Becoming Anne Shirley
Hannah Mae Cruddas was born to dance the title role in Anne of Green Gables—The Ballet. And not because of her fiery red hair.
That, says Bengt Jörgen, who is choreographing Anne of Green Gables—The Ballet, which has its world premiere on Sept. 28 in Halifax, is a bonus. “It’s her personality, her whole energy, her generosity of spirit, her stubbornness,” he explains. “She was born to do the role. Her red hair makes it even easier.”
Speaking by phone from Toronto, the artistic director of Canada’s Ballet Jörgen bubbles with enthusiasm for Lucy Maud Montgomery’s novel, which he calls “the greatest Canadian story in terms of awareness.”
And the member of the Order of Canada says ballet is the ideal medium for the work. “Anne jumps off the page,” he says. “She’s almost held back by words, her energy is an ideal thing to express in dance. It makes you feel uplifted.”
Cruddas read the book for the first time when she was eight years old. “I related to her red hair, but I have a wonderful family—I’m not an orphan,” she says. “I looked up to her as a role model. I grew up in Head of Chezzetcook and I would build fairy houses and sit in the bushes and read for hours. I named a tree the Castanet Tree for the sound the wind made. I admired her imagination. It’s really exciting to get to dance her.”
When she was nine, Cruddas begged her parents to take her to Charlottetown to see Anne of Green Gables—The Musical. “The song that stuck out for me was ‘Ice Cream,’ Diana’s song when she goes to the social.”
So she’s delighted to be able to hum along to strains of ‘Ice Cream’ in the score for Anne of Green Gables—The Ballet. The ballet score is arranged from the musical, composed by Norman Campbell, with orchestration by Alexander Lekovich.
As the musical has only 40 minutes of songs, Lekovich has created additional music for the two-hour ballet, resulting in a major orchestral score Jörgen calls a masterpiece. (In theatres where there’s no orchestra, they’ll use a recording by the 74-piece National Symphony Orchestra of the Ukraine.)
For the world premiere at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium, Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser will conduct Symphony Nova Scotia. The symphony’s artist-in-residence and community ambassador sees Anne of Green Gables as a classic with universal appeal.
“The character of Anne, based on what she’s gone through, should be bitter, depressed and angry, but instead she’s full of life and verve,” he says. “You root for her and want her to succeed. She has a spirit of life that resonates with everyone, children, adults, all genders and nationalities.”
Bartholomew-Poyser has a long association with Ballet Jörgen, having conducted the Toronto company’s Swan Lake, Anastasia, The Nutcracker, and Coppelia. “You need to collaborate with the dancers so it’s not too fast or too slow,” he says. “You have to line the orchestra up with what’s happening on stage. For example, when a dancer’s left hand touches a flower, I cue the piccolo.”
He’s conscious of the responsibility, bringing a Canadian legend to life. “It’s a musical, a book and now the story has life through dance,” he says. “There’s something very special about Lucy Maud Montgomery and being part of this is a tremendous honour.”
Sue LePage, who also worked on the company’s Nutcracker and Anastasia created the set and costumes for Anne of Green Gables—The Ballet. Twenty to 22 young dancers will perform (depending on the size of the stage in the presenting city). Children in each location will be invited to play frogs, bunnies, and children, among other roles.
When Cruddas was 14, she was one of those local participants, playing Young Anastasia in the world premiere of Anastasia at the Cohn. “Watching backstage, I knew this company was where I wanted to dance,” she says.
Immediately after graduating from Canada’s National Ballet School, she joined Canada’s Ballet Jörgen as an apprentice. Though she is just 26, this is her ninth season with the company. Anne of Green Gables—The Ballet marks her first time creating a lead role.
Cruddas has reread the Anne books and dog-eared the pages where Montgomery described Anne’s physicality, “where her chin was lifted skyward, where she crossed her hands. The phrases and words Anne uses regularly … I keep in my mind when dancing.”
People beyond the traditional dance audience are eagerly anticipating the ballet,” Jörgen says. “We are seeing through social media posts that we’re reaching way beyond.”
Ballet Jörgen has confirmed Anne of Green Gables—The Ballet for an initial run of two years in Canada and the U.S. Jörgen says the company has planned extensive education and outreach work around the ballet and he expects up to 40% of the audiences to be under 18. He predicts 100,000–200,000 people will see the ballet.
“And every one will have a different opinion,” Jörgen says. “It’s a story people care deeply about. We hope people will be charmed and enchanted by it, whether it goes the way they expected or not. We want to do justice to the work because Lucy Maud Montgomery deserves her work to be something extraordinary.”
A BOSOM BUD BY ANY OTHER NAME
Imagine if Anne Shirley’s bosom friend and kindred spirit was named Gertrude instead of Diana.
When Carolyn Strom Collins read Lucy Maud Montgomery’s original manuscript for Anne of Green Gables, she discovered Anne’s best friend was originally named Laura, then Gertrude, before Montgomery settled on Diana.
The author of The Anne of Green Gables Treasury and other companion books, Strom Collins is the editor of the newly released Anne of Green Gables: The Original Manuscript (Nimbus Publishing).
The book presents the original text of the Montgomery classic, first published in 1908, exactly as Montgomery wrote it in longhand in 1905.
“We have scans of the first page of every chapter—there are 38 chapters,” says the Anne scholar who lives in Minnesota and has a summer home near the Lake of Shining Waters in P.E.I. The manuscript “reveals insights through handwriting into how she crafted the book; where she put notes in, crossed things out, added notes and new ideas. It’s a totally different way of looking at Anne.”
Strom Collins visited the Confederation Centre for the Arts in Charlottetown to see and photograph the original manuscript and transcribed all 844 pages. “Seeing her handwriting skittering across the page, you could tell she wrote quickly. She had not much time as she was taking care of her aging, ailing grandmother and doing farm tasks. She was thinking about the story as she worked on various activities, she talked to herself about the story and wrote it out at the end of the day. If you read it aloud, it reads easily.”
This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.