|Nicole Caron trained at Richmond Academy of Dance and is now in her eighth season with Alberta Ballet.|
Ballet B.C.'s near financial collapse gave the arts world food for thought: is there still an appetite for the ballet?
Joni Mitchell thinks so and Alberta Ballet is proving it. The Canadian singer-songwriter has joined with the Alberta dance company to produce Joni Mitchell's The Fiddle and The Drum, a neoclassical ballet that arrives in Vancouver next week.
"It's a matter of getting to know the needs and wants of our audience," said Richmond-trained dancer Nicole Caron, 25. "They see that ballet is not just tights and tutus."
There are decidedly no tutus in The Fiddle and The Drum. Swan Lake it ain't.
Choreographer Jean Grand-Maître has amped up the flower power in 14 Mitchell songs, pairing them with demanding dance routines of athleticism and strength to reinforce the artist's messages of peace, love and war.
So intense the numbers, Caron said, that one will have her and two other dancers practising the steps every day in the lead-up to the show - just to build stamina for the routine.
"It's probably one of the hardest ballets I've done," said Caron, now in her eighth season with Alberta Ballet.
Born in United Arab Emirates, Caron started dancing at age three. By age eight, while living in Tsawwassen, some saw something greater in the young dancer and encouraged her to move to a larger studio. She joined the Richmond Academy of Dance where she trained under director Annette Jakubowski and senior teachers Beverly Bagg and Suzanne Ouellette.
Her teenage years were split between school in the mornings at Magee Secondary in Vancouver and dance until the early evening. Summers were spent with some of the continent's most prestigious dance schools: Royal Winnipeg Ballet, National Ballet of Canada and American Ballet Theatre School in New York.
Richmond Academy proved the right fit - Caron stayed with the school for a decade, knowing she would pursue a career in dance.
"In Grade 8 our counsellor made us write a letter to ourselves that we'd open in Grade 12. It was really interesting to see when I opened it, my goal and aspiration in Grade 8 was to get a job professionally hopefully at some company as an apprentice. But I bypassed the apprenticeship and got straight into the company in Alberta right when I graduated. That was neat to see: I surpassed my goals I set in Grade 8."
Now based in Calgary, Caron trains every day with Alberta Ballet, which often tours shows outside its home province. Caron herself has been to China three times and across the U.S. and Canada.
Its latest offering, Joni, will open the 2010 Cultural Olympiad in Vancouver. It's a critical social commentary promoting Mitchell's '60s message of peace and love, complete with the singer's artwork projected on large screens behind the dancers.
Mitchell spent three weeks with the dancers before a shorter version of the work premiered in 2007, when she explained the meaning behind her songs.
"It was amazing to have that one-on-one with her, and now dancing to these songs and hearing her voice in the background telling us what it means to her and how we should portray this song is amazing."
Explaining her artwork, Mitchell told dancers it was inspired by her living room's dying TV that bathed the pictures in green. The result is provocative images awash in environmentally conscious green. So too are the dancers, whose skin will be painted decidedly Shrek-like.
After Vancouver, the show will travel to Victoria, Seattle and Los Angeles.