Joni Mitchell - The Creation Blog


The Creation Blog with Jean Grand-Maître

Follow the process of the creation of A new ballet




The creation has begun

Posted July 21, 2013


This year marks the 70th birthday of legendary Alberta born artist Joni Mitchell. This very special birthday will be celebrated extensively across the country on stage, television, film and on the radio. It will be a year to evoke, to re-discover and to celebrate her monumental artistic legacy.


Toronto’s international Luminato festival was the first one out the gate this past June with two sold out tribute concerts held at Massey Hall which the Toronto Star described as an event that created “mass euphoria” and as “one of the most significant cultural events in Toronto’s history”.

“Love has no evil in Mind

Enduring all things

its rejoices in the truth

Love sees like a child sees

Love's the greatest beauty”

- Joni Mitchell


This national recognition is of course highly justified for this extraordinary and internationally acclaimed multi-disciplinary artist. Alberta Ballet could not be more proud to end these year-long celebrations by offering our audience the unique occasion to witness the world premiere of her latest creation, a brand new ballet featuring her acclaimed compositions inspired by love, all personally selected and sequenced by Joni herself.


This was a very challenging task for which she dedicated the past 7 months of her life.


“It is so difficult for me to assemble a multi faceted portrait of love into one ballet… But I will do the best I can with the material I have.” When she suggested a ballet on Love I immediately asked myself: “But who has written more profound songs on love and relationships than Joni Mitchell?” and so luckily the “material” at her disposal is some of the finest in song writing history.


The Fiddle & The DrumFollowing our internationally acclaimed 2007 mega-hit ballet The Fiddle and The Drum, Joni and I had always wanted to create a second ballet together. As she said: with The Fiddle and The Drum we already created our war ballet and so this time let’s be inspired by its extreme opposite, Love, a theme for which I have written more about than any other - Especially what can go wrong with it...”


Looking at our world today, with its ongoing aggressions, its intolerance and its suffering I could not agree more; indeed a ballet inspired by her love songs could stimulate us to re-think about what is most important.


In our times, our neurotic contemporary lifestyle is craving for guidance on how to re-connect as human beings, especially in this cold technological world that seems to be disregarding that fragile thread which connects us spiritually: The act of loving well.


Joni will create the libretto, the set designs and the soundtrack for this ballet. It will be a poignant reminiscence as well as a deep and personal reflection on her entire career as a composer, a poet, a philosopher and a visual artist.


She has written so much on Love that the task of selecting the compositions that would serve as a soundtrack for a coherent narrative for this ballet transformed into one of the most challenging undertakings of her life. Once she started the exhaustive search for the appropriate themes and songs she realized that creating a love story would have been infinitely easier that creating a ballet that speaks about the act of Love.


How does one describe it? How does one capture in 80 minutes of music what took a lifetime to paint, to compose and to write about? Which elements do you discard? How do you avoid the pitfalls of nostalgia and the highly emotional remembrances of past relationships, triumphant or tragic?Joni Mitchell's The Fiddle & The Drum


A meditation on the theme of Love opened up so many possibilities and pathways of thought that at first we were unable to edit the 150 song list down to less than 42 different compositions. We even believed that we would have to create two full length ballets!


Just thinking about the infinite permutations of love contained in her masterful catalogue creates a mind numbing sensation. We found many weighty compositions that speak of smitten love, of joyous love or of the battering or perversion of love. Her music often reflects on the concepts of surrender, of possessive coupling, of family love and of friendship. She sings about lust, about sexual fulfillment, about mature or immature love. She speaks about desire and abandonment, of longing, of empathy and of loss. She wrote exquisite hymns on innocence and impermanence.


We chatted about divorce and litigation, about oppressive love, the constant give and take, about kindness and loyalty and the importance of staying onside – in sickness and in health. We considered how one walks away from love with honour. She mentioned the awesome Zen-like pleasures one can relish by loving the simplest things in life such as the love of place or the passing seasons (what she described as “organic patriotism”).


We talked at great lengths about the phenomenon of seduction, of the powerful metaphors inspired by the act of love and of its infinite array of symbols (which only Joni Mitchell could associate with love) such as a bridge, Ferris wheels, autumn leaves, passing trains, cafes, prairie winters, Wayne Gretzky (of course we had to include the great Canadian love for hockey), figure skaters, parks and dancing girls, dance halls and negro burlesque, neon lights, white picket fences and even wolves. She described seeing wedding gowns spinning in a winter storm (Hejira) , of the many facets of love beautifully portrayed in the recent film Anna Karenina, of making love in the rain, of understanding and forgiving, of “giving oneself away” and then of having to “find oneself again”.


We chatted about what it was like to discover love in small towns.


She wanted to depict how important it is to begin a loving relationship intelligently and what the seeds of breakup could be. She though it significant that we confront the notion that pure love gives in to cynicism and that this was the fate which all great romantics faced. Then she spoke of individuals who seem to have never really loved - How is it that some truly believe they must suffer this austere destiny? We chatted about all the great love stories that we knew and why it is that in all great love stories either the love or the lovers must die.


We shared our ideas on what is intense love and we tried to picture in our minds what was the most touching kiss we ever saw (she thinks the most beautiful Hollywood kiss she ever saw was in the film Keys to the City starring Clarke Gable and Loretta Young).


The conclusion we came to was that love is most precious and so what are YOU going to do with it?”


Joni also expressed her wish that this ballet could serve as a road map for those who are trying to “return to oneself after the injuries of love” and that we needed to remember that love illuminates more than any other human experience.


Then we talked at length about what happens in a loveless world. We reflected on what transforms a person who “fails to love” into a dark force or on a bigger scale the unloving and violent outcomes of the militarization of an entire civilization.


The philosophical aspects were part of these rich and creative chats as well. We covered Buddhism as well as other religion’s advice (To Love One Another). We agreed that a complete absence of love creates atrocities and so we reflected on how we must rise above the petty irritations in any relationship in order to be tolerant of each other and to counter the destructive and divisive fears that stem form the “they” and the “we” attitude.


These discussions, which lasted 10 to 12 hours a day for an entire week, transformed our theatrical concept into a journey from darkness to light. The luxuriant harvest of healthy loving and well-wishing became our main source of musing.


We also danced a lot.


Joni Mitchell’s music has a black groove; it is sophisticated and possesses lush and gloriously sensuous rhythms. To understand them fully she encouraged me to get up and dance with her and I must say this was a truly mind expanding experience and loads of great fun. 


In rehearsals for The Fiddle & The Drum

Finally, after all was said and done, we decided to focus on a narrative that would feature all of these aspects of human relations but would also anchor its reflections on this most important component: How do we keep believing in love, in each other?


Watching her finalize the song selection and its very challenging sequencing was one of those rare moments in my life where I had the privilege of observing a true master at work. As the days went by the “play” as she calls it, began to emerge and the soundtrack took on its full force and beauty. It was like watching a master sculptor carve a stunning masterpiece out of marble.


This magnificent selection of songs will also feature such greats as Herbie Hancock, James Taylor, Wayne Shorter, David Crosby, Ambrose Akinmusire, Brian Blade, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. It will highlight many of her most acclaimed compositions in jazz, latin, blues and folk spanning her entire musical odyssey.  As she said to me after listening to it for the first time in its entirety: “Jean this is so luscious!” and indeed I had to agree.


How humbled I am to be choreographing a new ballet in collaboration with a living legend to a set of songs that has set the standard for the past 50 years. How fortuitous we are at Alberta Ballet to be creating this new production which, in its essence, will become a personal reminiscence by this great artist on her life and her art. How blessed we all are to be bear witness to the latest creative outpouring of such a profound communicator.


Happy 70th Birthday Joni!


May your inspired guidance transform all of us into a People of Heart and Mind so that we may finally be equipped to“come in from the cold”.


Happy Birthday Joni Mitchell:

*Used with permission by Luminato


“Joni's music created a new and unique vocabulary that, whether consciously or not, musicians who followed have used to pull us up higher. Her melodies have been as light as a breeze and as foundational as geology ... I feel like her musical language has changed how I listen.”

- Leslie Feist


“Everything that can be said about the phenomenal Joni Mitchell has probably already been said and by greater voices than my own. As a fellow singer-songwriter, I could add that I've always greatly admired her creations both musical and visual. She's a brilliant original who continues to wow us.”

- Anna McGarrigle


“Happy, Happy Birthday Joni! Thanks for a world of great music”

- Buffy Sainte-Marie


“Dear Joni
My life changed the first time I listened to your music. Your inspired me to play the dulcimer. I have 11 of your records on vinyl. Happy Birthday Joni!”

- Ruby Gonzales, 10 years old, New York City


“Happy Birthday Joni! With so much gratitude for your artistry, originality and being true to yourself - which apart from providing so much pleasure has inspired many an artist - myself included - to stand strong in pursuit of their uniqueness.”

- Diana Reeves


“Joni - you showed me that women could be great songwriters. Without you, I would never have had the courage to even try. Thank you. You changed my life. Happy birthday”

- Rosanne Cash


“Master Poet. Master Painter. Most Subtle Technician of the Deep. You are indeed Queen Undisputed of Mind Beauty. Star-breasted, Disguised as a Ravishing Piece, You Changed the Way Women Sing, and the Way Men Listen. What an Astonishing Victory over the Unforgiving Years! Thank you, Joni. Love,

- Leonard Cohen

“Wonderful writing, bold experiments, fearless arranging - all with that voice. Smoking and drinking, outtalking everyone, passions ablaze in those beautiful eyes. What a treat to work with you... In my secret place. Happy Big Birthday”

- Peter Gabriel


“Dear Joni, you have inspired and moved me my whole life - your talents are incomparable and your body of work immense and bold. Thank you for giving so much of yourself to the world as we are all better for it. Happy Birthday, with much love and respect.”

- Sarah McLachlan


“Happy Birthday Joni! I personally have a deep admiration for your many talents and celebrate you as an iconic Canadian, international legend and artistic inspiration, as well as a thought and heart provoking human being. Thank you for the incredible example and cheers to you, beautiful lady. I wish you love, health and happiness.”

- Shania Twain


“Everyone has their favourite Joni phase and mine is the 'Jazz Joni' of the late 70s. I particularly love those three albumes, Hejira, Don Juan's Reckless Daughter and Mingus. The incredible guitar textures, Pastorius's liquid bass, gorgeous and perceptive songs. Joni is her own genre. Happy Birthday!”

- Neil Tennant, Pet Shop Boys


“Hi Joni! You've spent an entire career ahead of the curve. A lot of creative possibilities were opened for a lot of artists because of that. Congratulations on having navigated so well the crazy life we all lead!”

- Bruce Cockburn


“I think Joni is certainly a hugely significant artist and one that I greatly admire. I've met her on occassions in the early days and I send my greetings and congratulations on her fantastic successes through the years and of course her continuing achievements.”

- Joan Armatrading


“Joni is the ultimate antihuntress: she traps you and then sets you free, no matter who you are. Also, a Canadian accent has never sounded cooler.”

- Rufus Wainwright

“Dear Joni,
I love your super creative music and I also love the fact that you are a painter as well. A big regret of mine is that I didn't do the music video for one of your songs in the 1980s. I just didn't have the ideas. All the best to you.”

- David Lynch


“I have always cited Joni as a major inflence on me, both as a vocal stylist and as a weaver of narrative songs. The expansion of her musical landscape that occured in the drafting of jazz musicians and their harmonic sensibilities into her band was equally inspiring and influential”

- Sting


“'I wish I had a river, I could skate away on.' Lyrics of home married with a voice stung with nectar is what began my captivation with Joni Mitchell. An ice skater always seems effortless, much like her tone. Razor sharp, with melodies that skip from high to low, she is the sound of a gifted blade.”

- Amy Millan


“I was introduced to your exquisite music through a roommate I had, who listened to your songs obsessively. After a very short while, I understood the addiction. The honesty, wit, warmth, and clarity of your songs is without parallel. Happy Birthday, Joni!”

- Atom Egoyan


“An appreciation of Joni Mitchell can begin at any point in her career. Working backwards or forwards, the gems and the masterpieces are all there waiting for discovery. Her groundbreaking art is a treasure trove of soul and passion. So fresh, so true. And all this from a brave and rowdy girl from Saskatoon who built her rebellious spirit into one of the great creative adventured. 'Everything I learned,' she once said, 'I learned by osmosis and admiration.' Happy Birthday, Joni.”

- Cameron Crowe



“Hello Joni
A pity we never met, most likely because we lived on Both Sides Then and Both Sides Now - Canada and the UK. Our taxis may be of different colours but we have a great deal in common, having reinvented ourselves satisfactorily several times in our seven decades. Have a wonderful night and send ME some sentences on the celebration of my 80th in the UK in two years.”

- Peggy Seeger





Subject to change - work in progress


Song Album
Act One
Not To Blame Turbulent Indigo
Blue Blue
No Apologies Taming the Tiger
The Wolf That Lives in Lindsey Mingus
Hana Shine
Hejira Travelogue
Stay in Touch Taming the Tiger
The Crazy Cries of Love Taming the Tiger
Love Puts on a New Face Taming the Tiger
You Dream Flat Tires Travelogue
Borderline Travelogue
Love Travelogue
Act Two
You Turn Me On I'm A Radio For The Roses
All I Want Blue
Be Cool Travelogue
Yvette in English Turbulent Indigo
Just Like This Train Court and Spark
Man to Man Wild Things Run Fast
The Last Time I Saw Richard Travelogue
Raised on Robbery Court and Spark
God Must Be a Boogie Man Travelogue
Harlem in Havana Taming the Tiger
Come in From the Cold Night Ride Home
Both Sides Now Both Sides Now


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