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Joni Mitchell's full-length ballet hits Hat Print-ready version

by Kim Dick
Medicine Hat News
January 14, 2009

During the winter of 2007, celebrated singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell and Alberta Ballet artistic director Jean Grand-Maître joined forces to create an exhilarating and emotional production blending Mitchell's music and art with Grand-Maître's choreography. What resulted was the debut of The Fiddle and The Drum, a collaborative ballet exploring the human spirit's potential to create and destroy, its ability to love and hate and its capacity for war and peace. Now, Hatter audiences have the unique opportunity to experience this ballet live, as the full-length adaptation of The Fiddle and The Drum begins its 2009 tour at the Esplanade for two nights of performances, Jan. 16 and 17. Artistic director, Jean Grand-Maître caught up with the News last week to speak on the exciting collaboration that fused the worlds of ballet with folk music.

"It was our 40th anniversary season and we wanted to celebrate with a bang, and I was asked to consider the music of Joni Mitchell," said Grand-Maître, noting Mitchell was Alberta-born and grew up in Saskatchewan. "We thought it would be very appropriate."

When the Alberta Ballet first premiered The Fiddle and The Drum, it included nine songs and was just over 40-minutes in length.

"This ballet went around the world," said Grand-Maître. "We've had over 300 articles, from Israel to Mexico, it was on CBS ... it's been filmed for television. "It was such a big hit, unlike anything I've seen in my career."

Now, they've revamped the program, added four new songs, new imagery, and made it into a two-act full night performance extravaganza. "Now we have a full-length Joni Mitchell evening," said Grand-Maître. Grand-Maître says his experience working with Mitchell was an "absolute perfect collaboration," with both minds coming together to create this moving ballet.

"Joni often publicly said it was the most exciting collaboration of her career," said the artistic director. "This was quite humbling for us."

From the very beginning of the project, Mitchell said she wanted to create a ballet that dealt with contemporary issues that are relevant for our times  the subjects of war and peace, love and hate and the human spirit were not out of the question.

"At first I wanted to do a biographical ballet of her life," said Grand-Maître, but Mitchell wanted to use her music  both old and new  to showcase the themes involved in the resulting ballet.

Also, an accomplished visual artist, Mitchell was asked to not only configure the score, but to design the set for the ballet.

What resulted says Grand-Maître, was visuals using details from her work on environmental crisis and war which would be projected onto a circular screen that mimics a Indian drum.

"What you really have is Joni Mitchell choreographing the set design, the appearances of these images, symbols and metaphors to the lyrics of her music," said Grand-Maître.

And that equals success in the audiences eyes as Grand-Maître says he's never experienced feedback from a ballet like he's experienced with The Fiddle and The Drum. And he's choreographed over 50 ballets in his career. "It's a ballet about war and the environment, and people may think it could be depressing," he said. "But quite the contrary, people leave the theatre elated, inspired, full of hope because Joni Mitchell has always been about that, to contrast destruction with beauty.

"In the end, she does leave us with hope and we leave the theatre wanting to go out there and do something about the environment, wanting to stop war ... which is exactly what she's been doing since the 60s and the Vietnam war." Medicine Hat audiences have the distinct pleasure of opening the world premiere of the 2009 tour of The Fiddle and The Drum for two-nights of performances, Jan. 16 and 17 at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $39 and can be purchased at the Esplanade Box Office, the Medicine Hat Mall Customer Service Desk, by phone at 403-502-8777 and online at www.tixx.ca.

There are still tickets available for both performances. For more information go online to the Alberta Ballet's website at www.albertaballet.com.

This article has been viewed 401 times since being added on January 14, 2009.

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