Artistic Director André Lewis has commissioned a bold adaptation of Canadian author Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel of the same name. Acclaimed New York-based choreographer Lila York will preserve the work’s prophetic spirit and human story, creating a powerful and poignant interpretation of the gripping tale. Deftly attuned to highlighting the narrative’s dark romanticism, forbidden desires, and domineering regime, York’s dance drama will transport audiences, with thrilling effect, to a society where human rights have been stripped away. Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2015, will be brought to life by the extraordinary athleticism and theatricality of the RWB dancers, set to a pastiche score.
The Handmaid’s Tale is a ballet interpretation of Margaret Atwood’s prophetic novel portraying a future society where human rights - and women’s rights in particular - have been nullified. Following a staged terrorist attack that sees the deaths of nearly all elected officials in Washington, the United States is subject to a coup by a fundamentalist religious faction of the military. They replace the liberal democratic infrastructure of the U.S. with a theocratic dictatorship named The Republic of Gilead and institute a rigid social hierarchy. Owing to radiation poisoning and subsequent low fertility, women of child-bearing age who have committed any infraction of the new laws can be enslaved to the families of the upper echelon as surrogate mothers, or Handmaids. They are sent to an indoctrination center, known informally as the Red Center for the red habits the Handmaids are compelled to wear. Here they are instructed by Aunts, the only women in Gilead who are permitted the right to read, then sent on to the homes of Commanders. Each Handmaid has three chances to produce a baby. Failure means exile to the Midwest (the colonies) to clean up nuclear waste or a life of prostitution as a “Jezebel” to the military elites. In Gilead abortion is outlawed and any physician found to have performed one is hanged.
As in George Orwell’s 1984, Gilead is perpetually at war, the press consists of controlled propaganda, and the young are indoctrinated into compliance. And as in all repressive societies, there is a resistance movement in Gilead, called May Day, named for the day of the planned overthrow of the regime.
This is the story of one Handmaid, known as Offred – literally “of Fred”- for the military commander she is assigned to; her best friend, the indomitable Moira, a woman both fearless and reckless and embodying a clear counterpoint to the cautious Offred; the Commander and his wife, Serena Joy, a well-known gospel singer in “the time before” whose career was terminated after the coup; and their chauffeur, Nick, who may or may not be a member of the Resistance. Welcome to Gilead.
Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, published in 1985, has sold over ten million copies, has been translated into many languages, and has not been out of print since its initial publication.
Based on the novel by Margaret Atwood
All casting is subject to change.
PREVIOUSLY adapted as a 1990 film and 2000 opera, the RWB première of The Handmaid's Tale marks the first time Margaret Atwood's literary masterpiece has been staged exclusively without the use of words. The internationally renowned author was in the audience on opening night and gave two thumbs up for its newest incarnation.
WFP: What is your initial response to this new work?
Margaret Atwood: It's a very strong piece. It's a very strong piece and very well danced.
WFP: Is it what you imagined?
MA: I didn't imagine anything (laughs). I couldn't have. I had no idea what to expect.
WFP: Were you surprised?
MA: I am extremely, pleasantly surprised.
WFP: By what in particular?
MA: The last piece... was very unexpected, but a lot of the ballet was unexpected. It's quite varied. There are some pretty raucous moments and some extremely energetic moments, particularly with the male dancers. The pieces of music that (choreographer) Lila (York) chose to put with each scene, she also put a lot of thought into that.
WFP: How well do you think your literary story translates to movement?
MA: I don't think it's a translation. I think it's a new work inspired by, which is different from a translation.
WFP: Do you feel that Lila York was able to capture the essence of the story?
MA: Yes, no question -- by the body language of the story. Like when the body is restrained, when the body is controlled, when the body is helpless, when the body is free... Totalitarianism is very much about bodies: Who gets to control whose body, and how free you are to express yourself. And what kind of constraint it puts on the body to be un-free. People hold themselves differently.
WFP: Sounds like you're very happy with the ballet, then.
MA: I'm very pleased and I think Lila should be very pleased. And the company should be very pleased and Winnipeg should be very pleased.
- Holly Harris (Winnipeg Free Press)