This work-in-progress lists all currently known appearances, drawn from a variety of sources.
Compiled by Simon Montgomery, © 2001-2017.
Special thanks to Joel Bernstein for his contributions and assistance.
Latest Update: October 12, 2017
Please send comments, corrections or additions to: email@example.com
A preview of the extended version of The Fiddle and the Drum.
Joni and Jean Grand-Maître, Alberta Ballet's artistic director,
participated in a Q & A session after the performance.
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Susan Carini: When Joni Mitchell decided on a great escape in the mid-1970s, she tacked a fancy name onto it befitting her evolving iconoclast image: hejira. The story is that she drove from the eastern United States to the West with no license, a somewhat tenuous grasp of the rules of the road, and that blonde head in those famous clouds of hers as she contemplated another self-destructing romance.
Enviable art results from nearly everything she does, and no less so with the recording that followed once she had showered off the dust. Mitchell has given us few photographic images of her on the albums - instead, she settled into a pattern of providing painted self-portraits (some with cats, all with tongue in cheek). Which is why the Hejira album is so arresting, especially in an era before Photoshop.
A road runs straight through Mitchell, who is stunning in a black cloak with her windswept hair and the ubiquitous cigarette. The wind machine never worked so hard; bohemianism may have no higher expression; and Mitchell made it so difficult for the rest of us to undertake a great escape on lesser terms.
One can argue that Mitchell's career has been fueled by these comings and goings, by the allure of being a "hitcher" on the "free, free way," as she describes herself in the song "Coyote." It is certainly no accident that, in summing up the work of her career on a two-disc set in 2002, she settled on the title Travelogue. Unlike Hejira, Travelogue did not produce any photographs of the young, lithesome Mitchell in a sundress holding a forearm up against the blazing desert sun. But damned if she didn't again travel unforgettably, this time a startling number of miles back across a brilliant career.
Knowing that the glamour odds and gods surely would be against me, knowing that I can hardly remember how to hold a cigarette (one wisely gives those up, Joni) and that a wind machine is of little use for hair that is about three inches from root to tip, I nonetheless got out of the office chair that is my prison and took my own version of a hejira. And I decided, my own tongue firmly in cheek, to make Mitchell the heart of my quest.
How she became thus, I am still not sure. Like the rest of you, I curl my lip with contempt at those wayward souls who scramble over the front gates of David Letterman's residence or try to tackle Sharon Stone coming out of the grocery store. I assured myself that Mitchell was a metaphorical destination, that if she was at the top of a lonely mountain peak strumming her guitar (something that having had polio as a child makes increasingly difficult), I might huff and puff my way to the top, only to head back down the other side without so much as a glance in her direction. The journey is the thing.
Smile all you want, I had this situation under control, despite having grown to love her music in a way that surprises even me. For I have lived most of my life in the world of books and was happy to claim that world, to any doubters, as the sole source of all wisdom. When I died, I long ago decided, a friend or family member would read someone's funny, profound words to hasten me on my way. Music was something you turned on while bored in a car.
How, then, did Mitchell enter the pantheon of this literary snob? One-word answer: story. Consider the scores of brilliant stories she tells us in such songs as "Furry Sings the Blues," about the world of W. C. Handy; "Edith and the Kingpin," about a drug lord and the woman he enslaves; or "Shades of Scarlett Conquering" about - hell, I don't know what it is about, actually, but the storytelling is magnificent, with its twice-repeated final line, "A woman must have everything."
A woman must indeed have everything or, at the very least, a big bite of that pie. And so I bit, with my fiftieth birthday looming like a billboard on the highway of my life. As I did so, I was keenly aware of the great escape my father made at roughly this same age.
He began an affair that, after five years of back and forth with my too-gracious mother, ended in divorce. Although the family car never landed with finality on empty (my mother, sister, and I patched ourselves back together), it also would never again register "full." I was ever so conscious of not wanting to make that kind of journey, of tripping into selfishness and ego.
But do not mistake me: I understand something of what he felt, of wanting to peel back the layers of age and mortgage payments and responsibilities. It was no accident that, as we reached our end with him, he increasingly was holding up the newspaper between us. Any shield, however flimsy, will do for the battle-weary.
Okay, so now the impetus for my travel - what Mitchell described as the "urge for going" in an early song - was coming from two dubious sources: an aging rock star and my adulterer-father. But why couldn't I, as Mitchell described it in "Amelia," "sleep on the strange pillows of my wanderlust"?
Ultimately, I decided that I would travel to Banff in Alberta, Canada, to see a ballet - The Fiddle and the Drum - on which Mitchell collaborated. It began with a giddy romp through Canadian Ticketmaster (I did, in fact, get the last ticket) and progressed to my tidy, new black suitcase in the foyer as I awaited the cab that would take me to the airport.
Before I left, I deliberately launched trial balloons of irresponsibility. "I may never come back," I told family, friends, and coworkers alike. No one budged. Their disbelief was as powerful as an onion sandwich. Did no one get this urge-for-going thing and the fact that it had made a new woman of me?
True, I might not have been fully convincing. Before leaving, I did every responsible thing and a few more besides. Counted out the pills that my mother would give my sickly dog. Sent all my trip information to at least twelve friends, in case eleven of them were run over by buses. Packed my $%#@!* computer. Fretted over whether my Treo would work. Ordered Canadian money a week in advance.
The temperatures in western Canada were lovely - cool. And I tried to be similarly cool as I counseled myself that Mitchell probably would not be at the performance - that although she had been at early performances, a superstar has better things to do than see the same ballet over and over.
On the day of the performance, I even went so far as to decide that I was not going. Not because I feared being written up in the National Enquirer as a star stalker, but because I read that morning on the internet that gas on the Trans-Canada Highway was pretty scarce, unlike highway driving in the U.S. It was all well and good to have hatched this quixotic plan, but if I ran out of gas, I would indeed be a "hitcher," and in a much more vulnerable sense than even Mitchell - the chronicler of vulnerability - could ever guess.
Scouring the internet some more, I had to blink twice at what I had done. In front of me was a list of phone numbers. The fiftyish woman of infinite practicality and responsibility was calling a limousine service. I was not far from the spoiled celebrity that Mitchell described in "Real Good for Free."
Curiouser and curiouser though this trip was getting, I never looked back. I looked sideways through the tinted windows of my black sedan at the hulking beauty of the Canadian Rockies as we traveled from Calgary to Banff, but I never looked back.
The driver got me there early, so I loitered in the lobby, casting a scornful editor's eye on the typo in Mitchell's statement in the program (Yeats spelled "Yates"). I tried to act as if it were somehow natural for a workaholic from the southeastern U.S. to be standing alone in the somewhat shabby Eric Harvie theater, her Pakistani driver waiting outside, himself probably nervous about the intentions of the large caribou that we passed a block earlier.
A dancer in street clothes was in the lobby explaining to his parents that "Joni will be here," that she had been working with the dancers for several weeks. Having proof in that program of the way words are twisted, I thought: "Joni" and "here" could mean a lot of things. It could mean that she is backstage or at a hotel nearby or in my limo, for that matter. Responsibly tamping down my expectations, I took my seat in the auditorium.
But she was there, and there came a moment at the end when my hard-won seat became a goldmine. As we stood applauding the ballet in the dark, three figures glided past us holding hands: the artistic director, the set designer, and Mitchell. As she passed seat B2, my spot in the universe at that exact moment, she smiled at someone who greeted her. The smile was that of a twenty-five-year-old, not the nearly sixty-five-year-old grandmother that she is. As my friend Nancy said when we emailed about the moment later, "I can picture her exactly as you describe, and it is no surprise that she is young-old and wise-weird and altogether fascinating."
Mitchell participated in a question-and-answer session. Several brilliant questions formed, then stuck in my throat. I could talk about my home in Atlanta, close to the Savannah that she charmingly describes in "Blue Motel Room" ("Here in Savannah/ it's pouring rain/palm trees in the porch light stick like cellophane"). Or I could reveal that I already have stipulated in my will that songs of hers will be played at my funeral. ("Hejira" and "Refuge of the Roads." Nobody better read from any boring book.) I could ask her about this crazy rumor that she writes the music first and then all those glorious words second. I could ask about the long-awaited autobiography. I could . . .
Get back in my limousine. Go quietly. I am, after all, not a stalker. Instead, I am - or, better, now have become - "a hitcher, a prisoner of the fine white lines of the free, free way."
Kate: From my friend who lives in Banff:
'Last night, Elsie and I went to the Joni ballet, The Fiddle and the Drum at The Banff Centre, newly expanded to include another 4 songs, making it a full ballet. And we were part of the first audience to see it. T'was abso-tute-ly freakin' AWESOME!
To gild my goading lily, Joni and I were no more than 10 feet apart at intermission, outside the the theatre lobby, fouling the very same air with our nasty ciggy smoke.
How cool is that???'
Michael: Here is my holiday report after an exhilirating night in Banff, Alberta, nestled among the Canadian Rockies. Last night, my partner and I were one of the lucky few to see the new world premiere of the new extended ballet, FATD at the Banff Center theatre. It turns out that the Alberta Ballet had been offered a two-week residency to flesh out their short ballet into a full-length work. The gamble has paid off.
I must admit I was somewhat sceptical at the outset, having seen the dance on DVD and thinking it was just OK. But seeing this new version,live, with the beautiful lighting and the full depth and darkness of the stage, brings a whole new dimension to the ballet, which is not easily captured by a camera.
As Kate mentioned, the four new works are Shine, Woodstock(T-Log version), The Reoccurring Dream, and Ethiopia.
The theatre is small and intimate; it seats about 650, and all seats were full - a chatty, enthusiastic boomer crowd. The evening was prefaced by a welcome from a Banff Festival spokesperson, with warm thanks to sponsors such as Chevron Oil(!)as well as a short, largely inarticulate blurb from the Alberta Minister of Culture.
The new ballet looks like this :
TFATD - a sort of prelude - now done on a black stage without the curtain, since the company faced huge dry-cleaning
bills from smeared body make-up in other theatres!
Sex Kills - a very strong opener
Passion Play - which revolves around a beautiful and athletic male pas de deux
The Three Great Stimulants - featuring a triad of soloists
Shine - a beautiful dance, which begins with the little girl in white, who is passed from the outstretched arms of one
male dancer to another. The costumes are beautiful - all the dancers wear translucent, ankle-length burnt saffron skirts. Possibly the emotional high point of the evening.
Woodstock - which begins and ends with a female dancer holding an earth ball above her head, while boys in military garb open with a brief war dance, while the other dancers grind their hips in an affirmation of life. Joni offers some of the lyrics to the to the song in the orb overhead.
Part 1 closes with FTR, where a triad of couples waltzes through this romantic and lovely interpretation of the T-log version of the song. Thunderous applause after each dance.
At intermission, I went outside for some air, and there was Joni surrounded by friends, discretely to the side, laughing and puffing away. People kept a polite distance; I suspect many did not even know she was among us. As the lights flashed for part 2, people began to file back slowly to their seats. I seized a split-second moment of opportunity to introduce myself to Joni, say hello, and shake her small and gentle hand. She smiled and we chatted briefly about the new pieces. She has beautiful blue eyes. A far too short, but happy Joni moment for me, at long last.
The Reoccurring Dream - set around a comical old lady watching TV with her cat at center stage , as the dancers impersonate all the
different voices in the song - a very strong number.
Ethiopia - a dark moody piece where the dancers impersonate animals under the hot african sun. Another knockout performance.
Slouching Towards Bethlehem
IF I Had a Heart I'd Cry
And BYT after the first curtain call.
Much deserved wild applause and whoops and calls for the dancers, who are all beautiful, strong and athletic. They gave a wonderful performance.
After the show, guests were invited to stay for a half-hour Q&A with the artists, moderated by Jean Grand-Maitre. He was accompanied by the lighting designer, a dancer, and JM !
Offered below are some of the exchanges between Joni and audience members, although all participants on the panel spoke about their particular perspectives on this project.
How did the dancers react to having a non-dancer, Joni, coach them in their moves? They loved her support, energy, comments, and the subtext she offered them to understand the songs. As a nod and an inside joke for her contributions, it turns out that Grand-Maitre actually added one of Joni's personal exercises into the choreography - dancers rotating their hips with hands on their kneecaps. Joni recounted the story of her defective flat-scren TV as a cornucopia of art - ultimately providing the images for the Green Flag show. Never one to shun controversy, she mentioned Bush, Hitler and Stalin all in the same sentence. She mentioned that the Episcapalian church is the only progressive church left in America - they have a female bishop. She spoke of her treatment by the music industry - how she is a long-distance runner, not the sprinter favoured by music executives. Finally, she spoke of our planetary war - Ecology VS Economy. Native tradition says we are now in the 4th world, which will end in fire. Our monotheistic and patriarchal religions are destroying the planet. We have to get ourselves back to the garden.
I had a few questions for Grand-Maitre and Joni, which will wait for another day, since the curtain fell and the audience members left the auditorium feeling full, stimulated and entertained. A memmorable evening was had by all, I'm sure.
I did not see any media present. The new show will be re-premiered in Calgary and Edmonton during the winter of 2009. There are plans in the making for a world tour. See this new show if you can. It won't disappoint.
Michael in Quebec, from Calgary