Alberta Ballet dancers share thoughts on remounting Joni Mitchell's The Fiddle and The Drum

It’s been 10 years since Joni Mitchell collaborated with Artistic Director Jean Grand-Maître to create The Fiddle and The Drum so we asked the dancers who performed in it before to share their thoughts on dancing in it again.

“Joni was the first of its kind that Alberta Ballet did. There was much excitement and lots of fear as to how it was going to be accepted. All the fear was for nothing as the audiences rushed to there feet after very show. I’m not sure what the response will be this time around as this type of ballet is very mainstream. 

Getting the opportunity to remount any ballet is always a pleasure. The experience is always different. The ballet may not change at all but you have, both in experience and as an artist. Your approach is completely different then it was the times before. For me, this time around is completely different. I am still dancing in the ballet but I am also setting a bunch of the choreography on the dancers. My mindset has been different from if I was just dancing it again. I’ve had to do a lot of work watching the videos, researching different casts from different years we did the ballet in order to find all of the best detail to share with the current dancers who have never danced this ballet. Seeing many old friends in the videos has been a real highlight for me. I am very excited to seeing this group of dancers tackle this tough ballet and for them to make it their own.”

— Kelley McKinlay

“Dancing in The Fiddle and The Drum again after 10 years in the company is quite surreal for me. It was one of the very first productions I performed as a professional dancer with Alberta Ballet and it left a really strong impression on me. It was my first introduction to dancing and rehearsing Jean’s choreography and style of movement and, while I was only in a few of the songs at the time, I can still distinctly remember so much of the ballet. Rehearsing it again now, I am amazed not only by how many of the steps come back to me, but also just how many of Joni’s lyrics I can recite without thinking. 

Returning to Fiddle again after all these years has been a really interesting process because I am not the same dancer I was 10 years ago, but I have a lot of fond memories from dancing it the first time. I feel I have learned a lot since I first painted myself green for this ballet and so while remounting The Fiddle and The Drum feels in some ways like coming full-circle, it has also allowed me to see how far I’ve come.”

— Jennifer Gibson

“It’s always interesting to remount a production that you haven’t done in a while as the choreography is the same, but you as a dancer have matured and changed. I really enjoy having the memories from dancing it in the past but being able to approach the choreography as a more mature dancer.  The Fiddle and The Drum was the first ballet I ever performed with Alberta Ballet. I was actually hired to replace a dancer who was pregnant at the time. Now it is the first production I am performing after coming back from maternity leave. It’s amazing to have everything come full-circle like that.”

— Reilley McKinlay

“This ballet is about so much more than what happens on stage, although that part is definitely both fun and challenging,. It is about all of the experiences behind the scenes that have made it so memorable for me. It’s the singing in the wings before your next entrance (even if you’ve made up half the lyrics), it’s the ritual post-show green paint removal in the showers with never enough hot water, it’s the slightly green-tinged trips to the store with the whole company on tour, it’s the sense of accomplishment when you get through one of the ‘long’ songs, but most of all it is one of those ballets that inspires a great sense of collaboration and support among all the dancers,. It is truly a team effort every single performance.

I was only an apprentice when I performed this ballet for the first time, and so naturally had just a few small parts, doing more understudying than performing. This time around I have the opportunity to dance some of the songs I always loved watching, and it is such a great way to see how far I’ve come over the past 10 years. I remember feeling so incredibly nervous for my one entrance in the song ‘Woodstock’. I would review it endlessly, and now I’m lucky to help pass on all of the things I (hopefully) learned to the next generation of Alberta Ballet dancers.”

— Alexandra Gibson

Join us for the 10th anniversary production of Joni Mitchell’s The Fiddle and The Drum in Calgary May 1-4 and Edmonton May 9-11.

Kim Jackson