“Love Lies Bleeding”
10 May 2012
Jubilee Auditorium North, Auditorium
If there’s any ballet that defines Alberta Ballet, it’s Jean Grand Maitre’s Elton John tribute, ‘Love Lies Bleeding’. One part sexy sass, one part rock n’ roll, and one part quintessential Grand Maitre choreography, the ballet is a whole lot of fun. A showpiece for the company’s tiny tour de force, Yukichi Hattori, “Love Lies Bleeding” dances through the life of Elton John, highlighting his lows, his highs and his memorable music. Taking us from Bennie and the Jets to Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, the ballet is a rousing success, a feast of dance, music and the Alberta Ballet.
While framed by Elton’s memorable music, the ballet is all about the visual – Grand Maitre’s sculptural choreography, the deliciously sexy Martine Bertrand costumes and the sets. When it comes to Elton John, over the top is the name of the game, but Guillaume Lord’s sets succeed by providing an eye-catching, but simple backdrop to the glittery costumes. soaring red curtains or a glittering night sky, they’re lush, but leave the scene to be sold by Gavin Larsen’s videos, the costumes and especially the dancing.
Though devoid of anything even resembling body fat, Yukichi Hattori is a slight dancer, and most of the Jubilee Auditorium audience seemed unaware of his electric blue track-suited presence in the aisle until he’d nearly completed the walk to the stage. But that was the last time Hattori went un-noticed. Technically referred to as the “Elton Fan”, Hattori’s character is, if not Elton himself, a window into a wild, inspired, at times troubled and ultimately fulfilled, successful life.
The no-holds-barred, pelvis first choreography starts with a corps of baseball players (a la Bennie and The Jets), and moves on to more Alberta-appropriate cowgirls in I’m Gonna be a Teenage Idol. Coming out of the staid Swan Lake, the dancers get a chance to rediscover body parts that barely got to move on the lake – things like hips and pelvises. And them pelvises don’t just wiggle, they grind and vibrate, oversized codpieces leaving no question as to key body parts.
In a rare episode of balletic female to male cross- dressing, some of the fairer sex are drafted into the codpiece costumes, but this is really a ballet about men in all their sexy, gorgeous, incredible dancing glory. Which is only appropriate given that Elton John’s life has been about his journey as a gay man. In “Love Lies Bleeding”, the memorable men come in dresses, heels and sometimes very little. The reoccurring male corps, The Demonics” (Peter Starr, Davidson Jaconello, Elier Bourzac, David Neal and occasionally Nicolas Pelletier) appear in get ups that range from the aforementioned codpieces to high heeled boots (somewhere a ballerina is relishing her revenge on male balletic feet). And man can the men move; they’re all hips a swivel, feet a flying, sexual energy a swirling.
At their centre is the indefatigable Yukichi Hattori, who doars though the action in a plethora of on stage costume changes masterminded by Andrea Battaggia’s dresser. Though at times a tad clunky, these changes in costume mark the shifts in mood. In the all out Rocket Man, featuring some of Grand Maitre’s best lifts and corps movement, Hattori’s roller skates and red light lit costumes create a scene that seems to fuse motion capture and ‘Starlight Express’. As the ballet moves from the mania of Madman Across the Water (surely taking some inspiration from the Bronze Idol) and Have Mercy on the Criminal, Hattori’s character goes from glitter to a simple pair of flesh colored trunks in the touching male pas de deux to ‘Sixty Years On’. But whatever he’s wearing, Hattori is stunning – his body is a canvas for emotions, expressed in steps from pirouettes to high leaps to motionless tension to tender parterning – a masterpiece of a performance
Despite all the glitz, the ballet really finds it’s emotional core in the more introspective interludes, as in the male pas de deux. The beautifully matched Kelley McKinlay and Elier Bourzac (after an Alberta winter and Elton John, Bourzac must find himself as far as possible from classical, tropical Cuba!), combine for an emotional pas de deux. The movement is sculptural, their bodies wrapping around each other, then moving above the stage as they are hoisted by a wire. Later, Anthony Pina is touching in Cecile & Danceny, his stunning lines and purity of movement yet again making him the one to watch in the company. And near the end, the Elton character is matched with David (a la David Furnish, Elton’s husband) in another pas de deux. Kelley McKinley, as David, had little trouble lifting Hattori, but one wonders whether the pas de deux will take on a different flavor when danced by the evenly matched McKinley and Bourzac.
In “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”, a trio of angels finally rescue the (literally) dangling Elton character from the drug and booze addled mania of his life. Of course, only Elton-esque angels would flap to the rescue in gold glitter codpieces, worn with style by Garrett Groat, Davidson Jaconello and Colby Parsons. Elton saved, the ballet launches into some of the most impressive male dancing to yet grace a stage. The Trocks may do the guys in pointe shoe thing, but only Anthony Pina, Mark Wax and Blair Puente (possibly Peter Starr) can rock the stage in miles high stiletto heels. To the strains of ‘Believe’, they bring down the house with nose-knocking high kicks, and the ballets tour de force – a ménage in high heels by, I believe, Peter Wax. Holy high heels!
The evening ends with the toe-tapping, soul lifting ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’ finale. It’s a celebration of redemption, success, and outlandishness as only Elton John can do it, and a series of bows all in one.
(As a note - in a fit of probably never to be repeated cultural relevance, the CBC televised a condensed 1-hour version of the ballet. Extensive clips are available on the CBC website for viewing by Canadian audiences, and there are images and text available to all).