CALGARY - In the case of Alberta Ballet's Dancing Joni, which opened at the Jubilee Auditorium last night, a great artist has inspired greatness in her fellow artists.
Alberta songstress and music legend Joni Mitchell has been singing songs of protest and warning for more than four decades.
Alberta Ballet's artistic director Jean Grand-Maitre has taken 10 of Mitchell's more obscure songs and has used them as a template for an evening that dazzles with its audacity and inventiveness.
It's a simple stage with three panels on either side and an enormous disc suspended at the back. On these panels and disc, Grand-Maitre has projected slides of Mitchell's paintings. They are images of war, destruction and violence in eerie colours.
The ballets themselves are athletic and earthy. There's a sensuality to the moves that reflect the anger and passion of the songs themselves.
There are also some powerful contrasting images in a number like The Three Great Stimulants. The dancers in the foreground are like hip-hop artists or street dancers, but in the background, the dancers are goose-stepping to remind us of how fragile our lives really are. The number was greeted with well-deserved cheers and applause.
In another particularly poignant ballad For the Roses, the disc holds a giant image of the Earth, which keeps shrinking to remind us that the planet itself is truly getting smaller.
Another recurring symbol throughout the ballet is a child who wanders through the action. This is innocence. But she disappears much too quickly.
The songs are remastered versions of Mitchell's recordings. Her velvety voice which bursts with passion is as exciting as the dances she has inspired in Grand-Maitre.
To his immense credit, Grand-Maitre does not repeat dances. Each song inspires its own movements.
The dancers are electric in their ability to hold the audience.
This is Alberta Ballet's 40th season in the province, and it is Grand-Maitre's intention to stage not one premiere but two.
The evening opened with George Balanchine Serenade.
It seems ironic to call a 70-year-old ballet a premiere, but this is the first time Alberta Ballet has attempted it.
It is an ideal choice to complement Dancing Joni.
It is a ballet resplendent in gesture and attitude rather than passion. And it is executed by the dancers with precision, grace and elegance.
Serenade is as classical and traditional as Dancing Joni is contemporary and daring.