CBJ Principal Dancer Hannah Mae Cruddas is dancing a dream role as Anne Shirley in the company’s world premiere of Anne of Green Gables – The Ballet™. Hannah Mae received her formative dance training from the Maritime Conservatory of Performing Arts and the Leica Hardy School of Dance in her home province of Nova Scotia before joining Canada’s National Ballet School in 2009. Get to know Hannah Mae in this interview about her history with Canada’s Ballet Jörgen, lifetime love for Anne of Green Gables, and process of becoming the iconic character of Anne Shirley.
“I’ve always felt a connection to Anne.”
You performed with Canada’s Ballet Jörgen at an early age. Share a little bit about your background with the company.
I was young the first time I saw Canada’s Ballet Jörgen. I remember watching Bengt and Tara Butler dance the Romeo and Juliet pas de deux and a piece from Coppélia. I was automatically taken with Tara. She was just the most beautiful dancer I’d ever seen. I wound up taking class from Tara and seeing Bengt regularly because from then on, I attended every Ballet Jörgen performance that came to my hometown of Halifax. Finally, when I was 14, I got to dance in Ballet Jörgen’s production of Anastasia through the Local Participant Program. That’s when I knew Ballet Jörgen was the right company for me. I’ve always loved their ability to tell stories that are so clear and rich. All my training from then on was for the goal of dancing with the company. I started as a member of the Junior Company program in 2011 and received an apprenticeship for the 2011-2012 season before becoming a full company member in 2013.
What is it like to have the ballet and Anne’s character created on you?
It’s very exciting. I’ve always felt a connection to Anne. I was 8 years old when I read the first book. There’s so much I immediately loved about her: her appreciation of beauty, her imagination and tenacity, and her ability to connect with the people around her. I begged my parents to take me see Anne of Green Gables – The Musical™ in Prince Edward Island when I was 9. I bought a porcelain doll from the gift shop at the theatre, which I still have to this day! I also made a few of the company dancers watch the Anne of Green Gables movie with me. This was 6 years ago, before we had any idea that the company would be doing the ballet! I feel so lucky that I now have the chance to put all of my love for Anne into dance.
What is your process for becoming Anne?
I am really lucky because the book is so clear and vivid. I’ve been rereading the series and am on the fifth book now. As I reread the first book, I dogeared the pages with descriptions of Anne’s physicality or movements. Anne’s voice is the other element. She’s such a beautiful wordsmith. Of course, with dance we have to make everything about the body. Every single day we use body language without even really realizing it. It’s our responsibility as storytellers to make those regular movements clear for the audience and to add beautiful movement, which is technically a language as well. Bengt and I have worked together to find the perfect dance movements to fit Anne’s words. Bengt really understands Anne’s voice. He’s able to make a tiny little movement express what Anne is trying to say. It has really been one of my favourite parts of the process. Our Stage Director, Heinar Piller, is also coaching us on the intent behind every single movement, which is very important to understand.
How physically demanding is the role?
It’s tough, for sure because Anne is very buoyant and light and happy. She also has all of these swings to her emotions. She goes from what she calls “the depths of despair” to being as ecstatic as she could possibly be. A lot of the excited movement is jumping, which is my favourite thing to do. I love jumping, but it gets tiring after a certain point. I’ll need to use those moments of despair to breathe and change the intensity of my movement.
“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.”
What do you predict audiences will think of Anne the ballerina?
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. 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. We’re showing the elements of Anne’s imagination. We’re bringing the things she dreams up onto the stage so the audience can witness everything Anne imagines, through movement. I think audiences will fall deeper into the world of Anne, Green Gables, and Avonlea because they’ll be able to see all these elements amplified on the stage.
Have you developed a closer connection with Anne and the story after working on the ballet?
Absolutely. The research I’ve been doing has really brought me closer to her. I really admire her positivity. They say in the book that Anne has “a knack for getting into scrapes.” Despite that, she is able to stay positive. This is helping me in my regular life to maintain a positive outlook and try to be more open. I’m by no means a person who would just get totally lost in the character, but I want to be able to delve deep into who she is and embody that. Because I’m reading the books again, I’m also able to relate to the older Anne. There are little correlations that help me connect with her. She left to go to college to become a teacher, just like I went away to ballet school. If I met Anne, I hope she would find me to be a kindred spirit!
“Bengt and I have worked together to find the perfect dance movements to fit Anne’s words.”
Anne of Green Gables – The Ballet™ premieres September 28, 2019 in Halifax, Nova Scotia with Symphony Nova Scotia. For more information visit our Anne page and look for updates in our monthly Anne Newsletter.
Written by Victoria Campbell Windle, CBJ Communications Contributor.
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