Friday, October 7, 2011

Love Lies Bleeding Moving to Toronto

Bennie and the Jets, A Candle in the Wind and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road are all the kind of pop songs with instant recognition.

Yet for people who grew up listening to the classic songs by Sir Elton John and Bernie Taupin, there's more to them than heartbreaking lyrics and memorable tunes. The songs are also associated with memories of their youth.

So when choreographer Jean Grand-Maître was developing his ideas for Love Lies Bleeding, his contemporary dance production based on the duo's songs, he knew he couldn't ignore those memories - his own included.

"That's usually a problem I have when I make ballets like this," said Grand-Maître. "When you're using legendary recordings and music, people may have their own ideas of Elton John, what he represents and what his music should look like. That's always our challenge . to create ballets inspired by these very famous contemporary icons and try to surprise the audience - and see something unexpected."

During the past several years, Grand-Maître has developed a knack for matching contemporary dance with the songs of pop music stars.

The artistic director of Alberta Ballet first did it in 2007 when he created a dance work to the songs of Joni Mitchell. Called The Fiddle & The Drum, it was performed in Vancouver last year to open the Cultural Olympiad. During the 2010 Winter Olympics, Grand-Maître was responsible for staging the opening and closing ceremonies in BC Place.

Grand-Maître went to the world of Canadian pop music again with Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, a contemporary dance based on the songs of Sarah McLachlan. It premiered earlier this spring in Calgary.

Grand-Maître's process of turning pop music into contemporary dance starts with personal meetings with the artists.

Once he meets them face to face, he can then start a dialogue that leads to the first creative steps. The first meeting with John took place in 2008, when the singer was performing in Calgary. John had already heard of Grand-Maître's success with the Joni Mitchell production. That turned out to be a big plus because John is a big fan of hers.

The second meeting was a year later on Valentine's Day in Las Vegas, where John was performing at Caesars Palace. Grand-Maître met him in his huge suite before a concert. John had sparkly diamonds in his hair and was wearing lavender glasses, a bathrobe and silvery slippers with EJ monograms.

"He asked that I come and spend an afternoon with him before a concert," Grand-Maître said. "We started talking about the ballet and what it would look like. It was really during that interview that the ballet got designed. He was very gracious.

"The guy is quite a genius. When you meet with him, you realize how brilliant and intense he is. There's a lot of melancholy in this guy."

John wanted a ballet that would attract a new audience to his songs and a production with a storyline that would educate people about substance abuse and about treating people living with AIDS with dignity. It would be loosely based on his life but it wouldn't be an autobiography.

"He said to me: 'I battled demons my whole life.' Although we hear about his triumphs and huge successes, his life was quite a struggle," Grand-Maître said.

"Unlike Kurt Cobain, or Janis Joplin or Michael Jackson - he survived."

Grand-Maître, who calls John 'the Johann Sebastian Bach of pop music,' said most of John's songs were composed in under an hour. Taupin would give him the lyrics and John would park them in a drawer until he felt sad enough to tackle them. The music came out so quickly, Grand-Maître said, it was like an emotional Polaroid.

"I never called it a biography," Grand-Maître said by phone from Calgary. "To do a biographical ballet on a rock star would be the most boring thing. Better to leave that for books and literature than for dance."

The basic storyline, told through 14 songs spread over 80 minutes, is of a young man finding fame and wealth who almost succumbs to his inner demons.

Eventually, he finds love and becomes a survivor.

In developing the look for Love Lies Bleeding, Grand-Maître looked for inspiration to England, where John grew up. The inner demons that John faces are inspired by the droogs in Stanley Kubrick's Clockwork Orange. Three drag queens who show up and give him a tough love session are based on the three witches in Macbeth. Grand-Maître said Love Lies Bleeding is a hybrid of contemporary ballet, hip hop, in-line skating and even an aerial number in the style of Cirque du Soleil. Overall, he said, the choreography has the jazzy flavour of Bob Fosse, who was responsible for the dance scenes in films such as Cabaret and All That Jazz.

After Vancouver, the show opens in Toronto in November. The production is a big one to take on the road, requiring 50 people and three semi-trailers full of costumes and props.

Grand-Maître hopes to take Love Lies Bleeding on a world tour.

"Elton's big all over the world," he said.

"We've been working hard to take it on the road. It's like launching a cruise ship: You have to do it carefully."



tvsellen said...

I can distinctly taking Yellow Brick Road home (mom almost didn't let me buy it because of the song All the Young Girls...) and being engrossed in the cover art, photos, etc. I read the lyrics over and over as I spun the vinyl. They were and continue to be the most visual I have come across. Anyway, it was a warm, rainy summer day in small-town Iowa, and YBR is burned in my memory as one where I unlocked a new and somewhat forbidden world as a young teen. --Tom Sellen

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