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Alberta Ballet

April 20, 2013
Bennie and the Jets opens the show

“Bennie and the Jets” opens the show

Love Lies Bleeding

Reviewed April 19, 2013

NAC Southam Hall, Ottawa

(Repeat performance April 20, 8 p.m.)

Love Lies Bleeding is a one-of-a-kind full-length ballet inspired by one-of-a-kind mega star Sir Elton John. As a performer/entertainer who has crossed generations with his theatrical extravaganzas and his brilliant lyrics co-written by long-time collaborator Bernie Taupin, John’s performing life alone would be a challenge to conceive in any artistic medium, never mind the personal demons – including repressed homosexuality in less gay-friendly times and drug abuse — he has struggled with over four decades of being in the limelight.

As such, it’s best to view Alberta Ballet’s Love Lies Bleeding, choreographed by the company’s artistic director Jean Grand-Maître, with an open mind. First of all, it’s an odd juxtaposition of the world of classical ballet with the world of rock and roll. Elements of Broadway, jazz, hip-hop and cabaret titillation intermix with pointe work.

The outfits, as they should be for any work reflecting over-the-top John, are hyperbolic. Designed by Martine Bertrand, the Demonics (who drift through the entire show), the Cowgirls, the Marie Antoinettes and the Angels are just some of the beautiful dramatic costumes put together for this show.

The set is tightly designed and simple: a large frame that hangs askew over the stage acts as a screen for sporadic projected images, a large circular revolving platform acts as a podium, backdrops of curtains or stars provide apt environments for the character dancers.

Of course, as an Elton John fan from way back, I love the music. Live would be show-stopping, but the recorded version is clean and adequately cranked up.

The performance itself is perfectly timed at just under two hours with an intermission. In general, the second half is more interesting than the opening numbers. The show begins with an energetic, dazzling jazzy baseball number accompanied by John’s “Bennie and the Jets,” and the stage explodes into party time for the closing number, “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” with all the characters back in action.

While there are through threads, such as the Demonics, mostly the show is a series of 14 vignettes, danced to 14 of John’s hits. Some stand out more than others. In the magical “Rocket Man,” Rocket Girls and Rocket Boys are clad in enchanting outfits of indigo tights and red spangled bodices, their limbs wrapped in twinkling red lights. The Rocket Boys lift the Girls high above their heads or drag them (gracefully) across a starry backdrop, against magnificent images projected on the obliquely hanging frame/screen.

Three male dancers in drag – Benjamin Warner, Mark Wax and Peter Starr — performing balletic moves in extremely high heels, are an audience favourite.

While it can sometimes be disconcerting to watch two male dancers perform a balletic duet – and it’s rare – in “Sixty Years On,” Kelley McKinlay and Nicolas Pelletier definitely make the duet work as The Lovers. Similarly, the coupling of Yukichi Hattori and McKinlay, which begins with an intimate kiss, is beautifully choreographed, resulting in a poignant highlight.

The other very significant through thread for the show, which really is the star attraction, is Hattori as Elton Fan. He is the central figure in all 14 pieces. Enough cannot be said about this extremely talented ballet dancer. His jumps, his spins, his twists and turns and unbelievably contorted spasms are phenomenal. He enthralls, he entertains and he amuses. In “Rocket Man,” he is roller blading across the stage in downhill ski stance, a red lamp on his forehead and on his privates, and spurts of flame are shooting out of his backside – well, actually, he’s holding two torches tightly against his thighs. In “Have Mercy on the Criminal,” his controlled spastic – now there’s an oxymoron – movements are a wonder to behold. In “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” he swings, leaps and bounds gracefully while wearing wings attached to a ceiling hook. Three golden-outfitted Angels guide his celestial dancing.

The choice to change Hattori’s attire on stage as the dance goes on is a clever one. He undergoes dozens of costume changes, dressed and undressed by Andreamaria Battaggia, often being left in a simple pair of neutral coloured underwear.

As a whole, there are some overstretched fibers in Love Lies Bleeding, some roughness that needs some serious polishing, especially if the show goes international, but overall, the work is high energy, melodramatic, upbeat and exaggerated, stimulating the audience to spontaneous applause and laughter and a standing ovation at the end.

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From → Ballet, Contemporary

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