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Sarah McLachlan in Calgary last weekend to watch a dress rehearsal of "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy." (Chris Bolin/The Globe and Mail)
Sarah McLachlan in Calgary last weekend to watch a dress rehearsal of "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy." (Chris Bolin/The Globe and Mail)

Theatre

Sarah McLachlan's pas de deux with the Alberta ballet Add to ...

He sees Fumbling going out on the road, too: "We're already getting requests to tour Sarah across California. And it doesn't even exist yet."

This kind of art is good business. When Love Lies Bleeding tickets went on sale, Alberta Ballet recorded the highest one-day sales in its history. The online demand crashed their system. Sales for the production reached 98-per-cent capacity, trouncing the company's historic average of 75 per cent. Both Edmonton shows sold out; something that hasn't happened for Alberta Ballet there since the company brought Baryshnikov to town in 1995. Sales for Fumbling are so good that a show was added this week.

So how does a Hull, Que.-born, Calgary-based choreographer get all these megastars to play ball(et)? Meeting Grand-Maître, 47, it's not difficult to understand. He's a charmer in the most genuine of ways. There's no slick showmanship, but a passionate authenticity with a dash of self-deprecation.

Still, you don't get Elton John to let you create a ballet around his music simply because you're a great guy. Grand-Maître says the attraction for these musicians lies in the novelty. "They've done the Olympics, the Academy Awards, the Grammys. They've toured around the world, and they've written music with other great musicians. But this is something different for them and it's a reinterpretation of their own work, which I think is what they find interesting."

Also, they like what they see. John did not grant permission to the company to tour Love Lies Bleeding outside Alberta until the show had premiered, earning his approval.

And McLachlan, after her little hors d'oeuvre, was clearly delighted. "It was beautiful. Really, really powerful. … I am in capable hands. Very capable hands."

Grand-Maître's not done with pop ballets yet. He has been speaking with Leonard Cohen's son, Adam, about setting a ballet to his dad's music. "With every one of them, it's been so different. With Joni, it's been a heavy collaboration; with Elton it was far away but still there, still supporting. And if it works with Leonard, maybe it'll become a collaboration with his son, an homage to his father.

"So they always take different roads," says Grand-Maître, "which means the ballet never looks the same."

Fumbling Towards Ecstasy runs in Calgary May 5 to 7 and Edmonton May 13 to 14. Visit albertaballet.com.



A Brief History of Pop Ballets

With Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, Jean Grand-Maître delivers his third pop ballet, following 2007's The Fiddle and the Drum, set to the music of Joni Mitchell; and last year's Elton John tribute, Love Lies Bleeding. But he's not alone in tapping AM music for FM inspiration.

Tommy

In 1970, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens broke ground with Fernand Nault's ballet choreographed to the Who's classic rock opera.

Rooster

British Choreographer Christopher Bruce created this acclaimed ballet in 1991 for the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève. Set to eight early Rolling Stones songs - including, of course, Little Red Rooster - the ballet examines sexuality and the battle of the sexes through the lens of the sixties.

Straight Life

This ballet, by Sudbury native and former National Ballet of Canada dancer Matjash Mrozewski, is set to music by Bruce Springsteen. It premiered at Pittsburgh Ballet Theater in 2004, when Mrozewski, who is based in Toronto, was still in his 20s.

Billboards

The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago created what's been called America's first full-length rock ballet to songs by Prince, in 1993, with choreography by Laura Dean, Charles Moulton, Margo Sappington and Peter Pucci.

The Most Incredible Thing

Pet Shop Boys created an original score for this classic Hans Christian Andersen tale, with choreography by Javier de Frutos. It opens at London's Sadler's Wells Theatre March 17.

Ocean's Kingdom

Don't look for any yellow submarines when this ballet, set partly in an ocean world, has its world premiere at New York City Ballet in September, 2011. The music is by Paul McCartney (with choreography by Peter Martins), but the former Beatle is writing an original score.

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