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A dancing Dartmouth Anne of Green Gables: Ballet to premiere in Halifax


Hannah Mae Cruddas, from Dartmouth, stars as Anne in Anne of Green Gables -- The Ballet, premiering in Halifax Sept. 28. - Cylla von Tiedemann
Hannah Mae Cruddas, from Dartmouth, stars as Anne in Anne of Green Gables -- The Ballet, premiering in Halifax Sept. 28. - Cylla von Tiedemann

It’s hard to imagine watching Anne Shirley, the beloved fictional character in the novel Anne of Green Gables, on stage but not hearing her talk or sing.

Author Lucy Maud Montgomery’s endearing heroine overflows with so much bubbly optimism and great powers of imagination that she needs to share her observations and enthusiasms in a steady stream of words. But Hannah Mae Cruddas, principal dancer with Canada’s Ballet Jörgen, is confident when she steps onto the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium stage on Saturday for the premiere of Anne of Green Gables – The Ballet, with Symphony Nova Scotia, Anne will come alive for the audience, without words.

“Anne has been portrayed in so many different ways in the books, musical, movies, and television series. Now we get to add another special medium to tell this story,” said Cruddas. “I think we can say some things with ballerina Anne that might not be able to be said or seen on screen or in the musical.”

Cruddas was a young girl growing up in Dartmouth when she fell in love with Anne after reading the first book in the Anne of Green Gables series. Almost two decades later, Cruddas is fulfilling a dream to dance the role of her childhood hero in the first-ever, full-length ballet of Montgomery’s classic story.

“I’ve always wanted to be Anne,” she said in a recent phone interview from Toronto where she now lives. “Anne was the character I could relate to the most,” she said, adding that she spent many Halloweens dressed-up as the 11-year-old, red-headed orphan.

“I’ve always wanted to be joyful and imaginative (like Anne).”

Cruddas was meant to dance the role, said Bengt Jörgen, the ballet’s choreographer and artistic director of Canada’s Ballet Jörgen. And not because Cruddas has long, red wavy hair.

“Anne is a very vivacious character and very upbeat and positive and stubborn,” said Jörgen.

Cruddas is all those things. As eloquent and fluid as Anne is with her words, Cruddas is with her movements, he said.

“The movement just flows out of her. She just can’t sit still,” said Jörgen. “She just floats into the room.”

Preparing to be Anne

To prepare for the role, Cruddas read the Anne of Green Gables books again. She re-lived the adventures of Anne, who is mistakenly sent to Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, a middle-aged brother and sister who had intended to adopt a boy to help them on their farm in the fictional town of Avonlea on Prince Edward Island.

“I was able to dream up Anne again and fall in love with the life of Anne of Green Gables,” she said.

She read the books this time through the eyes of a professional dancer. She scoured the pages for when Montgomery mentioned Anne physically. She had to figure out how Anne moved so she could find her ballet voice for the character. She found the scene where Anne meets Matthew for the first time. Anne is described as clasping her hands in front of her and lifting her eyes to the sky in rapture.

“That really connected me to the physicality of Anne,” said Cruddas.

Since dancers can’t speak on stage, they rely on their bodies to communicate. One of the ways to express Anne’s love of talking and her constant flow of words is through quick, fluid movements. Much of the excited movement is jumping, which is one of Cruddas’s favourite things to do as a dancer.

“Anne is so light and bubbly and expressive,” said Cruddas.

Since May, Cruddas has been rehearsing five days a week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and sometimes for half a day on Saturday. Rehearsals started with a core group of about 10 dancers who worked on the ballet’s essential scenes. They continued rehearsing throughout the summer and were joined by members of the junior company, who had the opportunity to help create some of the choreography.

“It is a very collaborative process,” said Cruddas. “It really is a group effort making the whole beautiful story come to life.”

Capturing the story and the beauty of P.E.I.

Using music from Anne of Green Gables – The Musical, Canadian composer Alexander Lekovich created the orchestration for the two-hour ballet choreographed by Jörgen, with help from his team.

“It is a beautiful score,” said Jörgen.

In early September, less than a month before the ballet’s premiere, they completed the choreography for the ballet’s opening scene. Cruddas describes it as a big production, full of lots of dancers. While it is hard to capture the sweeping natural beauty of P.E.I. on stage, what they do show is the immediate world around Anne, said Cruddas. Part of Anne’s charm is her ability to connect with all the creatures around her, not just people. In the ballet, audiences will see dancers bring a beautiful cherry tree, a scarecrow and blooming flowers alive.

“We’re showing the elements of Anne’s imagination,” said Cruddas. “We’re bringing the things she dreams up onto the stage so the audience can witness everything Anne imagines, through movement.”

About 20 dancers from Ballet Jӧrgen will be joined on stage by local dancers from the city where they are performing. In Halifax, 10 young dancers from a variety of local dance schools will take part in the ballet in roles that have been created for local participants. These roles include flowers, a rabbit, a toad, a turtle, and a skunk

“It is so important for young dancers to be part of the company,” said Cruddas. “It is a world premiere. It is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Cruddas remembers herself as an enthusiastic 14-year-old dancer who performed in Ballet Jörgen’s local production of Anastasia. She knew then that when she grew up, she wanted to dance with the company. She was immediately drawn to its philosophy of travelling to smaller communities across the country and sharing the love of dance with as many people as possible.

“I was one of those dancers who looked up to them,” she said, adding that Tara Butler, a former principal dancer with Ballet Jörgen, was her dancing idol. Butler retired in 2011.

A young stage veteran

Now in her ninth season with Ballet Jörgen, Cruddas has been dancing since she was three years old. Her parents enrolled her in a class at a community centre in Fall River. She credits her teacher, Kim Turnbull for sparking her love of dance. She later did her dance training with the Maritime Conservatory of Performing Arts and the Leica Hardy School of Dance before moving to Toronto at age 16 to train with Canada’s National Ballet School.

“I needed to do some pas de deuxs and there weren’t many male dancers, so I moved to Toronto,” she said.

Two days after she turned 18, she joined Ballet Jörgen. Cruddas lives in Toronto now, but plans to return to Halifax in the future, not just to perform but to live.

“I do miss home. I feel very connected to the East Coast,” she said. “I just love the wild beauty of it.”

Anne of Green Gables – The Ballet will premiere in Halifax on Sept. 28 and Sept. 29 and then begin its cross-country tour. It will move next to Ontario and in April (2020) it will reach Summerside, P.E.I., close to the fictional town of Avonlea.

“We focus on telling Canadian stories,” said Jörgen. “There is no more Canadian story than Anne of Green Gables.”

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