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Message from the Artistic Director   Print

by Jean Grand-Maitre
Alberta Ballet
February 8, 2007

From the DANCING JONI & OTHER WORKS official program:

The creative process for The Fiddle and The Drum has renewed my faith in my relationship between art and life. Joni Mitchell's selfless and gentle participation will most likely be the highlight of my entire career.

When I approached Ms. Mitchell for this project I was keen on having her not only give us the rights to create dances to her mythical recordings, but to entice her into collaborating with us as well. This is not an easy enterprise as Ms. Mitchell adheres to very high standards of integrity and excellence. And as Ms. Mitchell is incensed with human folly, she made it clear to me from the onset that this ballet could not be escapist entertainment when the world is in such shambles.

When I invited Ms. Mitchell to collaborate with Alberta Ballet, I asked her to imagine "our beautiful Athletes of God moving their powerful bodies and their ethereal souls within a protective world of sound, colour and texture that you could crate around them." Her response was swift and within a month I was having dinner with her in Los Angeles.

Upon reflection, she probably wanted to meet me personally, before committing, to see what kind of fire I had burning in me as I would be creating the ballet. During this three hour conversation, Ms. Mitchell spoke of the humble potential for this ballet to have a transformative effect on our communities and of her deep concerns of ongoing social issues, such as warfare and environmental neglect - all of which she sees as stemming from shortsighted political visions.

Ms. Mitchell truly lives the life of a contemporary and engaged artist with its share of struggles and triumphs. She does not moralize nor pretend to have answers to the world's problems, but she does have a knack for asking penetrating questions that dwell deeply in our human consciousness. It has been said that great artists carve themselves a superbly sharp needle which they insert deeply in the human soul; the greater the artist the deeper the penetration.

When I started to study the variety of her music, I discovered two Joni Mitchell's: There is the one who sings and paints of human relationships and the struggles we all face, and the other, the engaged artist who speaks of global social issues. When you listen to both facets of her art, you realize that the painful realities that create volatile dysfunctions in intimate love are the same that feed the hatred and the aggression of entire nations.

When I began choreographing the ballet and her legendary recordings suddenly echoed in our studios, I felt intimidated and the pressure was enormous. I told our dancers that they needed to breathe the voice and feel the hypnotizing grooves of her songs. I imagined her recordings to be symphonies; her voice as the string section and the musical accompaniment as percussion, woodwinds and brass. I wanted to contrast the brilliance of the counterpoint found in her sophisticated rhythms with the soaring and highly original melodic lines of her deeply moving vocal interpretations.

Ms. Mitchell's music demands great intellectual investment and every time I listen to her recordings my attachment for them grows. The creation of this ballet has enabled me to discover her art and it now escorts me through the turbulent challenges that I face personally and professionally. Her poetic images have become spiritual guides to many. These guides cannot lead us out of darkness, but they do help us remember that there is earth under our feet and that we are all standing on solid ground.

As we were working out the details of projecting her latest artwork on a large screen above the dancers, I realized that the ballet could not be a literal translation of her lyrics. The overall effect would be highly redundant. It was clear to me that the choreography needed to be more meditative in nature, occasionally reacting to some metaphorical images expressed in her songs. I focused on crating dances that responded on a more subconscious level - vibrating to the inner-pulse and the hidden geometries of her tonalities - like an abstract kinetic Greek chorus.

Throughout this creation, Ms. Mitchell has been very generous. She permitted me to dwell inside her world for a little while as I needed to understand her questions and her poetry on a deep level. Still today, after such an enriching collaboration, I know I have only seen but a glimpse of her. Ms. Mitchell is a creative locomotive and the brilliance of her conversation often confused and exhausted me. I hope that much of what I have lost will remain in my psyche as seeds that will grow into realizations later.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to an artist who inspires us to remain vulnerable and to be true to ourselves, to face our suffering and our joys equally and to judge our actions and our motives without hypocrisy or pity. Most of all, Joni Mitchell inspires us to be mercilessly honest with life and with those around us. In the end integrity, even more than talent, may be an artist's greatest asset. Few have held on to this conviction as much as she has.

Ms. Mitchell, I would like to thank you deeply for letting me join your illustrious, grand and legendary artistic odyssey. Even if it was for a very short moment - it was worth a lifetime for me.

I am also extremely proud to be curating Alberta Ballet's premiere of Serenade, a masterpiece choreographed by the legendary George Balanchine. Serenade is one of the most spiritually fulfilling experiences one can enjoy watching ballet and I hope you will agree. Many thanks to Elyse Borne for another job well done!

 

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