Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Love Lies Bleeding Coming to Germany, Australia

The Rocket Man continues to propel Alberta Ballet to new heights.Love Lies Bleeding, Jean Grand-Maitre’s pop ballet spectacle inspired by the songs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin, rolls into Calgary and Edmonton this May, hot on the heels of a television adaptation of the ballet broadcast on CBC viewed by millions of Canadians in April, and successful tours to Vancouver and Toronto this season.

Next season, they blast off to Montreal and Ottawa. It is the first time Alberta Ballet has been invited to perform as part of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens’ season, a particularly bright feather in Jean Grand-Maitre’s cap, who hailed from Montreal for 22 years before coming to Calgary to head Alberta Ballet.

The company will make the trip to Ottawa’s National Arts Centre twice next season, first with their lavish The Nutcracker and again for the Elton John spectacle.

Negotiations are also in the works to take Love Lies Bleeding to Germany and the U.K. in 2013, and with sights set on future Love Lies Bleeding tours to the U.S. and Australia, Alberta Ballet’s executive director, Martin Bragg, envisions this made-in-Alberta pop ballet project leading to big ticket sales worldwide.

“It could actually become a kind of Riverdance phenomenon,” says Bragg. “One of the things I want to do, if I can get the green light from Elton’s people, is that whenever Elton is not performing in Vegas, we just move the ballet in … we’re probably not going to have six ballets going on in Vegas at the same time like Cirque du Soleil, but what I love about this province and this company is that we think big. And we have the potential to achieve stuff that has never been attempted before.”

Dreaming big in the ballet world does come with higher production price tags than Alberta Ballet has ever tackled before. Love Lies Bleeding cost the company $1.4 million to produce in its 2010 original incarnation and with another $400,000 recently pumped into the production to make it tour ready, with a video montage redesign and a new LED video screen purchased, the total investment on the production now runs upwards of $1.8 million.

The box office has brought in $1.2 million from the sold-out Alberta debuts in 2010, a three-day stint in Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre and a six-day run in Toronto’s Sony Centre and in 2011, including as well the ticket sales to date for the return runs in Edmonton and Calgary.

With another $600,000 to recoup before the company is out of the red and into the black on Love Lies Bleeding, Bragg remains confident the big production will hit the profitable tipping point much sooner than later.

“It has such a broad audience and it appeals to so many people. You know when the New York Times runs those articles every 18 months as they tend to do, asking ‘Is Ballet Dead?,’ I love putting Love Lies Bleeding up against that. It’s attracting such a huge and different audience.”

Love Lies Bleeding is unabashedly not your typical bunhead ballet.

The Rocket Man number for instance features dancers on roller skates with pyrotechnics shooting out of their feet. Drag queens split jump and spin across the stage in outrageously tall stiletto boots. The whole extravaganza is a flamboyant, Broadway-style spectacle, dipped generously in sequins and oozing homoerotic imagery.

Starring Yukichi Hattori and Kelley McKinlay, the ballet follows the trials and tribulations of Elton Fan as he navigates through the worlds of sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll. The rock star role has fittingly proven to be a breakout to ballet stardom for Hattori, Alberta Ballet’s compact powerhouse dancer who has made a shining career as the company’s perennial supporting man throughout the years.

Modest in conversation, but larger-than-life on the stage, Hattori says he’s always approached every role as though it were the lead. Now no one can fault the dynamo for stealing the show. With more attention paid in the remount to smoothing out the 14 scene changes and innumerable costume changes that happen on stage and making the transition sequences between the numbers tighter, Hattori has relished the chance to deepen his characterization.

“It’s really about so much more than this man called Elton John. It’s really about popular culture and an artist’s life, the ups and downs, the trauma and avoidance, the feeling that you are alone and no one really understands you. It’s getting a little more multi-dimensional than simply playing an Elton John character.”

There was much hype when the production debuted around whether Sir Elton John would be in attendance. With John recently in the province for concerts in Lethbridge, Red Deer and Grande Prairie, it begs the question once more if there’s any chance he’ll be here on opening night? Alberta Ballet reps admit chances are slim to none that his performance schedule will allow it, but Grand-Maitre did visit with John for half an hour when he was in Red Deer, delivering a DVD of the CBC broadcast.

“He gave me the longest hug when I came into his dressing room,“ Grand-Maitre says of his face to face time with John. “He is so proud of the ballet and how it represents his music. For him, the ballet is educational about drug addiction, sexual repression and bullying — all these things today that we know are so relevant. He told me he really wants the ballet to go internationally and he was so proud of the television production because the message is getting out there.”

- Calgary Herald

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