Artistic Director Jean Grand-Maître on being awarded the Order of Canada

We always knew his incredible talent was special, but he’s now been officially recognized for his achievements and has joined the ranks of Canada’s elite.

Alberta Ballet’s Artistic Director Jean Grand-Maître received the Order of Canada for his creative contributions as a choreographer and for his leadership as the Artistic Director of Alberta Ballet. It’s the highest honour a civilian can receive in our country.

He calls the recognition an honour that totally took him by surprise. “It’s like winning an Oscar but it comes with a warm embrace from your country. If you love your country like I do, it makes you feel like you maybe made it a better place,” Jean said, adding that the first call he made after accepting the Order of Canada was to his parents in Ottawa.

“It was the happiest moment of my life. They sacrificed so much so that I could become an artist and they are so proud. That was an amazing phone call.

“It’s also an homage to Alberta Ballet and all that we’ve accomplished over the last 17 years, and all of the artists we’ve worked with. It says that all of the hard work and the perseverance was noticed and appreciated and paid off to such a level that we’d get national recognition.”

Jean, a former dancer, has been the creative genius behind hundreds of dance productions in his career with some of the world’s most prestigious dance companies. He’s created works for The National Ballet of Canada, Teatro alla Scala in Milan, the Stuttgart Ballet, the National Norwegian Ballet, the National Bavarian State Ballet, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, Ballet BC, the National Ballet of Cuba, Ballet Jörgen and the Hartford Ballet.

Born in Hull, Quebec, Jean began his dance training at York University in Toronto before moving on to Montreal’s L’École Supérieure de Dance du Québec. He later danced with Ballet BC and Theatre Ballet of Canada. In 2002 he joined Alberta Ballet as Artistic Director.

In 2010 he was Director of Choreography for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympic Games for which he created dances for more than 18,000 performers. In 2017, he was one of three choreographers that the National Arts Centre selected to pair with three composers for the creation of Encount3rs, a celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday. Jean was paired with Edmonton-born composer Andrew Staniland. The one-act ballet, Caelestis – with Staniland’s JUNO-nominated score – will make its Alberta debut in February as part of Alberta Ballet’s mixed bill, de.Vi.ate. 

During his 16-year tenure at Alberta Ballet, Jean’s received international praise for his portrait ballets – collaborations with legendary musicians like Joni Mitchell, k.d. lang, Sarah McLachlan, Gordon Lightfoot, Sir Elton John, and most recently, The Tragically Hip.

“Artists work hard their whole career and were not doing it for the awards, but It’s nice to be recognized by your peers for your achievements and it makes you realize that it’s okay to stop and pat yourself on the back once in a while,” he said.

He hasn’t heard yet when the ceremony in Ottawa with the Governor General will be, but when the time comes, he’ll be taking his parents with him. “They’ll be sitting in the front row with me.”

While Jean may have rubbed shoulders with some of the world’s most famous artists, he’s more excited to meet some of the other recipients of the Order of Canada like Rhoda and Rhonda Wurtele, the 97-year-old twins who pioneered the sport of alpine skiing in 1948.

“I have a great deal of admiration for all of them and consider it quite an honour to be recognized with this group of people,” he said.

Previous honourees include Olympians, scientists, medical professionals, professional athletes and celebrities like Mike Meyers, Alex Trebek. Catherine O’Hara, The Tragically Hip, Sarah McLachlan and Celine Dion, to name a few.

Kim Jackson