Alberta Ballet announced in February that Artistic Director Jean Grand-Maître will be stepping down in 2022 after twenty years on the job. But he isn’t going anywhere.
He will finish the 2020/21 season then act as co-artistic director with Christopher Anderson for the 2021/22 season. After that, Grand-Maître will continue as artist-in-residence, and Anderson will take over.
In the company’s fifty-four-year history, Grand-Maître is just the sixth artistic director and has lasted longer than any of his predecessors.
“I was trying to find the word,” Grand-Maître said. “I’m going to be morphing. Shape-shifting, that’s another one,” he said between chuckles. He said he’s been thinking about transitioning out of the role he started in 2002 for a while, after he lost some of his passion for parts of the job that don’t involve artistic creation, like administration and fundraising. He said he now feels ten years younger after deciding to make the change.
His efforts haven’t gone unnoticed, however; he was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2018. He said he’s also proud of the work he’s done to build ballet audiences in Alberta. That work involves programming a balance of classical ballets and more “avant-garde” work, he said. The company is now known for what it calls its “portrait ballets.” These works have been in collaboration with singer-songwriters including Joni Mitchell, Elton John and k.d. lang.
The collaboration with lang resulted in the piece Balletlujah!. Hayna Gutierrez, former principal dancer with the company, danced the lead role — k.d. lang — in the production. Gutierrez, originally from Cuba, said that these kinds of roles are why she had a great experience working with Grand-Maître.
“He makes you dance to this extreme that you feel that your body can at one point break,” she said. Before she danced with Alberta Ballet, she danced with the Cuban National Ballet, which she said was completely different. She described the work as purely classical, compared to the mix of classical and contemporary at Alberta Ballet.
“I was always tired when I was dancing [Grand-Maître’s] ballets, but at the same time, you feel good because he makes you really feel what you feel,” she said.
Grand-Maître said he’s now ready to “hand the baton to someone younger and full of energy.” That someone is Anderson, who has been with the company since 2015, first as a ballet master and then as associate artistic director.
“I have a feeling his vision is going to be a dynamic, refreshing one,” Grand-Maître said. He also thinks that Anderson will keep an eclectic repertoire while increasing the technical level of the dancers.
While Anderson is implementing his vision, Grand-Maître said he’s going to start working closely with the dancers in the studio and spending more time on artistic projects. “And that sounds so good,” he said.