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Alberta Ballet

By Michael Crabb

Alberta Ballet
Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium
Calgary, Canada
May 6–9, 2010
Reviewed by Michael Crabb

 

Alberta Ballet dancers in "Bennie and the Jets" from Love Lies Bleeding. The Banff Centre, Courtesy AB.


If you’re making a show of glam-rock superstar Elton John songs restraint is probably the last consideration. Canadian choreographer Jean Grand-Maître betrays little of it in Love Lies Bleeding, the million-dollar-plus, Vegas-meets-Broadway-meets-Chippendales dance spectacular brought vividly to life by his 30-member Alberta Ballet.


Set to 14 numbers from the Elton John/Bernie Taupin songbook—familiar favorites and less predictable selections—Love Lies Bleeding is an unabashedly raunchy, risqué ride through the highs and lows of a troubled yet ultimately triumphant career.


Steeped in gender-bending homo-eroticism, it’s framed less as a bio-ballet than a surreal fantasy/allegory about the perils of sexual self-denial and drugged-up showbiz celebrity.


In Grand-Maître’s conception, Japan-born Yukichi Hattori—a diminutive firecracker with dazzling technique and irresistibly engaging stage presence—portrays an obsessive, otherwise anonymous “Elton Fan.” He strides down the aisle, clambers onto the stage, and is quickly pitched into an episodic rollercoaster through key phases in his hero’s career.


“Bennie and the Jets” finds Hattori’s character in a sequined, skin-tight, ersatz Dodger uniform performing an acrobatic mix of ballet and break dancing on a spangled revolve while a circling, similarly costumed corps wield silver baseball bats with alternating elegance and menace.


In the wonderfully rendered “Rocket Man”—a starry night—he’s propelled across the darkened stage on roller-skates, his body defined by onboard red lights and a flare of fireworks.


Occasionally cumbersome onstage costume changes often leave Hattori near naked. He dons everything from angel wings and gold loincloth to peacock-feathered frock coat and plumed top hat as he is stalked by a team of Clockwork Orange–inspired “Demonics” in studded codpieces and bowlers, redolent both of the devils within and homophobia without.


The scourge of AIDS appears, perhaps over-obviously, in “Sixty Years On.” Mark Biocca/Kelley McKinlay’s steamy pas de deux portrays doomed man-to-man love beneath a sinister Damoclean sword. Meanwhile, Hattori’s Elton avatar begins the process of awakening that leads to full acceptance of his homosexuality.


 Grand-Maître’s hybrid choreography blends everything from classical ballet—the women mostly on pointe, even when dressed as men—to slinky jazz and hints of ballroom. It’s hardly sophisticated, but with so much else to draw the eye this is rarely an issue.


Martine Bertrand’s deliberately kitsch costumes are consistently delightful and designer Guillaume Lord’s huge picture-framed, flyable mirror serves admirably as the back-projection screen for Adam Larsen’s memory bank of video imagery.


Spurred by an avalanche of advance media hype, Calgary audiences went predictably rock-concert wild after the rousing “Saturday Night’s Alright” finale. But, then, as jukebox ballets go, there’s more than enough here to satisfy anyone looking for a combination of clap-along entertainment and heartfelt commitment to the music of a great pop artist.