Bringing Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy to the Stage
September 27, 2022
Margaret Atwood and Wayne McGregor for MADDADDAM. Photo by Christopher Wahl.
Anyone who has read Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy will understand the challenge and also the thrill of translating her vast, post-apocalyptic universe to dance. Choreographer Wayne McGregor is uniquely suited to the task, with two hugely successful literary-inspired ballets to his credit –Woolf Works (2015) and The Dante Project (2021) – and an experimental curiosity about the interplay of science, technology and humanity that aligns with Atwood’s speculative fiction. MADDADDAM will have its world premiere with The National Ballet of Canada on November 23, 2022.
Broadly, Atwood’s trio of novels – Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam – envisions a civilization emerging from the ruins of a bioengineered pandemic with a small band of survivors and a selection of humanoids. It is the particular genius of Atwood that we recognize ourselves in this scenario: she holds up a mirror to our own world, creating circumstances that magnify emotions and instincts we share.
British director and writer Uzma Hameed is working alongside McGregor on the rendition of the novels, with Atwood serving as Creative Consultant. Trained in classical Indian music and dance, Hameed holds a degree in Modern and Medieval Languages and, among other achievements, founded the multidisciplinary theatre group Big Picture Company. She has been the dramaturg for several of McGregor’s works, including Woolf Works and The Dante Project, both for The Royal Ballet.
“Working together as a creative team, our challenge is to approach literature through the expressive possibilities of choreography and staging, which are quite different from those of writing,” says Hameed. “It’s about tapping into the world of the book and the feeling of reading it – and rendering them in an alternative language.”
McGregor’s ballet is not a straight “like for like” retelling of the story, although key characters and events are retained. Instead, as Hameed suggests, MADDADDAM brings new pathways or perspectives to Atwood’s novels through the physical vocabulary of dance, exploring themes of environmentalism, corporate greed, survival and the endurance of love and friendship.
“What is perhaps most characteristic about Atwood’s work is the almost eerie prescience of her vision,” says Hameed. “Though the three novels that make up the MaddAddam trilogy were published between 2003 and 2013, its story about the unleashing of a global pandemic, and the questions it raises about our custodianship of the planet and the kind of societies we want to create, could not be more contemporary. So, there’s a sense of our experience of ‘now’ being amplified or mirrored back to us as we read.”
Hameed is part of a team of trailblazing creators working on MADDADDAM, including the composer Max Richter, fashion designer Gareth Pugh, the design firm We Not I, lighting designer Lucy Carter and filmmaker Ravi Deepres. With McGregor at the helm, MADDADDAM promises vision and intelligence in every facet of its execution, capturing the inventive spirit of Atwood’s novels along with their substance.
MADDADDAM is onstage November 23 — 30. Learn more