When the Vancouver 2010 Olympics kick off February 12, Albertans won’t only be cheering as our homegrown athletes march into the stadium, we’ll be raising the roof for Jean Grand-Maître. The Calgary-based artistic director of the Alberta Ballet is choreographing the Games’ opening, closing and victory ceremonies. Moreover, Grand-Maître’s exquisite ballet collaboration with singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell, The Fiddle and the Drum (above), will play to an international audience during the Games’ Cultural Olympiad. Then in May, the marriage of ballet and pop music continues when the Alberta Ballet performs ELTON, a show created by Grand-Maître and set to the music of the legendary Sir Elton John. Westworld spoke to Grand-Maître about this remarkable array of artistic projects.
WW: What makes Joni Mitchell’s The Fiddle and the Drum such a good fit for the Olympics?
JG-M: The piece deals with relevant themes of our modern times, such as the ongoing aggression between nations and the destruction of our planet. It was created by a Canadian singer/songwriter, a
Canadian choreographer and a Canadian ballet company, and the collaboration took place in the Prairies where Joni grew up. It’s the ultimate artistic product to represent us.
WW: What can we expect from the Olympic opening ceremonies?
JG-M: As the director of choreography, I have to manage the dance aspects of the ceremony. I work with a team of 18 creative professionals – set, costume and lighting designers – plus thousands of people who have auditioned to be part of the production. It’s the biggest team I’ve ever worked with and some of the best in the business. The lighting designer, for example, does the Academy and Grammy Awards. The sound designer started with Elvis Presley and now works with Barbra Streisand.
WW: How did the Elton John creation, ELTON, happen?
JG-M: One night Joni Mitchell had dinner with Elton John’s agent, where she talked about how much fun the ballet was. Afterwards, Elton John asked if we could come to Vegas to talk about a possible contemporary ballet using his music. We met, talks started and the ELTON show was born.
WW: Will there be any future fusions of ballet and pop music?
JG-M: I’m certainly hoping to continue this because we have a niche that’s really our own – but not all ballet should be performed to pop music. We have a responsibility to perform all kinds of repertoire. But certainly these pop projects bring in new, young audiences.
WW: If you’ve never watched a ballet before, what should you pay attention to?
JG-M: Film director Ingmar Bergman always said, “Why must the imaginary world be held accountable to reason?” Always wanting to explain everything is a human trait, but I think it’s a bad one in
the context of ballet. When we listen to music, we don’t try to understand it, we just feel it. When watching ballet, do the same.
WW: How does art affect individual and community well-being?
JG-M: I’ve been fortunate to have lived in so many cities that have centuries of culture – Paris, Oslo, Montreal, Stuttgart. In these cities, people are multi-dimensional thinkers. Their minds are expanded; their imaginations enriched. Culture teaches us how to live with ourselves, with other humans, with other nations and with the environment. Communities without culture are erased from history. There’s no memory of them.
Visit Alberta Ballet for more information about its 2009/2010 season. Phone 403-245-4549 in Calgary or 780-428-6839 in Edmonton.