Joni Mitchell created a massive storm in Calgary with her arrival last week. And Alberta Ballet artistic director Jean Grand-Maitre couldn't be more pleased.
Since the ballet company announced it was teaming with the Alberta-born 63-year-old singer-songwriter to produce The Fiddle and The Drum, Grand-Maitre's phone hasn't stopped ringing.
"This has gone way out of proportion," says Grand-Maitre, who wrote to Mitchell last year asking if she'd be interested in collaborating with Alberta Ballet.
"We knew there would be some attention, but now that Joni Mitchell is writing a new record and she was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, there is an incredible amount of attention coming to the ballet."
Dancing Joni & Other Works, which includes The Fiddle and the Drum - a 50-minute semi-abstract, narrative work in neo-classical style - makes its world premiere at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium Feb. 8.
Mitchell, who has been in Calgary helping put the finishing touches on the work for the past week, will be in attendance along with several big-wigs from the international ballet scene and arts critics.
"There is a lot of pressure & and a lot of adrenaline," says Grand-Maitre. "We have critics coming from Germany and New York and the National Art Centre producer is coming from Ottawa to see it.
"It's a major, major event now and if the ballet is successful we are going to get major touring with this."
The ballet features nine songs, including two new ones - If, based on the Rudyard Kipling poem, and If I Had a Heart, I'd Cry, by Mitchell, who recently began writing again after a 10-year hiatus.
It centres around social issues such as global warming and the war in Iraq.
"Joni says she would prefer to be writing upbeat ballads, but she can't bring herself to do it," says Grand-Maitre.
"She believes, and I agree with her, we are in a 'red alert' right now with everything that is going on. So she didn't want to create escapist entertainment, she really wanted to make a relevant ballet."
Grand-Maitre says Mitchell has spent about 100 hours creating a video installation, which will be projected on three large screens above the dancers during the ballet.
"She's a painter, so the idea was she would create an environment around the dancers which is composed of sound, colour and textures. It's like video art," he says, adding Mitchell has also worked with the dancers to make sure her words are powerfully vocalized through their movement.
"Joni is coaching the dancers. She is telling the dancers how to feel the music and she's getting up and dancing with them. She's actually very good - she's a natural. It's been great - the dancers are really enjoying it."
The three Calgary performances of Dancing Joni and Other Works, running tonight through Saturday, are being recorded for a TV special on the collaboration between Mitchell and Grand-Maitre. The performance special is being produced for CHUM/Bravo by Calgary-based Joe Media Group.
Dancing Joni & Other Works, which includes Balanchine's Serenade alongside the world premiere of The Fiddle and The Drum, runs at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.