Adapting Atwood's classic novel was a longtime dream of Royal Winnipeg Ballet artistic director André Lewis and American choreographer Lila York: the pair first began discussing the project about a decade ago.
"It's a world premiere. That means [it's] never been done, so there's incredible tension, incredible uplift at the same time backstage because we're putting it all together," Lewis said Tuesday.
"Curtain time is a tough deadline and you got to be ready by then, so everything is happening and it's exciting. That's what you live for as an artistic director, is to see the moment where it comes on stage."
On Wednesday night, the work — featuring the music of James MacMillan — will open the RWB's 2013-14 season. Atwood is slated to attend the opening.
- Manitoba Scene: Telling The Handmaid's Tale at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet
- Manitoba Scene: The Handmaid's Tale final dance for RWB soloist
Published in 1985 and winner of the Governor General's Literary Award, as well as other literary honours, The Handmaid's Tale has previously been adapted for film and as an opera.
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Atwood's dystopian tale chronicles a future in which a powerful totalitarian regime has taken over and brutally reigns according to militaristic, selectively religious and ultra-conservative beliefs.
The story follows Offred, a member of a concubine-like class of women who live solely as reproductive vessels for the society's leaders.
The RWB production stars principal dancer Amanda Green as Offred and soloist Alexander Gamayunov as the Commander, the man with whom she is paired.
"The language of ballet is a physical language. I mean, it can capture emotion and translate them or transport them to the audience in ways that no other art form can do…. It says it differently, and it can say it extremely powerfully," Lewis said.
"When you see it done physically with dancers, the incredible athleticism and artistry of dancers, it's very poignant. So certainly what I have seen of the run … we did this last week in our studio, it's very strong."
The Handmaid's Tale has its world premiere tonight in Winnipeg and will continue with evening performances through Saturday and a matinee for students on Sunday.