Alberta Ballet

Joni Mitchell’s The Fiddle and the Drum

What a beautiful way to wind down our season, celebrating Joni Mitchell, one of Canada’s most beloved artists, with this gorgeous evening created with Jean Grand-Maître. The first of a series of “portrait ballets,” where Jean has dug deep into the music and influences of popular composers, Joni Mitchell’s The Fiddle and The Drum is both touching and audacious. Its insightful themes, soulful tunes, and lyrical choreography ultimately lift our hearts and spirits. Happy 75th birthday, Joni! 

NAC Dance is honoured to bring you these performances on the traditional, unceded territory of the Algonquin Nation, and we gratefully acknowledge them as past, present, and future stewards of this land.

Enjoy!


Word from the Choreographer: Jean Grand-Maître

“With our situation for all earthlings – man and animal – becoming so dire, I felt that it was frivolous to present a lighter fare – like “fiddling while Rome burned.”

– Joni Mitchell, The Fiddle and The Drum

When I first approached Joni Mitchell for this project, I was keen on having her not only give us the rights to create dances to her mythical recordings, but to entice her into actually collaborating with us as well by designing the sets, the soundtrack and the libretto. This was not an easy enterprise as Ms. Mitchell adheres to very high standards of excellence. I decided to write her a letter in which I asked her to imagine “our beautiful Athletes of God moving their powerful bodies and their ethereal souls within a protective world of sound, colour and texture that you would create around them.” Her response was swift, and within a month I was having dinner with her in Los Angeles.

During this initial three-hour encounter, I met an artist whose passion and ideas have only intensified with time. She spoke of her deep concerns with issues such as war and environmental neglect, and she believed this ballet could have an educational and inspiring effect on our audiences. Joni does not moralize nor does she pretend to have answers to the world’s problems but she does have a knack for asking penetrating questions that dwell deeply in our consciousness. The creative process for The Fiddle and The Drum renewed my faith in my relationship between art and life. Joni’s selfless and gentle participation will most likely be the highlight of my entire career. In creation she is humble, vulnerable, self-critical yet highly cognizant of her talent and her sharp wit. She is incensed with human folly and she certainly made it clear to me that this ballet could not be “escapist entertainment while Rome is burning.” 

When I began the creation of the ballet and those legendary recordings started to echo in our studios, I must admit I felt intimidated and the pressure was enormous. I told our dancers that they needed to breathe the voice and feel the hypnotizing grooves of her songs just as profoundly as she did during her recording sessions. All of Joni’s albums have become classics and she has composed and recorded what are considered to be absolute masterpieces in almost every genre of music. Not many singer-songwriters can say the same.

In 2006, Joni’s prophesies on the effects of climate change and the rise of fascism were depressing to say the least. Now 12 years later, we are all trapped in the very centre of her dark predictions. Indeed, they’ve put the trees in the tree museums, we’ve paved paradise and climate change is irreversible. But Joni has always said she believed in miracles and so, like her songs, this ballet is filled with hope to counter the darkness.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to an artist who inspires us to remain vulnerable and to be true to ourselves, to face our suffering and our joys equally, and to judge our actions and our motives without hypocrisy. Most of all, she inspires us to be mercilessly honest with life and with those around us. Her poetic images have become spiritual guides to many. 

Joni, I would like to thank you deeply for letting me join your illustrious and legendary artistic odyssey. Even if it was a very short moment, it was worth a lifetime for me.

– Jean Grand-Maître

Word from Joni Mitchell

A message from Joni Mitchell from February 2009 before the world premiere of The Fiddle and The Drum

Jean Grand-Maitre approached me with a selection of my songs, which he wanted to choreograph and present as a ballet, tentatively entitled Dancing Joni. He came to visit me, and invited my participation, just as I was preparing a mixed media show of 64 large canvases – triptychs – depicting various wars and revolutions. The images had been collected from a dying flat screen TV and were a combination of dramatizations and documentary images – the dominating colours being green and pink – an odd palate for depicting death and destruction. Marching through the canvases are a chorus line of green flag bearing girls. 

When Jean saw the images he wished to include them in the presentation I suggested that I prepare a selection of songs that would be more compatible with the war images. We worked together through technical and budget limitations and came up with a ballet entitled Joni Mitchell’s The Fiddle and The Drum. I designed and prepared an accompanying installation of the art, which would be suspended over the dancers.

I’ve included two new songs in the ballet, but most of the material comes from an album called Dog Eat Dog, which was poorly received in the 1980s, and was almost immediately repressed for more than 20 years. The set also includes two poems, which I set to music but did not write. One is Rudyard Kipling’s if, and the other a song I call Slouching Towards Bethlehem, which was adapted from the Yates poem The Second Coming

With our situation for all earthlings – man and animals – becoming so dire, I felt that it was frivolous to present a lighter fare – like “fiddling while Rome burned.”

Music

Sex Kills
By permission of Crazy Crow Music-Sony/ATV Music Publishing Canada. Courtesy of Warner Music Canada.

Passion Play
By permission of Crazy Crow Music-Sony/ATV Music Publishing Canada. Courtesy of Geffen Records, under license from Universal Music Canada.

The Three Great Stimulants
By permission of Crazy Crow Music-Sony/ATV Music Publishing Canada. Courtesy of  Geffen Records, under license from Universal Music Canada.

Shine
By permission of Crazy Crow Music-Sony/ATV Music Publishing Canada. Video: Simon Schama’s Power of Art. Images courtesy of BBC Worldwide.

Woodstock
By permission of Crazy Crow Music-Sony/ATV Music Publishing Canada. Video: Refuge of the Roads | Courtesy of  Shout Factory and Joni Mitchell.

For the Roses
By permission of Crazy Crow Music-Sony/ATV Music Publishing Canada. Courtesy of Warner Music Canada.

- - - INTERMISSION - - - 

The Reoccuring Dream
By permission of Crazy Crow Music-Sony/ATV Music Publishing Canada.

Ethiopia
By permission of Crazy Crow Music-Sony/ATV Music Publishing Canada. Courtesy of Warner Music Canada. Images courtesy of BBC Worldwide and The National Geographic.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem
By permission of  Crazy Crow Music-Sony/ATV Music Publishing Canada. Courtesy of Geffen Records, under license from Universal Music Canada.

The Beat of Black Wings
By permission of Crazy Crow Music-Sony/ATV Music Publishing Canada. Video: The Beat of Black Wings | Courtesy of Geffen Records,
under license from Universal Music Canada.

If I had a Heart I’d Cry
By permission of  Crazy Crow Music-Sony/ATV Music Publishing Canada.

If
By permission of Crazy Crow Music-Sony/ATV Music Publishing Canada.

Big Yellow Taxi
By permission of  Crazy Crow Music-Sony/ATV Music Publishing Canada.

- - - -
3D water projection effects
: Solid Green

Donors

Alberta Ballet wishes to thank the following donors for their generous support to our The Fiddle and the Drum tour:

Heather Edwards | Jane McCaig & Richard Waller | Ann M. McCaig

Alberta Foundation for the Arts
Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity
Calgary Foundation
Calgary Arts Development
Government of Canada
Canada Council for the Arts
The City of Calgary
The City of Edmonton
Edmonton Arts Council
Rozsa Foundation

Alberta Ballet

Executive Team
Jean Grand-Maître, Artistic Director
Chris George, Executive Director

Artistic Staff 
Christopher Anderson, Associate Artistic Director
Christiana Bennett, Ballet Mistress
Pierre Lavoie, Resident Lighting Designer
Peter Dala, Music Director

Production Staff
Raven Hehr, Director of Costume Production & Interim Production Manager
Caroline Becq, Company Manager and Executive Assistant to the Artistic Director
Lexie Klasing, Stage Manager


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