Jean Grand-Maitre was rushing out the door Tuesday morning to start a tightly packed day of media interviews, mixed with rehearsals and the day-to-day tasks of running Canada’s second-largest ballet company when his mother called. He answered his phone right away.
“She wanted to congratulate me,” Grand-Maitre explained.
Earlier in the day, Alberta Ballet announced Grand-Maitre’s retirement as the longest-serving artistic director.
“She was proud of what I achieved at the Ballet, and my dad as well, of course,” said Grand-Maitre.
The Quebecor achieved a lot in his nearly 20-year tenure at the helm of the Ballet.
Grand-Maitre took control of the reigns in 2002 and over time, grew Alberta Ballet from a small chamber company into a full-fledged dance company with nearly 30 dancers performing more than seven programs every season.
He helped bring international acclaim to the company with his original portrait ballets which he created alongside several musical icons including k.d. lang, Elton John, Sarah McLachlan and the Tragically Hip.
It’s his first portrait ballet, Joni Mitchell’s The Fiddle and the Drum, however, that Grand-Maitre said he is most proud of.
“Working with Joni Mitchell was probably the greatest moment of my life,” said Grand-Maitre looking back at his collaboration with the Canadian singer-songwriter that launched the series of portrait ballets.
“We spent three years together creating a ballet and then creating a film which toured the world and we remain close friends,” he said.
“What a privilege for me to work alongside such a genius for so many years.”
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For those in the ballet community, however, the appreciation for Grand-Maitre’s own genius has been long-standing.
“He’s brought so much to Calgary,” said long-time ballet donor Heather Edwards.
“He has been such a great part of the community and he’s brought ballet in every form to Calgarians… he’s really welcomed everybody and made it so easy to love ballet.
“Sixteen years ago a friend of mine took me to a studio dress rehearsal,” Edwards recalled.
“From the moment I sat down, he was the warmest, most welcoming soul I’ve met,” she said. “He’s inspiring, he’s collaborative, he connects in such a great way with the dancers, with the board members, the donors, the audience, he’s the most beautiful, authentic person and I feel so lucky to know him.”
Grand-Maitre’s work as a choreographer and dancer also caught the eye of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics organizing committee and he was commissioned to choreograph the opening and closing ceremonies for the Games.
In 2018, Grand-Maitre was awarded the Order of Canada for his lifetime of work and contributions to the country.
Current associate artistic director Christopher Anderson will take over for Grand-Maitre who will remain with the company over the next three years as part of a long-term succession plan.