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Alberta Ballet announces new Joni Mitchell collaboration Print-ready version

by Salena Kitteringham
Edmonton Journal
March 2, 2013

David Neal and Hayna Gutierrez of Alberta Ballet, in a scene from the upcoming 2013-2014 Alberta Ballet season

EDMONTON - After recent seasons heavily peppered with previously seen productions, Alberta Ballet has announced a fresh 2013-2014 lineup filled with the recognizable classics Madame Butterfly and Giselle - not previously performed by the company - plus two guest slots filled with Les Grands ballets canadiens and Ailey II, and a new Joni Mitchell collaboration.

"Everything is new for our audiences - there are no revivals other than The Nutcracker, of course," says artistic director Jean Grand-Maître.

Grand-Maître continues to forge ahead into uncharted territory with his emphasis on bringing some of the most iconic of ballet's classics to new life, as well as continuing to expand his body of pop ballet tributes, celebrating some of the most beloved artists of our time.

The new Joni Mitchell ballet will be inspired by her greatest love songs, with Mitchell creating the libretto, set designs and soundtrack. Grand-Maître first collaborated with Mitchell in 2007 to create The Fiddle and the Drum, a ballet themed around war and environmental neglect, developing it into a full evening-length piece in 2009. He then went on to work with the music of Elton John to create the pop ballet theatre extravaganza Blood Lies Bleeding in 2010. In 2011, Alberta Ballet collaborated with Sarah McLachlan to create Fumbling Towards Ecstasy and this May, the company is set to debut a k.d. lang ballet tribute called Balletlujah!

For the more traditional fare, Grand-Maître says his company is now large enough and has the calibre of dancers necessary to take on the full-length, narrative classics, after demonstrating competence with Sleeping Beauty in 2011 and delivering an exquisite Swan Lake in 2012. For 2013, he set his sights on completing the big three of classical ballet's pantheon, planning Alberta Ballet's first full-length production of the legendary Giselle (Edmonton: March 14-15, 2014, Calgary: March 20-22, 2014).

Giselle will be staged by La Scala's Flavia Vallone. "La Scala is one of the opera houses in the world that performs Giselle the very best, with very many generations of Giselles. We are very excited that Flavia is going to come and stage because she probably has seen four decades of Giselles performed and her own great artistry - she was a great ballerina - is going to be a great base to start launching our own Giselle."

The next season kicks off with a chance to see prima ballerina Mariko Kondo and the rest of the company dance Puccini's Madame Butterfly for the first time (Calgary: Sept. 26-28, 2013, Edmonton: Oct. 4-5), with an adaptation by choreographer Stanton Welch, artistic director of Houston Ballet. Grand-Maître describes Welch as "a very passionate choreographer, very dramatic and not afraid of really big emotion."

After decades of rarely seeing Les Grands ballets canadiens de Montreal on an Alberta stage, Canada's second-largest ballet company is becoming more familiar to us. Grand-Maître brought them here as guests in 2010-11 and has slotted them in again for 2013-14, to bring us our first taste of Swedish choreographer Mats Ek and his dark, adult fairy tale Sleeping Beauty (Calgary: Oct. 31-Nov. 2, Edmonton: Nov. 6-7).

Grand-Maître ranks Mats Ek as one of the top 10 modern choreographers and cites him as a dancemaker he has emulated in his own work. "I am showcasing a choreographer I would die to have in my own company's repertoire, but finally (by bringing in Les Grands Ballets) we get to bring Mats Ek to Alberta."

Ek's Sleeping Beauty is an adult fairy tale. "She falls in love with the wrong boy and becomes a drug addict. Her prince comes to save her from this drug-induced comatose state of being. It has a very relevant message and has completely modernized the whole production in that way it takes the theme of Sleeping Beauty and the score of Tchaikovsky, transposing it into the 21st century in a very powerful way. The way Mats Ek used the Tchaikovsky music to see a whole new dance vocabulary was a revelation for me - how he could take classical scores that have been used for centuries and use the psychology in the music and the emotion."

Ailey II, a young student company associated with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater School in New York City, has hit the Arden stage in the past and will now take centre stage in the Jubilee auditoriums (Edmonton: Feb. 14-15, 2014; Calgary: Feb. 20-22) with a mixed program of new pieces from emerging choreographers and mid-century modern dance classic pieces from the Alvin Ailey repertoire.

The more family-oriented and seasonal favourite, The Nutcracker, returns next December and once again, the company opens its rehearsal doors in Calgary for Up Close, an intimate performance of new works by the artists of the company (Jan. 29 - Feb. 2, 2014. Negotiations to bring Up Close to Edmonton are ongoing.

The season wraps up with the new Joni Mitchell collaboration (Calgary: May 1-3, 2014; Edmonton: May 9-10). "We became good friends and we've been talking about doing a triptych together. Joni remembers The Fiddle and the Drum as one of her most exciting experiences of her entire career and that is incredibly humbly for us because she's worked with the very best all over the world. She just loves the idea of the dance, her lyrics, her visual art and everything coming together. It wasn't a very big twist of her arm to get her to agree to do another one."

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