≈ 2 hours · With intermission
It’s an incredible feat bringing the remarkable story of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale to life through dance, but choreographer Lila York and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet have created a rich and evocative production. Since first premiering this piece in 2013, the impact of the story has taken on even greater relevance as the world wrestles with intense social issues. Audiences have flocked to the television series based on the novel and the continued significance of its themes is debated and discussed. Yet as we delve into the RWB’s production, we experience both the darkness and the light, a complex yet hopeful world that makes for an engaging and powerful dance experience.
Creating a ballet based on Margaret Atwood’s prescient novel, The Handmaid’s Tale has been a longstanding and passionate wish for me.
In the years since the novel’s debut in 1985, it has only grown in relevance and importance. Once seen as ‘controversial’, the story, its premise and its characters are now fully part of our culture and our lexicon.
The story is set in the (former) United States in the aftermath of an unnamed climate crisis when a radical religious cult stages a coup and takes power, renaming the country Gilead. In Gilead women are divided into functional classes, given no choices, and are stripped of all human rights. Sterility is the norm, and women still capable of bearing children - who have also committed some infraction of the new laws - are subjugated as surrogate mothers known as ‘handmaids’ to the ruling elite. They are given three chances to produce a healthy baby, and failure relegates them to nuclear waste clean-up in the “colonies”, the US Midwest. Abortion is illegal, and any doctor found performing this procedure is hanged in public.
This is the story of one handmaid, Offred – literally “of Fred” – the Commander she is assigned to, his wife, Serena Joy, a former television gospel singer, Offred’s best friend, the indomitable and fearless Moira, and the house chauffeur, Nick, who may or may not be a member of the resistance movement.
Adapting a contemporary novel for ballet presented unique challenges. The Handmaid’s Tale is an action story full of twists and turns that made it approachable as a ballet. But unlike Moira, Offred herself is a cerebral character. Enslaved and powerless she presents as obedient while searching out a means of escape. My challenge was to reveal her depth and her yearnings through her movement.
The story is, shall we say, dark but has a hopeful if ambiguous ending, emerging from a hellish totalitarian world into a world of restored light. I found my own ‘route to the light’ in the ballet, so that no one should leave the theatre in despair.
It has been a privilege for me to work with the RWB and their brilliant and dedicated dancers on this project. I am deeply indebted to Ms. Atwood for her support and her wisdom.
– Lila York
Choreographer, The Handmaid’s Tale, based on the novel by Margaret Atwood
We are thrilled to bring one of Canada's most celebrated literary achievements to our Ottawa friends on the NAC’s Southam Hall stage. As you may be aware, the world premiere of The Handmaid’s Tale, based on the novel by Margaret Atwood, was presented in Winnipeg, on October 16, 2013 – and since then has only ever been performed outside of Winnipeg four times, in Brandon and Ottawa, plus Calgary and Edmonton last month. Now we are eager to share this riveting story once again with dance and ballet fans in our home away from home!
Choreographer Lila York's dance-drama portrays a dystopian future where we shadow the restricted, yet resilient, Offred as she navigates a world where women's rights have been stripped away in this powerful interpretation of Atwood's gripping novel.
Through a dialogue with the Governor General Award-winning author, York spent nearly a decade re-imagining the daunting world of Gilead. She then assembled a team of top international talent in lighting and costuming. Innovative set designer Clifton Taylor, who has worked with the world's leading dance and opera companies, was assisted by Anshuman Bhatia to take the world so vividly imagined by Atwood to the stage. Costume designer Liz Vandal lauded for her cutting-edge fashion design and costuming for Cirque du Soleil and Marie Chouinard, created original costuming to fit the narrative's dark romanticism.
Set to a pastiche score of renowned composers, including James MacMillan, Arvo Pärt, and Alfred Schnittke among others, this thought-provoking ballet will provide a rich array of characters to showcase the energy, athleticism, and theatricality of the RWB Company artists. This is a performance that is sure to spark conversation and leave a lasting impression.
Please sit back and be transported to the dystopian world of Gilead.
Thank you for joining us.
André Lewis, O.M.
Artistic Director & CEO
Last updated: October 29, 2022
2 hours – With intermission
RWB’s The Handmaid’s Tale will be performed with live orchestral music from the National Arts Centre Orchestra.
The Handmaid’s Tale contains mature content and may not be suitable for all audiences. This production isn’t recommended for children under 12.
“As Offred, Elizabeth Lamont delivers an emotive performance and maintains a quiet yet powerful stage presence. Lamont takes the audience on a moving journey as Offred evolves from a captive to a force to be reckoned with. Antagonists The Commander (Liam Caines) and his wife, Serena Joy (Jaimi Deleau) are fearsome as two of the Handmaids' myriad of oppressors. In one of the show's most memorable moments, Offred's lover, Nick (Stephen Azulay) joins Offred in a lyrical duet entitled Respite. Lamont and Azulay cut striking figures against the production's austere backdrop, creating an ethereal moment of unexpected peace.” Sarah Dussome, BroadwayWorld.com, Edmonton, Sep. 24, 2022
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 which institutes a rigid social hierarchy. Owing to radiation poisoning and subsequent low fertility, women of childbearing 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 to live 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.
The Handmaid’s Tale 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.
Whether it be from a stage, page, or television screen, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is resonating worldwide as we observe a climate where disdain for democratic institutions is on the rise.
Atwood’s dystopian bestselling classic was published in 1985 and has returned to the bestseller list in wake of the 2016 American Presidential election. Translated into over 40 languages, Atwood’s Governor General Award-winning novel has been adapted to film, opera, a novel-to-radio series, an award-winning audiobook, graphic novel, television series, and ballet by acclaimed New York-based choreographer Lila York.
The Handmaid’s Tale television series received 13 Emmy nominations and five wins in its first season alone and just launched its fifth season, emphasizing the significance of Atwood’s novel in the present day as civil liberties are viewed as threatened.
In this ballet, York, along with a talented creative team, preserves the novel’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 transports audiences to a society where human rights have been stripped away
MUSIC: James MacMillan’s Berserking Piano Concerto, by arrangement with Boosey & Hawkes, Inc., publisher and copyright owner.
THE RED CENTRE
Aunt Lydia/Moira / Offred
MUSIC: Andrzej Panufnik Tragic Overture, by arrangement with Bote & Bock Berlin and Boosey & Hawkes, Inc.
THE COMMANDER’S HOUSE
The Commander/ Nick
MUSIC: Rock of Ages, courtesy of Essential Media Group.
MUSIC: Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade after Plato’s Symposium (3rd Movement) Eriximachus (Presto), by arrangement with Boosey & Hawkes, Inc., Sole Agent for Leonard Bernstein Music Publishing Company LLC, publisher and copyright owner.
THE TIME BEFORE
MUSIC: Arvo Pärt Fur Alina for piano, used by arrangement with European American Music Distributors Company, Canadian and U.S. agent for Universal Edition Vienna, publisher, and copyright owner.
Offred/Serena Joy/The Commander
MUSIC: Melissa Hui Dawn from Dusk to Dawn, by arrangement with Canadian Music Centre.
Handmaid/Lead Wife/ Handmaids
MUSIC: Alfred Schnittke Sonata for Violin & Orchestra, by arrangement with G. Schirmer, Inc., publisher and copyright owner.
THE TIME BEFORE (REPRISE)
MUSIC: Arvo Pärt, Fur Alina for piano, used by arrangement with European American Music Distributors Company, Canadian and U.S. agent for Universal Edition Vienna, publisher and copyright owner.
MUSIC: Alfred Schnittke, The Ball from Gogol Suite, by arrangement with G. Schirmer, Inc., publisher and copyright owner.
THE COMMANDER’S STUDY
MUSIC: Alfred Schnittke, The Waltz from the Film Music, by arrangement with G. Schirmer, Inc., publisher and copyright owner.
Artists of the Company
MUSIC: White Stripes, Astro and I’m bound to pack it up arranged by Joby Talbot, by arrangement with G. Schirmer, Inc., publisher and copyright owner.
MUSIC: John Corigliano Three Hallucinations (Third Movement), by arrangement with G. Schirmer, Inc., publisher and copyright owner.
SERENA JOY’S LAMENT
Serena Joy/ Offred
MUSIC: James MacMillan’s After The Tryst, by arrangement with Boosey & Hawkes, Inc., publisher an copyright owner.
MUSIC: James MacMillan’s Berserking Piano Concerto (Second Movement), by arrangement with Boosey & Hawkes, Inc., publisher and copyright owner.
SALVAGING/ MAY DAY
Offred/Serena Joy/ The Commander
Nick/Aunt Lydia/ Handmaids
Resistance Fighters/ The Eyes
MUSIC: James MacMillan’s Berserking Piano Concerto (Third Movement), by arrangement used with Boosey & Hawkes, Inc., publisher and copyright owner.
THE TIME AFTER*
Offred/ Artists of the Company
*Special choreography by Amanda Green
MUSIC: Arvo Pärt, Spiegel im Spiegel for violin and piano, used by arrangement with European American Music Distributors Company, Canadian and U.S. agent for Universal Edition Vienna, publisher and copyright owner.
Violin solos Jessica Linnebach
Piano solos Donna Laube
Canadian Heritage, Canada Council for the Arts, Sport, Culture and Heritage, Manitoba Arts Council, Winnipeg Arts Council.
Since its debut in 1969, the National Arts Centre (NAC) Orchestra has been praised for the passion and clarity of its performances, its visionary educational programs, and its prominent role in nurturing Canadian creativity. Under the leadership of Music Director Alexander Shelley, the NAC Orchestra reflects the fabric and values of Canada, reaching and representing the diverse communities we live in with daring programming, powerful storytelling, inspiring artistry, and innovative partnerships.
Alexander Shelley began his tenure as Music Director in 2015, following Pinchas Zukerman’s 16 seasons at the helm. Principal Associate Conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and former Chief Conductor of the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra (2009–2017), he has been in demand around the world, conducting the Rotterdam Philharmonic, DSO Berlin, Leipzig Gewandhaus, and Stockholm Philharmonic, among others, and maintains a regular relationship with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie and the German National Youth Orchestra.
Each season, the NAC Orchestra features world-class artists such as the newly appointed Artist-in-Residence James Ehnes, Angela Hewitt, Joshua Bell, Xian Zhang, Gabriela Montero, Stewart Goodyear, Jan Lisiecki, and Principal Guest Conductor John Storgårds. As one of the most accessible, inclusive, and collaborative orchestras in the world, the NAC Orchestra uses music as a universal language to communicate the deepest of human emotions and connect people through shared experiences.