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Jean Grand-Maître, Artistic Director and choreographer, Alberta Ballet Print-ready version

by Cathy Levy
National Arts Centre
January 18, 2019

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Cathy Levy chats with Jean Grand-Maître, Artistic Director of Alberta Ballet, choreographer and recent recipient of the Order of Canada, about the full-evening portrait ballet Joni Mitchell's The Fiddle and the Drum that will close the National Arts Centre 2018-2019 Dance season. Co-created with the iconic singer-songwriter - who celebrated her 75th birthday in 2018 - the work, which addresses war and environmental neglect, was initially produced in celebration of Alberta Ballet's 40th Anniversary. Jean describes his first encounter with Joni, their relationship, past and present, her approach to creation, her extensive contribution to the ballet, her passion for humanitarian causes, and the degree to which she has inspired him. This original venture unexpectedly opened the door to similar collaborations with or about other supreme popular music artists such as Sir Elton John, Gordon Lightfoot, The Tragically Hip, k.d. lang and Sarah McLachlan. The conversation concludes with a few anecdotes about the entertainment industry's homage to Joni's life and career held at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles in November 2018, and the legacy of Joni Mitchell's The Fiddle of the Drum.

Transcribed by Marylin Malloy

This is a National Arts Centre Podcast


Welcome to NAC Dance with Cathy Levy

In this podcast, Cathy chats with Jean Grand-Maître, Artistic Director of Alberta Ballet and choreographer about the ballet, Joni Mitchell’s the Fiddle and the Drum that closes the NAC 2018/2019 dance season. This signature work was co-created with the iconic singer-songwriter.


[Cathy] So, Jean Grand-Maitre, welcome back to our hexagon studio for another dance podcast

[Jean] It’s good to be here.

[Cathy] It’s so great to have you. You were last interviewed in French a number of years ago, since then of course, you have created so many works for Alberta Ballet, including this fantastic evening with the beloved Joni Mitchell Fiddle and the Drum.

[Jean] Yes.

[Cathy] I am very excited we are welcoming you back in May 2019, you are going to close out the NAC dance season of 18/19 with Joni Mitchell’s the Fiddle and the Drum. You talk about this as a contemporary ballet with an anti-war environmental message that was created 10 years ago. I read in the Joni Mitchell biography (Reckless Daughter) that this all started with you writing her a letter. What prompted you to do that? How did this all begin?

[Jean] Well it’s amazing, because I was very sceptic that Joni would be interested in creating a ballet and what we did, was we sent a letter to her agent. At the time it was in Vancouver, Sam Feldman Agency, and we were trying to celebrate her 40th anniversary that year. We wanted to do something very special. I first started thinking about Beethoven’s Symphony, something with the full orchestra and chorus and then a friend had recommended to me Mitchell.

[Cathy] Well, that is completely opposite to Beethoven in someways.

[Jean] Couldn’t be more opposite.

[Cathy] Really, the other end of the spectrum.

[Jean] She was actually born in Albert in For Macleod and grew up in Saskatoon.

[Cathy] That’s funny, because we often think of her as a Saskatoonian, but that’s right…

[Jean] I think at the age of 4 that she moved to Saskatoon with her family. So, it was interesting this idea that maybe Joni Mitchell would be interested in allowing us to create a ballet inspired by her music.

[Cathy] Did you know her music very well even then?

[Jean] I knew all the hits.

[Cathy] Okay.

[Jean] All the great Joni Mitchell hits, but I didn’t really know her entire anthology and this is something I have learned to do when I work on these portrait ballets is study the singer-songwriters inside-out and so what happened was, I sent a letter with a few photos of our company and the project proposal. She received the letter and apparently she says no to almost every project proposal that came her way. She has been in retirement for almost 12 years when I sent the letter.

[Cathy] Wow

[Jean] Yeah. And so I thought it was a long shot, but low and behold I get an email from her agent saying she would like to meet me in Los Angels.

[Cathy] You wrote this beautiful letter, please give my somewhat imperfect English as I am a native of Quebec and I am still brushing up on this new language.

[Jean] Yes.

[Cathy] I mean, just who wouldn’t be completely intrigued by that. It’s just beautiful.

[Jean] Yeah, and I wanted the letter to really come from me, and not someone who would help me write it. I think that actually was interesting because it touched her and a few of the photos we sent with some ballerinas dancing in the Canadian prairies really touched her as well, because she is a prairie girl. So, I went to meet her in Los Angels, it was in Beverly Hills in a restaurant that she had selected, because she could smoke on the terrace at that time. We met, what I thought would be a two hour dinner and it turned out to be a six hour meeting and an extraordinary encounter and she was very interested in the proposal, because for her, dance, her poetry of words and music all came together in her visual art because I was also proposing that she design a set design, that she create the visual environment for the dancers, and she agreed to do it all in our first dinner, which was, when I came home from that trip I was really awestruck.

[Cathy] No kidding! And then you worked together for a number of years before this project materialised.

[Jean] Well, we programmed it for the following year, so we had 12 months to create the ballet, so it was a quick creation time for her. You know, they work a long time on their albums these singer-songwriters, but she was so excited about the project. And at the time it was a 1-act ballet, not a full-length creation.

[Cathy] Right, I think when I saw it at the beginning, you did it on the other side of a Balanchine piece or something like that on the program. Is that right?

[Jean] Yeah, that’s right, it was a Serenade.

[Cathy] Serenade, right.

[Jean] Joni loved that ballet. She was in awe of the dancers and she fell in love with the dancers. For her this was one of the most joyous project of her life she later said on the media. Often saying about how a beautiful collaboration it was, because it was almost, I’d say 35 of us working on the ballet between the dancers, the designers, and the choreographer. It really made a nice big family.

[Cathy] But you know, some people, when you are around someone that famous, not that you aren’t also very famous in our dance world Jean Grand-Maitre, but you know there is a tendency to do whatever they want.

[Jean] Yes.

[Cathy] But, when I had the good fortune to meet her briefly through you several years later, I had the real sense that you were her choreographer and she was working along side you. So how did you negotiate that kind of relationship with someone who isn’t used to having people have that push and pull?

[Jean] I think she gave me a little bit more leeway, because dance wasn’t a vernacular that she had mastered like music. But at the same time, after studying her and talking to a lot of musicians that have collaborated with her over the years; guitarists, drummers, sax players, you know some of the most famous musicians of our time, they all said that collaborating with her was a great joy. The Mingus album, you know, all those jazz albums as well. And that she would say to them, come in here like a bird singing and roll out like water here.

[Cathy] Wow.

[Jean] And hover in the middle. And that is the kind of imagery she would give me as well when we were talking about the ballet. So she is an amazing collaborator, and I think many many musicians will say that some of their best recordings were produced by Joni Mitchell.

[Cathy] How did you come about choosing some of the themes, and the songs, and as you say you studied her whole catalog, which, you know is enormous, of course and so far ranging. How did the two of you decide which songs to focus on and how to tie them together?

[Jean] Well that was a huge question that encompasses everything in the sense that now I have worked with six singer-songwriters.

[Cathy] This was the first right? Portrait ballet?

[Jean] Joni opened the doors. And because she is so respected in the music industry she helped open a lot of doors. Elton John one of them and then we approached Katy Lang, Sarah MacLaughlin, the Tragically Hip, Gordon Lightfoot. You know, I have been blessed. But Joni taught me everything. She taught me how to approach this type of creation because basically, before I met her I had worked six months on a script and then when I threw her the idea, she didn’t like it. It was based on her life, a portrait of her life, and she didn’t want that. She said to me at the time, what is happening to the planet and look at what is happening, there was a war in Iraq that was very very violent. And so the wars were ongoing and the depletion of our ecology and our environment was ongoing, and that is what really mattered to her and that is what she wanted the ballet to be about. Bless her, she didn’t hang up her beads like so many did from the 60s. She is still fighting for causes that mean a lot to her and her music and she did that through the ’80s and ‘90s. So she had a different idea of where the ballet should go and we ended up at her house, and she showed me a lot of her artwork and her recent artwork. Which is featured now in the ballet. It was all about war, environmental collapse and so this is 2006, you have to remember, and everything that she sings about in the ballet, everything that she warns about now is happening. So, 10 years later this ballet will be very chilling I think in a way. She was about the environment way before even Greenpeace. If you look at when she wrote Big Yellow Taxi, David Suzuki was surprised to hear when we met him how early in the game she was...

[Cathy] Amazing.

[Jean] …you know for the environment. It was interesting because this impetus, she had this passion for these themes, inspired her to know want to create the set design and the soundtrack. She chose with me the songs, but we chose songs together that related to these themes of war, the environment, neglect. The theme brought use to the songs. She wrote four new songs for the ballet which we premiered at the time which was beyond belief, on top of designing the sets.

[Cathy] That’s unbelievable, because again, as you said, at the beginning she virtually retired from the music world.

[Jean] Yes. And I didn’t know that she was writing a new album actually. It was a big secret. She had been recording with just a few musicians. Some of those songs were premiered in the ballet before her album, Shine, was released which was her last album of composed new work.

[Cathy] Right

[Jean] So it was fantastic that she wanted to get involved and we ended up spending 2-1/2 years together creating this ballet.

[Cathy] So you made the first act of it in 2008/9 season.

[Jean] Yes.

[Cathy] Is that correct?

[Jean] First act was 2006/7. And 7/8 was when we added five new songs and made it full length ballet with an intermission in the middle.

[Cathy] Okay.

So she’s not only invested, she continues to be invested. How did your relationship change over that time?

[Jean] Oh it was interesting

[Cathy] I know you are still friends today.

[Jean] Oh, we are very close. We found a very close friendship in this process, and from the very beginning a lot of trust. She had a lot of ideas, all of them brilliant. She is a genius. One of the rare geniuses I have met in my life. As she grows older now, and she is celebrating her 75th birthday this year, there is a lot of galas happening _____ and tributes across North America and Europe. I just feel that as I grow older, she has let me on so many different artistic paths and she has taught me stay very very close to my ideas and have integrity that way.

[Cathy] When you say different artistic paths, can you give me an example of what that is?

[Jean] Well she opened my mind to all kinds of new music. In ballet we tend to gravitate towards orchestra music and her music is so rich and harmonically, rhythmically in everyway. The lyrics are so brilliant and she has recorded masterpieces in every genre. I always call her the Stanley Cubric of music because Cubric made a masterpiece in every genre and she did as well; blues, jazz. You know what’s interesting is that what I have learned the most from her is to have courage in what you want to say and how you are going to say it. Once you are done to pat yourself on the back a little bit. To be proud of something you have done and in that way she is the most inspiring person I have ever met.

[Kathy] That’s amazing. Did she, this is going to sound a bit silly, but did she ever say, “no Jean, you should go left instead of going right?” like did she want to also implicate herself in the movement and the choreography?

[Jean] She did! And when she did, she was right.

[Cathy] Really?

[Jean] There was moments when she said, “Look, I am singing about misery here, I am singing the word misery and the dancers are stretching away from their centre, they should be compressing.”

[Cathy] Wow.

[Jean] Yes, and at the other point, when she saw the whole value the first time she manbe had 8 notes, there wasn’t that many. All of them very pertinent. At one point she said “Just freeze the dancers here because I am signing about a red light and let them start a little later.” And that moment in the ballet wen they freeze is one of the strongest moments that everyone tells me. So she really had a good eye, because she’s a painter. Being a painter makes her a visual artist. She even says when she composes music it is like painting brushstrokes, adding layers and so in that way she really had an extraordinary eye to watch dance. And then she edited the film of the ballet, and she edited that film for six months, down to 1/100th of second and her assistance editor said she was just extraordinary to work with. She created a visual painting of the ballet – if you have a change to see the film.

[Cathy] I just have the documentary.

[Jean] Yes.

[Cathy] But can you explain to people what’s going on visually in the ballet, what her, I mean, I know how strong and beautiful your choreography is, what were the visual components that she contributed to, to make that ballet?

[Jean] Well, we have three ways. First she had a very strong sense of the colour palette the ballet should be in. She had been taking photographs of her television for over a year with digital cameras, because her television had broken and the screen was pulsating in the colours of green, champagne yellows, jades, but she was watching all these war images from Iraq in this aesthetic, you know. It really struck her. So she started taking phots of her television. Then she started developing _____ so one was a Bubsy Berkeley film photo, another one was a war in Iraq, the people being imprisoned, and so it was all these images that were so impactful and through that filter, that green-jade filter, they became almost mythical images. So from, these photos, which were projected in the ballet as a background. There is circular screen above the dancers, she calls it God’s eye, and on that screen appears almost 80 different artworks, which she edited to the beat of the music, to the pluck of the guitar string. And so she worked down the rhythm of that video down to the greatest detail. And then the characters that appear on that screen are green, yellow, and we decided we were going to body paint the dancers as if though they walked right out of her paintings onto the stage and they bring to life her characters and her stories and her lyrics.

[Cathy] Gorgeous.

[Jean] Yeah.

[Cathy] How was it for the dancers to work with her? Was it difficult for them to embrace this approach? To work in this way with a composer?

[Jean] They loved. They didn’t meet her until the very end. You know, I met her a lot through the creative process but they did meet her at the very end and before that they just loved her music and often when dancers dance to vocal music it could be Latin or Mozart… but these words, when you are singing to songs written in English you understand the words and lyrics, it actually inspires them deeply as they are performing. They have said that often. Then she came to the studios, the week before we opened, watched rehearsals, that’s when she came be some of her notes and film of the dancers. It was a real beautiful moment to see her joy and it was, I think, one of the happiest moments for her in a long time. Also, these songs were songs that meant a lot to her. Songs on the environment and war and they were songs from the ‘80s and the ‘90s, not the decades for which she is most famous for. But a prolific period in her life.

[Cathy] I looked again at all the lyrics for Fiddler and the Drum, before I was going to be talking to you, and like the National Arts Centre, it’s celebrating it’s 50th anniversary this year, in 2019, so how are these lyrics still relevant today?

[Jean] Well, as I was saying earlier, they talk about abandoned love, which we see so much now in politics. The mood of fear and intolerance and lack of compassion. So, they sing of love, they sing of decency. They sing of how to care for the world, and then they warn us of what will happen, the lakes that will dry up, climate change, and she has such a powerful way of singing about because she is great poet. It hits you in the gut, these difficult words and at the same time the melodies are so sublime, that it, I think it increases the power of the lyrics because you can see…. What she wanted to do with this ballet was to be able to show what humanity can do at it’s most beautiful and at it’s worst, and that is the genius I think of Joni Mitchell songs I think. Many of her lyrics I think you will have that contrast in the very same song. She said once, a song without that moment of clarity is just complaining. And so for her the ballet also had moments of clarity and hope, so there is a lot of hope that humanity can have compassion for the planet and for each other, we can find out way out of this mess.

[Cathy] Besides the kind of anniversary markings of Fiddler and the Drum, and 10 years, what is it like to revisit something like that after all this time? What is it like for you to go back and remount this work for your home season and for the NAC?

[Jean] Well, we are hoping Joni will join us, possibly here in Ottawa, or in Alberta. She really wants to join us.

[Cathy] Ottawa. We vote for Ottawa, that would be great!

[Jean] Yes. I would love it. Because she has had a lot of love-ins now in the US for her 75th birthday. We could give her a big hug.

[Cathy] Yeah, we will talk about that in a second.

[Jean] Yeah.

[Cathy] You are going back, you are kind of dusting off something. As you have mentioned before, you have created all these other ballets, some pop ballets, some contemporary ballets, some classical. You go back to something from 10 years ago, so on the one hand you are listening to those lyrics and recognizing as you said the resonance of those truths in the world today, and in some cases even more so perhaps given what we are facing in the world today. But the actual steps and the dancers, and ….

[Jean] We were going to start in January, remounting the ballet and I cannot wait to be back in the room with that music. There is only two dancers from the original cast that are left. So for all the dancers it’s a new ballet. There are two ways I am looking at it. I cannot wait to get back in the studio, with her voice and her music and those beautiful dancers, and bring them back to life for her; knowing that she wants to come and see it. I can’t wait also to revisit all the beautiful lighting and how this wonderful creation was made. It’s going to have so many memories for us. Then, I am thinking about the content that the ballet and the dire warnings and the plea for love and compassion that she does probably better than most singer-songwriters on the planet and how it’s actually when I relook at the ballet just recently, to get ready to restage it, it gave me a bit of a chill. At the time I even thought what she was saying would happen would happen 100 years from now, but it is happening now, the fires in California. She was actually evacuated from her own house during one of those fires, it filled up with smoke in less than a half hour and they got her out just in time. The house didn’t burn down, but…

[Cathy] Miraculously.

[Jean] Miraculously. They brought her back a week later and she has been singing and writing about this 30 years ago. Nobody really listed. We thought it would happen two generations from now, and it isn’t. I think the ballet is one of the most relevant ballets I have ever created that way because of Joni Mitchell.

[Cathy] That’s amazing. And you mentioned of course, we are still celebrating her and thankfully she is still with us. We do hope that she is part of this whole celebration with the company and with these performances.

Lets just talk a little bit about what that led you too. Because I think the next project that you did was with Elton John.

[Jean] Yes.

[Cathy] Who, is also an iconic song writer and music maker, but a very different process for you.

[Jean] yes.

[Cathy] We have had the opportunity of showing that piece, and many other of your portrait ballets haven’t gotten here yet.

[Jean] Yes.

[Cathy] Still to come. But you know, what is it about these become known now for doing these incredibly interesting signature ballets with these iconic pop composers.

[Jean] Well, it was interesting because it wasn’t supposed to happen. As I was saying early, Joni was for our 40th anniversary. We wanted something special. The BBC came. The CBC did a whole documentary about it. We were on the front page of the New York Times, Arts and Leisure section. It was unbelievable what Alberta Ballet received as media attention. There was paparazzi at the door. I had never seen that for a ballet. Then, artistically it was such a rich profound venture that we had together that we knew that developing more ideas brings in a new audience as well. Which is the biggest challenge we have now, is how do you find portals and this became a portal, we knew immediately. Not just for younger but all demographics. Joni Mitchell fans reach all demographics. So, we continued. We were thinking about more Canadian singer-songwriters but I got a call on Friday afternoon and it was from Elton John’s right hand man, in my office. I picked up the phone and I thought it was a joke. But, no, Elton wanted to meet us backstage, he was touring through Calgary and invited 10 dancers, gave us front row seats, and we met him before the show in his dressing room and he is a huge fan of Joni Mitchell. I mean, for him, she’s a goddess. So he wanted a DVD of the ballet, he wanted to know all about what she did and how she collaborated. We gave him a DVD of the ballet and he went home. Three months later we sent him an email saying would he enjoy us creating a ballet to his music? I got an answer within five minutes, I thought it would take months. I had an answer in 5 minutes, come and meet Mr. Elton John in Las Vegas, he’s performing. We met, we met a few times before we premiered the ballet to talk about the creation. He took me on a whole different path. It was going to about his life. About all the causes for which he raises money, whether it is alcoholism, addiction, repression. All what he suffered from his home life, now he is raising money for these causes, 100s and 100s of dollars. So he wanted the ballet to tackle actually his own life, to inspire people to not be afraid to tackle these issues.

[Cathy] A very different will, if you may, than Joni Mitchell.

[Jean] Yes.

[Cathy] I noticed the other day that there is now a movie that is going to come out next summer, called Rocket Man.

[Jean] Yes, it looks fantastic.

[Cathy] Yeah it does.

[Jean] The same director as Billy Elliot.

[Cathy] Yes, that’s right. The trailer looks great.

[Jean] But you know, Joni was a neo-classical ballet, and some contemporary work in there as well. Elton became more of a cabaret because Elton’s music led to that aesthetic naturally. Each singer-songwriter brought us into a completely different aesthetic. No two portrait ballets really look alike in vocabulary or how we created the ballet aesthetically.

[Cathy] Do you have plans to revisit some of them, in the way that you are revisiting Joni Mitchell’s Fiddle and the Drum.

[Jean] Oh yes, I hope so. I think some of them I would like to re-choreograph sections as well, with choreographers we love revisiting work. With Joni I am going to try and change it as little as I can to leave it exactly as she last saw it, so that when she sits in the theater she is going to say, “I remember every moment.”

[Cathy] Yeah. The last one that I got a chance to see was Our Canada with Gordon Lightfoot.

[Jean] Yes.

[Cathy] which of course came out in 2017, but since then you have done this fantastic ballet feature the music featuring the Tragically Hip.

[Jean] Yes.

[Cathy] Sort of on the heels of us all losing Gord Downie and that was a big Canadian experience called All of Us, that I guess we will get to see at some point down the road.

[Jean] Yes, maybe soon.

[Cathy] Somewhere in fall of ’19, so that is great. So who is going to be next?

[Jean] Well, you know I am working on three of them. Because for every singer we manage to convince there are a few who are not convinced along the way.

[Cathy] Of course, that’s a reality check. That’s really interesting to share that.

[Jean] Oh, yeah, it’s not as easy as people think. You have to have a way to connect with the musicians directly. If it just goes to the agent, it doesn’t always get to the musicians, and that is why I notice how lucky we were with Sam Feldman and Joni Mitchell, because he sent her the package and it was the first one out of the gate. But because of the success we’ve had, it has been getting easier and easier now to encourage musicians. Now I am working on David Bowie and we are very close, but we are not confirmed yet. But we have a whole project designed and we have been talking with them for almost two months now about it. It is interesting to see how big it can be, and also how intimate. For me there is some singers, like Katy Lang, who was from Alberta, that really hit home when we premiered that ballet in Alberta. She was an extraordinary collaborator as well. I have been luck to work with all these singer-songwriters. They are brilliant. They have lasted the decades. They are not just the flavour of the months singer-songwriter.

[Cathy] That is one of the other things I noticed, you know, like a Sarah McLaughlin song comes on the radio, from her peak period, or even not, and people still respond to it. Same thing of course, Katy, you know the popularity, you know she was at the National Arts Centre recently and the popularity is still enormous.

[Jean] They are in the pantheon now.

[Cathy] They really are, but they are still out there performing, which is quite wonderful.

[Jean] Well, they always say they are going to retire, but then they don’t. it’s like Cher. They love singing. It’s in their blood. One thing I have realised from working with so many singer-songwriters and getting to meet them is that most singer-songwriters vibrate a love and a compassion in their heart and that is why they make music. I think they’re always making music somehow in their subconscious and they are just extraordinary beings. Sarah McLaughlin, the most giving generous person I’ve met and wanting to help us in every way for the ballet to be successful. It’s been a joy and a great inspiring…. Some people might say, “oh, you’re better off with _____ and _____....”

[Cathy] Oh, and listen, as a choreographer you rise to all kinds of these occasions. We were so fortunate to work with you, also in 2017 on Encounters. When you did a new contemporary ballet for us with a new composition, a new score by Andrew _____ and that was a highlight of our year, and I think it’s important also that different types of composers and musicians keep pushing you as well.

[Jean] Yes}

[Cathy] Some who are well known in the pop-icon department.

[Jean] For me Joni Mitchell is as important to Canadian culture as Glenn Gould.

[Cathy] Absolutely

[Jean] And they played an important part in showing Canadian heart, inspirations and dreams to the rest of the world.

[Cathy] How does Joni feel about those early songs.

[Jean] Oh, she has mixed feelings about all of them.

[Cathy] Like Big Yellow Taxi for example which got played every single day during her 75th birthday celebrations this fall.

[Jean] Oh did it?

[Cathy] Yeah, a lot. It was a featured song, that got… Cause people were making the point, that here we are, how many decades later and this is a very important song for us to be listening too.

[Jean] I think, as I went to visit Joni two weeks ago, and saw the most peaceful person, happy and joyous, she was nervous about this big gala at the LA Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the new stars and music stars, everybody was there for her. I don’t think I have ever seen a Canadian get a menage like that. And the night before I saw her, and I said “How do you feel about tomorrow and the gala?” and she said, “I’m very nervous, I’m a bit overwhelmed.” And I said, “Think about it as two giant arms coming to give you a giant hug of love, you know”. And she smiled all night, and she took it in that way, and that’s beautiful. She has become wiser with time. She was quite a feisty woman because she was in the music industry when no women where – there was maybe four or five of them. The record industry was tough on her, and the media on rockstars wasn’t always the nicest. She had a lot of reasons to be hiding away, I think and for an artist of her stature.

[Cathy] I was listening a couple of weeks ago to Miles of Isles, which is of course the live recording. She says this wonderful thing to the crowd and that, and she says “You know, nobody ever asked van Gough to paint A Starry Night again, but it’s the kind of things people always ask pop musicians to play that song again.” You know that recording was from when she was just a young woman and but she says it with a certain, kind of tenacity and a message to the audience, like respect the artist, man. Don’t push us to just be star making machinery. Don’t push us to just be commodities.

[Jean] Like her song also For the Roses. I heard the applause, it was like the wind and the arbutistry. There is something about her words that capture the _____ and the superficiality of stardom. The music industry for her was like a rat on a spinning wheel and she didn’t want to be part of that business. She wanted a true musical adventure. Every album she experimented and you know masterpieces in the blues, jazz, rock, folk of course.

[Cathy] Ok, but not to put too much on the stardom, tell us, how that night was. How was the party?

[Jean] I was star-struck.

[Cathy] I’m sure you were. We saw all kinds of great tidbits.

[Jean] it was beautiful to see that people from the greatest actors and actresses to singer-songwriters came to honour her. She looked like Georgia O’Keefe out there in the theatre. You know, she was the queen of them all. She just was very humbled about it as well. Very touched by all the singers who has performed her songs. Poor singers, they’re so hard on their songs, and they did a great job. You realize just how brilliant she was when other singers interpret her songs. In that way, it was such a fabulous night and to see that a Canadian artist is so beloved across all other art forms, not just in the music industry and they gave her a beautiful Indigenous homage, where they gave her the name, I think a Sparkly White-Bare Woman, and that’s the second highest honour you can receive from the Indigenous communities of Canada. There was a very Canadian touch to the whole evening and the gala and the dinner afterwards and so that was really special, that the whole décor on stage and in the dining area was inspired by Canadiana and it was beautifully done.

[Cathy] I love that the music centre did that, and was sensitive to that. It’s quite wonderful.

[Jean] Oh, they worked hard on that. Even the food, everything. They video-d Joni’s property in BC where she spends half the year, well she hasn’t been there in many years now since she has been sick, and she really misses it. That’s where she wrote almost all her songs. So she has this view off the Sunshine Coast in BC and they went and filmed it, and then they projected it during the entire dinner, so she had a live video feed of her property in BC. She could see the birds, and the water moving.

[Cathy] Oh, that’s beautiful.

[Jean] Yeah. She was so touched. They did a very nice job.

[Cathy] Well, we are thrilled that you are bringing this ballet to us in May. Now you mentioned, before I let you go, you mentioned that she made a film, that there is a film of Joni Mitchell the Fiddle and the Drum, is that a film that people can see and download?

[Jean] You can order it online for sure.

[Cathy] You can, okay.

[Jean] It’s online, and it is also know on Blu-Ray, I think. Because it’s gone cult. You know, everything she does goes cult. I get emails from friends in Argentina and England, they saw it.

[Cathy] Maybe you will have to bring a bunch of copies along with the soundtrack, which I understand is also published as a separate soundtrack, is it not?

[Jean] Yes, it’s also published and she wanted the soundtrack to be released. Yeah, all together what a legacy for Alberta Ballet, it is probably our most famous creation ever and it has opened doors across Europe and North American markets for us.

[Cathy] What do you want to say to the people of Ottawa, close to where you where you were born… you’re parents are just up the road in Wakefield. What do you want to say to the people of Ottawa about Joni Mitchell’s Fiddle and the Drum?

[Jean] if you love her music, and her songs, you will be pleased. If you want to sit in the theatre with the lights out and feel like you are close to Joni again, and what she sings about and what her world is all about, then this is a show to see for sure.

[Cathy] Thanks so much for your time Jean Grand-Maitre, I am so excited to welcome you back here in May and I am so excited to have Joni Mitchell’s Fiddle and the Drum on our season this year.

[Jean] We are thrilled to perform it in this prestigious theatre.

[Cathy] Thank you.

[Jean] Thank you.


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This has been a National Arts Centre podcast. Produced in Ottawa by NAC New Media


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Added to Library on January 22, 2019. (4220)


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