Fiddle and the Drum at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre

“Exuberance is Beauty.”
William Blake, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”

There was exuberance in abundance at The Fiddle and the Drum.  As the opening event of the 2010 Cultural Olympiad, it was a marriage of heavenly dancing and hellish themes. Joni Mitchell calls it her “war ballet”. Jean Grand-Maitre, Artistic Director and Choreographer of the Alberta Ballet, says “spectators often express how the ballet, even with its dark themes, inspires hope and optimism…”

Mitchell’s set design was deceptively straightforward and extremely engaging. A large circular screen hovers above, with an ever-changing array of images – the sky, the earth, the moon, tyrants, skulls, animals, lyrics (for “Woodstock”) – projected onto it at different times. Combined with Pierre Lavoie’s sublime moon-blanched lighting, the images created a surreal and powerful effect.

I’m no Nureyev, but I know what I like. And what I really enjoyed (and was at times delightfully overwhelmed by) was Grand-Maitre’s choreography. A full company of 30 dancers, some with helmets,  others with flags, engaged in unbelievable jumps and exquisite arabesques to Mitchell’s lyrics and music.

It was an absolutely revelatory experience to see songs like “Shine”, and a joyous version of Rudyard Kipling’s “If”,  followed by “Big Yellow Taxi” re-imagined in this way, to see young Clara Stripe’s airborne, acrobatic arrival on stage, or hilarious Matthew Lehmann’s more stable “man on couch” in “The Reoccurring Dream”. These images were, and are, ineffable and indelible.

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