Ballet tribute to k.d. lang soars

LS: Alberta Ballet Artists Hayna Gutierrez and Tara Williamson with member of the company. (Photo Paul McGrath)

Alberta Ballet artists Hayna Gutierrez and Tara Williamson star in the production of “Balletlujah!” that celebrates the life and music of k.d. lang. (Paul McGrath photo)

Story by Jody Robbins Writer

Alberta Ballet rises high as its performers shine the spotlight on k.d. lang in Calgary. (Photo Paul McGrath)

CALGARY, ALBERTA — On the surface, the ballet and k.d. lang may not seem a match. One is traditional, the other rebellious. One tends to play to feminine stereotypes, the other has made a career of obliterating them. In the hands of Alberta Ballet artistic director Jean Grand-Maître, however, the two meld beautifully, as evidenced by the premier of Balletlujah! last weekend. Kitted out in cowboy boots and crinoline, several lasses dressed up as an ode to lang, the latest muse of Grand-Maître.

Finding inspiration in one of the greatest singers of our generation, Alberta Ballet’s fourth portrait ballet is set to the music of the Juno and Grammy Award-winning lang. Previous tributes honoured Joni Mitchell, Elton John and Sarah McLachlan.

“He pulled it off a fourth time! Each time Jean Grand-Maître manages to capture the essence of the artist. Incredible — especially when they’re all so diverse,” marvelled attendee Talia Potter.

Lang, Alberta’s finest export, returned to the province to take in performances in both Edmonton and Calgary, and was suitably impressed, tweeting: “Jean Grand Maitre and the #albertaballet have created something so moving … such a sense of Pride thx”.

Balletlujah!, a contemporary ballet inspired by 16 songs from lang’s repertoire, showcases the singer’s entire career, including music from her 2011 album Sing It Loud, which, incidentally, Grand-Maître says is one of his favourite albums of all time, and tells the story of a love affair between two women.

“They really honoured that it’s a love story. Though it’s between two women, they didn’t make it sensational,” says attendee Laura Woollard.

Ballet Pays Homage to k.d. lang

Influenced by lang’s rich voice, and the dramatic Canadian prairies she grew up on, Balletlujah! is a testament to collaborative efforts. The show reunited many of the artistic partners from the 2010 Winter Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies, including Grand-Maître, lang, Alberta Ballet’s Company Artists, and Anne-Séguin Poirier, who designed the costumes for both events.

Those who like lang’s music but may not be sure about ballet, would not be disappointed. The performance was much more than dance. It utilizes the talented pool of designers and the latest in multimedia technology to immerse the audience in the prairie and city landscapes. The effect is not just from the video and set design, but also through the clever use of lighting, costumes and the dance itself. Particularly spectacular was the videography shot by video production designer Adam Larsen, who travelled to rural Alberta to film much of the visual projections for this show, including footage from Consort, where lang — born Kathryn Dawn Lang — was raised.

It’s Show Time

The performance begins against a backdrop of the prairies and follows lang’s progression from that kind of rodeo setting to Rodeo Drive, where the temptations of Hollywood threaten the lovers. The production re-creates the ethos of these settings, and communicates the influence both environments had on lang as an artist and as an individual.

Fans of traditional ballet might not appreciate the interdisciplinary approach to the production. There’s jazz, lyrical, chicken impersonations and even a spot of square dancing, but you’d be hard pressed to find a critic after witnessing the impressive number of Baryshnikovs (technically known as a jete en tournant, turning splits in the air, made famous by the Russian dancer), which had the crowd burst into applause. Equally impressive was watching 6-foot-3 male dancer Mark Wax, dressed in drag, strut around the stage in four-inch platforms for a nightclub scene. And forget pas de deux — three male dancers forgo ballerinas and partner with real scythes. Thank goodness nobody tripped.

What’s Next for Alberta Ballet?

Lovers of these accessible ballets needn’t fret that they missed this one. Another Joni Mitchell collaboration, based on her love songs is in the works, and set to premier May 2014. With new music and choreography, fans won’t be blue.

And after that, who knows? There’s certainly no shortage of Canadian artists to draw from. Hallelujah to that.


More About Alberta Ballet

Box Offices: 780-428-6839 in Edmonton or in-person at 11120 82 Avenue; 403‐245‐4549 in Calgary or in‐person at 341 17 Ave., SW.
Locations: Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium 11455 87 Ave., NW, Edmonton, AB and Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium 1415 14 Ave., NW, Calgary, AB
Tickets: $20-$116
More Info: Although no additional performances of Balletlujah! are currently scheduled, the Alberta Ballet may tour with the production, as it did with its Elton John-inspired show. Currently celebrating its 46th season, Alberta Ballet is Canada’s second largest ballet company.


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Jody Robbins is a travel and lifestyles writer. Contributing to the Calgary Herald, Today’s Parent and Up! magazine, she divides her time between Calgary and Canmore. She is also the Family Travel Columnist for and the Alberta Regional Chair for the Top 50 Restaurants in Canada, which earned 2.5 million Twitter impressions in its first month for the #Vacay50 hashtag campaign. Jody is active on Twitter (@Jody_Robbins) and maintains her own blog (Travels with Baggage), where you can keep up with all of her latest adventures. When not travelling with her precocious children (one daughter, one husband and one dog), this wannabe foodie can usually be found chowing down at the latest hotspots before attempting to work it all off on the trails.

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