Monday, October 17, 2011

Love Lies Bleeding: The Alberta Ballet & Elton John

Loves Lies Bleeding
is the Alberta Ballet's fabulous new ballet featuring the classic songs of Sir Elton John and his lyricist Bernie Taupin. The non-stop parade of stage theatrics and dazzling costumes by Martine Bertrand, rivals even Las Vegas for sheer spectacle, while New York-based Adam Larsen's eye-popping projections provide a showy backdrop for the talented troupe of dancers, which in many of the numbers, is impossible to tell the men from the women. 

Gender-bending is the name of the game. Although inspired by the life and career of Elton John, Love Lies Bleeding is not a simple biographical narrative, rather the songs are used as a springboard to launch into topics such as addiction, homophobia and enduring love. Jean Grand-Maître, the Alberta Ballet's artistic director, says he came upon the work serendipitously after meeting with Elton John and discussing the singer's challenges and hardships that he's faced throughout his life. He was addicted to alcohol. He was addicted to drugs. He was repressed as a homosexual. He wanted the ballet to talk about addiction, homosexual dignity and not compromising ourselves — having the courage to change the course of our lives and our vision of ourselves.

 Jean Grand-Maître, the Alberta Ballet's artistic director

Grand-Maître considers Love Lies Bleeding to be more of a dance spectacular than a ballet. "Some of the movement is inspired by Bob Fosse, but there's also cabaret, rollerblading, and contemporary athletic movement similar to Cirque du Soleil. It's quite a hybrid — like a Broadway Vegas show with ballet." But there are moments that make the audience think. A group of dancers, Demonics, who represent the darker corners of life and homophobic prejudice have three appearances: as the purveyors of pain and victimization (Have Mercy on the Criminal), the destroyers of beauty (Goodbye Yellow Brick Road) and the killers of dreams (The King Must Die). There are also moments of hope. "There's a song called The Bridge. It's about having the courage to cross a bridge and transform yourself, to find a new life. To create a new life"

One of the 'Rocket Girls' from Elton John's 'Rocket Man'

The ballet begins with a character called Elton Fan, who is intrigued by the closed curtain in the theatre which opens when he jumps up onto the stage, finding a child on a tricycle — a young Elton circling round a spotlight. From this seemingly ordinary child, and this nondescript circle of light, will grow the legendary man and his extravaganza of excess. Set in a vast, dark theatre littered with mementos, artifacts and the remembrances of past glories, the ballet is a sexy romp with lots of glitz, glamour and bling à la Bob Fosse and Jerome Robbins. 

Yukichi Hattori in 'Madman Across the Water'

Love Lies Bleeding is full of eye candy, from gorgeous men in sequined jockstraps to a trio of drag-queens cavorting in high heels, but also elements of poignancy, with one male duet beginning with a prolonged kiss by a character is called David, referring to John's life partner, David Furnish — the duet is a testament to love. That said, Love Lies Bleeding is Ballet-lite, thoroughly entertaining with songs by one of the most successful pop-music teams in history. The production which cost over $1.5 million, is wildly flamboyant with more than 150 spectacular costumes, surreal video projections, fabulous music and the extraordinary talents of the Alberta Ballet's phenomenal principal dancer Yukichi Hattori. My only regret was that the production didn't feature a live orchestra, but rather the canned, albeit iconic music, of Elton John. Nevertheless, Love Lies Bleeding is destined to become enormously successful, and rightly so. Frankly, what's not to like?