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.
Considering the reported $1.2-million budget for the work, Martine Bertrand's costumes don't seem to cover a lot of turf, designed as they are to showcase the dancer as much as the dance.
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.
SUN RATING: 4 out of 5
- Toronto Sun
Artistic director Jean Grand-Maitre arrived with John’s personal assistant Mike Hewitson and friend Ray Cooper, a percussionist who appeared on most of the singer’s albums in the ’70s and still tours with him.
“I’ve heard quite a lot about this ballet,” Cooper said.
“It’s quite exciting and groundbreaking. Anything that gets people out to see arts like this is fantastic.”
Cooper — who has also worked and recorded with The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd and Eric Clapton to name a few — told the Sun John was thrilled that Alberta Ballet had created a new work using his music.
“Absolutely. It’s a glorious embrace of ballet and music.”
Grand-Maitre held a pre-show chat, in which he recalled meeting Sir Elton backstage at his Saddledome show two years ago.
A month after meeting the star, Grand-Maitre approached his management with the idea of using John’s music in a ballet.
John invited Grand-Maitre to discuss the idea with him in Las Vegas and gave him his blessing.
“This would not be possible without his blessing,” the choreographer told the assembled crowd.
It was rumoured earlier in the week the man behind such hits as Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Tiny Dancer and Bennie & the Jets would make an appearance at Thursday’s event. But if the flamboyant singer was there, he did not make a very public entrance.
He did, however, send a huge bouquet of flowers to Grand-Maitre with a note congratulating him on the production.
- Calgary Sun"The pressure is high because Elton's standards are very high as well, and we're waiting for his approval to continue to perform the ballet. If he's happy with it, we'll be able to tour it around the world," Grand-Maître told CBC News.
"If they don't get that permission, then they'll have a difficult time with the banks," said Bob Clark, a performing arts critic with the Calgary Herald.