Elton John ballet spectacular fun
Elton John ballet spectacular fun
By JOHN COULBOURN - QMI Agency
CALGARY - In the strictest of balletic terms, it could be said that choreographer Jean Grand Maitre has shot down Swan Lake -- but wait till you get a load with what he's done with all those feathers and rhinestones.
After months of speculation, planning and hype, Grand Maitre and his Alberta Ballet Company officially unveiled their latest work Thursday on the stage of the Jubilee Auditorium for what looked to be a capacity crowd.
And what they delivered was a two-hour story ballet Love Lies Bleeding, set to tunes composed and made famous by one Reginald Kenneth Dwight, more popularly known as Elton John, and his long-time collaborator Bernie Taupin.
But Love Lies Bleeding isn't merely set to John's music, it is also an allegorical retelling of his life, painted in the broad brush strokes of popular culture, referencing everything from A Clockwork Orange to the work of Warhol. It tells the story of a young fan (Yukichi Hattori) who wanders onto the stage only to get swept up in the life of his super-star hero, until he all but consumed by the sex, drugs and debauchery of the rock n' roll world.
It is, of course, a story that in the telling gives Grand Maitre and his collaborators plenty of opportunity to dip into the Elton John songbook and explore not only enduring classics like Bennie and The Jets, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Rocketman, but also lesser known works The Bridge, I Need You To Turn To and a host of others, all rendered in John's familiar recorded voice and all used to maximum effect.
And it also offers plenty of opportunity to showcase the talent in Grand Maitre's hard-working company, sometimes quite literally.
But if some of the costumes are skimpy, the rest of the ballet is as lavish as one might expect a ballet on John's life to be. It's a visual tapesty that spins together the work of lighting designer Piere Lavoie, scenic designer Guillaume Lord and video designer Adam Larsen in an evening that is simply spectacular -- an homage to excess that embraces everything from La Cage to this company's Calgary cowboy roots, with heavy dollops of drag and more than a soupcon of homoeroticism thrown in for good measure, this being Elton John's story, after all.
From a choreographic perspective, Grand Maitre's sources are equally eclectic.
While the company's classical roots are on occasion evident, Grand Maitre also incorporates influences as diverse as break dancing and ballroom, mixed in with just a hint of pole dancing, a touch of religious iconography and a dollop of So You Think You Can Dance for good measure.
And while it is an evening that often seems mired in the Elton John notion that nothing succeeds like excess, Grand Maitre also throws in the occasional tableau of touching simplicity to underline the essential humanity and heartbreak at the heart of his tale.
This is not great ballet, nor did Grand Maitre intend it to be. What it is, is a celebration of a major talent presented in a dance language that fans of that talent can embrace and understand. Elton John's story couldn't be told to music by Tchaikovsky nor choreographed by Balanchine.
And in the final analysis, it will give a lot of Elton John fans a taste of ballet and a lot of ballet fans a taste of Elton John -- and frankly, we can all use the break.
Because in the end, Love Lies Bleeding is more than merely spectacular, it is spectacular fun.
Love Lies Bleeding, created by Alberta Ballet's Artistic Director, Jean Grand-Maitre, premiered in Calgary, at the Jubilee Auditorium..... DARREN MAKOWICHUK/CALGARY SUN