Jean Grand-Maître had always loved the music of Sarah McLachlan.
Long before the famed choreographer took over Alberta Ballet or was given the epic task of directing the choreography for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics opening ceremonies, he spent 10 years working in Europe – and wherever he went, so did her songs. They were his connection to Canada.
Now Ms. McLachlan's shimmering music and Mr. Grand-Maître's stunning choreography are coming home to Vancouver in Alberta Ballet's Fumbling Towards Ecstasy – a ballet inspired by, and rooted in, the music of one of Canada's most beloved musicians.
Ms. McLachlan herself was intimately involved in the creation of the work, and Mr. Grand-Maître spoke with her at length about the elements in her music – fire, air, land, exotic cultures, the lives of women and, always, the sea – then wove them into the ballet, which follows the spiritual odyssey of a woman from innocence to wisdom, and incorporates ballerinas as young as nine and as old as 56.
"The whole journey is really about attaining wisdom through life's joys and tribulations and suffering and great love moments, so it's a bit like the title Fumbling Towards Ecstasy," says Mr. Grand-Maître, who has also choreographed works around the music of Joni Mitchell, k.d. lang and Elton John. "We fumble our way through this life, hoping to find some bliss at the other end."
Known for her philanthropy, Ms. McLachlan also performed at a fundraiser for the ballet, and in one night raised enough to pay for the entire production, which premiered in Calgary in 2011, and lands in the musician's hometown for the first time this weekend. She and her two daughters plan to attend.
And while many purists roll their eyes at the very idea of "pop ballet," Mr. Grand-Maître is unapologetic about the fact that the productions bring new audiences to dance, and argues that pop musicians have a strong role to play in the fine arts.
"The classic arts can last the centuries, but pop artists capture our modern life more than any other art form, and people really connect with Sarah McLachlan's songwriting in a very human way," he says. "In this time of stress and war in the world, it has a spiritual quality that is so soothing. It's like a balm for our modern anxiety."
Fumbling Towards Ecstasy opens Thursday at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre and runs through Saturday.