Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet

The Handmaid's Tale

2022-10-27 20:00 2022-10-29 22:00 60 Canada/Eastern 🎟 NAC: Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet

In-person event

Featuring the NAC Orchestra A bold retelling of Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s award-winning novel The Handmaid’s Tale brought to life as a contemporary ballet by choreographer Lila York. A dystopian tale set in a futuristic society that erases human rights—particularly women’s rights— the work tells the story of Offred, the “scarlet handmaid” (concubine) of the Commander, master of a hierarchical and theocratic dictatorship....

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Southam Hall,1 Elgin Street,Ottawa,Canada
October 27 - 29, 2022

≈ 2 hours · With intermission

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Last updated: October 29, 2022

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.   


Message from the choreographer

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

Message from the Artistic Director

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


2 hours – With intermission

RWB’s The Handmaid’s Tale will be performed with live orchestral music from the National Arts Centre Orchestra.

Content Warning

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,, 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

ACT 1 – 50 minutes

Daughter/The Eyes/Handmaids

MUSIC: James MacMillan’s Berserking Piano Concerto, by arrangement with Boosey & Hawkes, Inc., publisher and copyright owner.

Aunt Lydia/Moira / Offred
Handmaids/The Eyes

MUSIC: Andrzej Panufnik Tragic Overture, by arrangement with Bote & Bock Berlin and Boosey & Hawkes, Inc.

Offred/Serena Joy
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.


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.


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.

Offred/Nick/The Commander

MUSIC: Alfred Schnittke, The Waltz from the Film Music, by arrangement with G. Schirmer, Inc., publisher and copyright owner.

ACT II – 45 minutes

Offred/The Commander/Moira
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.

Nick/ Resistance

MUSIC: John Corigliano Three Hallucinations (Third Movement), by arrangement with G. Schirmer, Inc., publisher and copyright owner.

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.

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.

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

Funder Acknowledgement

Canadian Heritage, Canada Council for the Arts, Sport, Culture and Heritage, Manitoba Arts Council, Winnipeg Arts Council.


  • 2012-margaret-atwood-photo-by-jean-malek
    Author Margaret Atwood
  • lila-york
    Choreographer Lila York
  • liz-vandal
    Costume Designer Liz Vandal
  • Featuring NAC Orchestra


  • Offred
    Elizabeth Lamont (27, 29)
    Alanna McAdie (28)
  • Serena Joy
    Katie Simpson (27, 29)
    Yayoi Ban (28)
  • Nick
    Stephan Azulay (27, 29)
    Yue Shi (28)
  • The Commander
    Liam Caines (27, 29)
    Peter Lancksweerdt (28)
  • Aunt Lydia & Lead Wife
    Yayoi Ban (27)
    Chenxin Liu (28)
    Jenna Burns (29)
  • Moira
    Amanda Solheim
  • Luke
    Logan Savard (27, 29)
    Joshua Hidson (28)
  • Guardians & The Eyes
    Liam Saito
    Yue Shi (27, 29)
    Logan Savard (28)
    Parker Long (27, 29)
    Tymin Keown (28)
    Peter Lancksweerdt (27, 29)
    Liam Caines (28)
    Zachary Rogers
    Michel Lavoie
    Tymin Keown (27, 29)
    Parker Long (28)
    Joshua Hidson (27, 29)
    Stephan Azulay (28)
    Cleighden Butler
  • Resistance Men
    Nick with

    Liam Saito
    Michel Lavoie (27, 29)
    Zachary Rogers (28)
    Parker Long (27, 29)
    Stephan Azulay (28)
  • Pregnant Handmaid
    Alanna McAdie (27, 29)
    Katie Simpson (28)
  • Handmaids & Wives
    Amanda Solheim (29)
    Kyra Soo
    Brooke Thomas
    Jenna Burns (27, 28)
    Chenxin Liu (29)
    Maggie Weatherdon
    Julianna Generoux
    Emilie Lewis
  • Jezebels
    Commander and Offred with

    Maggie Weatherdon
    Chenxin Liu (27)
    Kyra Soo (28, 29)
    Amanda Solheim (29)
    Julianna Generoux 
    Emilie Lewis
    Jenna Burns (27)
    Brooke Thomas (28, 29)
    Joshua Hidson (27, 29)
    Cleighden Butler (28)
    Logan Savard (27, 29)
    Parker Long (28)
    Peter Lancksweerdt (27, 29)
    Liam Caines (28)
    Tymin Keown
  • Moira with
    Zachary Rogers (27, 29)
    Michel Lavoie (28)
    Logan Savard (27, 29)
    Parker Long (28)

Credits - The Handmaid’s Tale Creative Team

  • Author
    Margaret Atwood, C.C., O.Ont.
  • Choreography
    Lila York
  • Music
    James MacMillan, Arvo Pärt, Alfred Schnittke, and others
  • Costume design
    Liz Vandal
  • Lighting design
    Clifton Taylor & Anshuman Bhatia
  • Projection Design
    Sean Nieuwenhuis
  • Scenic Design
    Clifton Taylor
  • Associate Scenic Design
    Anshuman Bhatia

Credits - Royal Winnipeg Ballet Artistic Team

  • Artistic Director and CEO
    André Lewis, O.M.
  • Associate Artistic Director
    Tara Birtwhistle
  • Ballet Master
    Caroline Gruber and Jaime Vargas
  • Stage Manager
    Candace Jacobson
  • Assistant Stage Manager
    Paige Lewis 
  • Director of Production
    Justin Dowbiggin
  • Production Manager
    Jeff Ward
  • Wardrobe Supervisor
    Diana Miller
  • Wardrobe Assistant
    Barry Malenko
  • Company Manager
    Ryan Bjornson
  • Lighting Director
    Scott Henderson
  • Physiotherapist
    Lexie Flynn

NAC Orchestra

  • Conductor
    Julian Pellicano
  • First Violins
    **Yosuke Kawasaki (concertmaster)
    Jessica Linnebach (associate concertmaster)
    Noémi Racine Gaudreault (assistant concertmaster)
    Marjolaine Lambert
    Jeremy Mastrangelo
    Manuela Milani
    Emily Westell
    Emily Kruspe
    *Martine Dubé
    *Erica Miller
    *Heather Schnarr
  • Second violins
    **Mintje van Lier (principal)
    *Georgy Valtchev (guest principal)
    **Winston Webber (assistant principal)
    Frédéric Moisan
    Leah Roseman
    Mark Friedman
    Carissa Klopoushak
    Karoly Sziladi
    **Edvard Skerjanc
    *Andréa Armijo Fortin
    *Renée London
    *Oleg Chelpanov
    *Sara Mastrangelo
  • Violas
    Jethro Marks (principal)
    David Goldblatt (assistant principal)
    David Marks (associate principal)
    Paul Casey
    David Thies-Thompson
    *Sonya Probst
  • Cellos
    Rachel Mercer (principal)
    Julia MacLaine (assistant principal)
    Marc-André Riberdy
    Leah Wyber
    Timothy McCoy
    *Daniel Parker
  • Double basses
    Max Cardilli
    Vincent Gendron
    Marjolaine Fournier
    **Hilda Cowie
    *Paul Mach
  • Flutes
    Joanna G'froerer (principal)
    Stephanie Morin
    *Kaili Maimets
  • Oboes
    Charles Hamann (principal)
    Anna Petersen
  • English Horn
    Anna Petersen
  • Clarinets
    Kimball Sykes (principal / solo)
    Sean Rice
    *Shauna Barker
  • Bassoons
    Darren Hicks (principal)
    Vincent Parizeau
  • Horns
    Lawrence Vine (principal)
    Julie Fauteux (associate principal)
    Elizabeth Simpson
    Lauren Anker
    Louis-Pierre Bergeron
  • Trumpets
    Karen Donnelly (principal)
    Steven van Gulik
    *Taz Eddy
  • Trombones
    **Donald Renshaw (principal)
    *Steve Dyer (guest principal)
    Colin Traquair
  • Bass Trombone
    *Peter CollinsTubas
    Chris Lee (principal)
  • Timpani
    *Aaron McDonald (guest principal)
  • Percussion
    Jonathan Wade
    *Andrew Harris
    *Robert Slapcoff
  • Harp
    *Angela Schwarzkopf
  • Piano
    Donna Laube
  • Principal Librarian
    Nancy Elbeck
  • Assistant Librarian
    Corey Rempel
  • Personnel Manager
    Meiko Lydall
  • Assistant Personnel Manager
    Laurie Shannon

*Additional musicians
**On Leave

NAC Dance Team

  • Executive Producer 
    Cathy Levy 
  • Associate Producer
    Tina Legari  
  • Special Projects Coordinator and Assistant to the Executive Producer 
    Mireille Nicholas
  • Company Manager 
    Sophie Anka
  • Education Associate and Teaching Artist 
    Siôned Watkins
  • Technical Director 
    Brian Britton
  • Communications Strategist  
    Julie Gunville
  • Marketing Strategist
    Marie-Chantale Labbé-Jacques

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