The 63-year-old singer-songwriter, environmentalist, painter and icon has joined with the Alberta Ballet Company to produce The Fiddle and The Drum, which will be performed a total of five times in Calgary and Edmonton.
Jean Grande-Maitre, artistic director of the company (which only produces five shows a year), told the Canadian Press, "We're seeing interest in the creation of a ballet unlike anything we've ever seen in the history of the company, actually." It's also reportedly been overwhelming for the notoriously media-shy Mitchell, who was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame last month.
The ballet, a semi-abstract, narrative work in neo-classical style, is 47 minutes long and features nine songs by Mitchell, who recently began writing again after a ten-year hiatus. The production includes two new songs: If, based on the Rudyard Kipling poem about war and stoicism, and If I Had a Heart, I'd Cry.
The rest of the ballet, named for a 1970 antiwar ballad from her second album, Clouds, reportedly incorporates songs from her 1980s and 1990s recordings.
The production explores environmental issues and violence, from the Vietnam War to the present. Mitchell, who has also worked as a painter since the 1980s (although she rarely shows her artwork in public) has spent around100 hours on the ballet, according to the CP, creating a video installation that will be projected on three large screens above 26 dancers, who will be almost naked and painted jade green.
Grande-Maitre told the CP that he wrote to Mitchell nearly a year ago but was more interested in collaboration than just obtaining the rights to use her music. "Joni Mitchell has always loved ballet and dance, and being involved in this way interested her a lot."
According to The New York Times, that letter from Grande-Maitre read "Please forgive my somewhat imperfect English as I am a native of Quebec and I am still brushing up on this new language. Next year will be Alberta Ballet's 40th Anniversary Season and as Artistic Director, I would be enthused by the possibility of choreographing a ballet to your brilliant and profoundly moving music."
It has been a busy year so far for Mitchell: Flag Dance, an installation of her antiwar mixed-media art, just finished a two-month run at the Lev Moross Gallery in West Hollywood, and she has recently recorded songs for a new album, which she plans to call either Strange Birds of Appetite or If, according to the Times.
"I'm working three shifts," Mitchell told the paper. "I'm doing the work of four 20-year-olds. Between the art show and the ballet and the new album, I've never worked so hard in my life.
"Humbly I hope we can make a difference with this ballet," the paper also quotes her as saying. "It's a red alert about the situation the world is in now. We're wasting our time on this fairy tale war, when the real war is with God's creation. Nobody's fighting for God's creation."