Anne of Green Gables is touring from April 16 to October 22. It played in Toronto from July 21-24.
Onstage, there is a commotion. The people of rural Avonlea, P.E.I. — in their plaid dresses, trousers and suspenders — are wondering where Matthew Cuthbert could be going in his buggy. Cutouts of rolling fields and farmland are arranged at the back of the stage and nestled in the wings; a church, a small house and white picket fence add to the scenery. All at once the activity settles and the townspeople empty the stage, revealing behind them the pigtailed, red-haired orphan waiting for Matthew at the train station. She sits on her suitcase, grinning and restless.
Anne has arrived, and after a pandemic delay so too has the Toronto premiere of Anne of Green Gables — The Ballet, Ballet Jörgen’s faithful and warm-spirited adaptation of the popular children’s novel.
From the start, Hannah Mae Cruddas’s Anne is kinetic and eager. Even before reaching Green Gables (where she will live with elderly siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert), she bounces and lunges, her knees bending and feet flexing with delight, disrupting clean lines to convey a rambunctious disposition. Her initial excitability makes for a nice contrast with Act II, where Cruddas dons pointe shoes and uses a slightly more refined style, a tentative maturation as Anne settles and grows in Avonlea. Throughout the ballet, Cruddas is adept in her characterization of the plucky heroine, navigating coherently Anne’s fanciful and hotheaded moments. When neighbouring Mrs. Lynde mocks Anne’s red hair, Cruddas takes slow, deliberate steps toward her, articulating every part of her legs and feet like a spring coiling, poised to snap. Of course, Anne lets her have it.
In choreographer and artistic director Bengt Jörgen’s production, artists of the ballet form a corps of nature sprites, who act as a campy complement to Anne’s dramatic and gently mischievous tendencies. When Anne’s friend Diana Barry (a winning Akari Fujiwara) gets accidentally drunk, the dancers puppet her limp frame around stage before she slumps into a split. Earlier, when Anne is punished with chores for misbehaving at school, the wind sprites flounce around, throwing her laundry in disarray. These light moments are well suited to Norman Campbell’s music (created for the stage musical), in a ballet score arranged by Alexander Levkovich, which alternates between playful and dreamily romantic.
The choreography isn’t always so theatrical. During Anne’s first night at Green Gables, the dancers — as daffodils, in yellow tutus and green bodysuits — perform an elegant classical section, acting as an extension and reflection of Anne’s enchantment with her surroundings. In contrast to Anne’s more boisterous movement, the idealism of classical ballet technique suggests the promise and beauty of a new, permanent home for her beyond the orphanage. (Moments later a wobbly tree saunters onstage, followed by a crawling turtle, for some well-timed comic relief.) The next morning, inspired, Anne tries to replicate their graceful steps while Marilla dresses her.
After the exuberance and scene-setting of Act I, the ballet drags a little in the second half, where there is more narrative ground to traverse. Act II feels overly episodic and sometimes the production misjudges which scenes to prioritize, as when it lingers over Matthew’s funeral and Marilla’s solitary grief. More effective are the sections prior and following, which foreshadow loss and better demonstrate its fallout. In the former, Anne (who has just won the Avery Scholarship) dances joyfully with Matthew (Hiroto Saito), leaping in a style reminiscent of when they met and he was first captivated by her energy — though now, visibly ill, he can barely keep up. It’s one of many affectionate moments between Cruddas and Saito.
Anne’s irrepressible character — expressed through Cruddas’s excellent interpretation and Jörgen’s staging — animates most everything in the show. Authority figures soften to her, classmates are drawn to her (including Daniel Da Silva’s Gilbert Blythe), and the natural world comes alive through her eyes. Anne of Green Gables is loved for its charm and spirit, and Ballet Jörgen can count itself a proud contributor to that legacy with this imaginative and enjoyable production.
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