ft. McMurray, Alta.
  • March 11, 2020 — Camrose, Alta.
  • March 13, 2020 — Medicine Hat, Alta.

Saskatchewan

  • March 15, 2020 — North Battleford, Sask.
  • March 18, 2020 — Saskatoon
  • March 20, 2020 — Yorkton, Sask.

Manitoba

  • March 22, 2020 — Brandon, Man.

New Brunswick

  • April 2, 2020 — Moncton, N.B.
  • April 4, 2020 — Saint John, N.B.
  • April 7, 2020 — Fredericton, N.B.
  • April 8, 2020 — Fredericton, N.B.

Prince Edward Island

  • April 9, 2020 — Summerside, P.E.I.

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