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Ballet sings tune of Joni Mitchell Print-ready version

by Bob Clark
Calgary Herald
March 22, 2006

Alberta Ballet's growing reputation has reached the ears of Joni Mitchell. The iconic Canadian singer/songwriter will play a prominent role in the company's 40th anniversary season, Calgarians learned Tuesday during the unveiling of the 2006/'07 lineup.

Dancing Joni, a work created by Alberta Ballet artistic director Jean Grand-Maitre, will share a blockbuster February program with ballets by George Balanchine and Nacho Duato, one of today's top choreographers. Grand-Maitre met with Mitchell last week in a Beverly Hills restaurant about his idea for a piece based on her music.

"She expressed a lot of excitement for this project," he said. "She wants to create it with us. She not only agreed to let me use her music, but she is also going to design the set for the ballet and help me assemble the ballet soundtrack."

Mitchell has also pledged to attend the premiere, Grand-Maitre says. "It's going to be very big -- a huge project. I'm trying to get the CBC interested in it as a kind of 40th anniversary special on the making of the work."

Mitchell, a Fort Macleod native who grew up in Saskatchewan, was a seminal musical influence on everyone from Van Morrison to Bob Dylan from the 1960s on.

According to Grand-Maitre, the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famer's contribution to her artistic collaboration on Dancing Joni might even extend to the inclusion of unpublished musical material.

"I know she does have an original song she would like to let me use; a song that's never been heard for the ballet," Grand-Maitre says. "But whether she'll be able to record it in time for me to listen to it and choreograph it is another story."

Dancing Joni will be in good company. Other pieces on the winter program also reflect increasing international awareness of Alberta Ballet as one of Canada's most innovative performing arts companies.

Opening the show will be George Balanchine's Serenade, set to the music of Tchaikovsky. "It's widely considered one of the greatest ballets ever choreographed," Grand-Maitre says of the 1934 neo-classical work. "We're very fortunate to be able to finally be able to premiere it in our company."

The third piece will be Duato's Without Words, created in 1998. "I just got confirmation last Friday," says Grand-Maitre, describing the Spanish choreographer as "probably one of the top five choreographers in the world right now.

"It's a ballet that is given to very select companies in the world, so it says a lot about our company's reputation that we were able to secure this piece now." Other highlights of Alberta Ballet's 40th year include a brand new setting of Carl Orff's popular Carmina Burana and a refurbished version of Grand-Maitre's own Cinderella -- last performed in Calgary three years ago -- but with original costumes this time around to match the company's original sets.

The season finale will be the Royal Winnipeg Ballet production of Mark Godden's 1998 gothic ballet, Dracula.

Assessing his season choices, Grand-Maitre says as the Calgary-based company is developing, "it's becoming more and more contemporary, and I think the audiences are developing a taste for that. I certainly felt that last year.

"I think we're going to really have our niche of being a contemporary, theatrical ballet company, and that's what is right for the size of our company right now."

Next year, Grand-Maitre says, "is really aligning into a direction I've been dreaming of having for quite a while."

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Added to Library on March 22, 2006. (2193)

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