Sunday, December 11, 2011

Theatre: Love Lies Bleeding

Ballet and Elton John don't seem like concepts that would go together, but the modern dance performance of "Love Lies Bleeding" does just that.  Choreographed by the artistic director and performed by members of the Alberta Ballet, "Love Lies Bleeding" interprets songs by Elton John and Bernie Taupin to tell a story loosely based on John's life and career, using a stand-in character called "Elton Fan".

To the tune of such hits as "Bennie and the Jets", "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", "Rocket Man", as well as lesser known gems such as "Madman Across the Water" and "Have Mercy on the Criminal", the ballet chronicles Elton Fan's rise to fame and success, succumbing to the lures and temptations of drugs resulting in addiction,  discovering his sexuality, dealing with AIDs and finally finding love with a character named "David".

The show starts off with a brief scene of Elton as a small boy,  riding in a circles on a tricycle while the demons of his future sit shaded in the background watching.

Prominent on the set is a huge electronic screen that sits catawampusly askew, adding visual imagery to the interpretation of each number.  That shattered glass is depicted in this seemly innocent scene of a child at play seems to be a harbinger of things to come in Elton's life.

The costumes for each dance are varied, imaginative, vibrant and colourful.  In the first number, the dancers are dressed in blue and white baseball uniforms reminiscent of Elton John's 1975 concert at Dodgers stadium.  Elton Fan starts off as a naive spectator wandering the theatre aisles, but soon is lured onto the stage where he signs a lucrative contract and hits the big times.  This sports analogy is used to represent Elton John's own propulsion into rock super-stardom.  Also symbolic seems to be the dark sunglasses that Elton Fan dons at this point.  He wears the shades throughout most of the show as he battles the demons of fame, drugs and coming to terms with homosexuality until the very end when he finds love and salvation, sees the light and finally removes the glasses.

Both Elton Fan and his entourage go through costume changes on every song.   The chorus of androgynously portrayed dancers often wear skin-tight leotards and bowler hats, or appear provocatively in various states of undress.  In some scenes, male dancers appear in full out drag with outfits that seem to be taken right out of "Priscilla Queen of the Desert".  Elton Fan's flamboyant wardrobe ranges from cowboy hat and chaps to circus master to Louis XIV-esque wig and robes.  At one point he is playing at the piano wearing a crown and royal red cape.

If you look back at photos from Elton John's own wild fashion history, you can clearly see the inspiration for these costumes.  John was the successor to Liberace and the precursor to Lady Gaga.

The dancing styles are varied including everything from traditional ballet pirouettes, twirls and leaps, to Bob Fosse-esque jazz moves (hence the bowler hats) to tap and break dancing.

In one particularly memorable dance, Elton Fan is dressed appropriately as a "Rocket Man" complete with glowing lights and a sparkling flare, while the same song is played.  He performs the dance in roller skates, whipping back and forth across the stage.  At the climax of the number, a white line is projected on the the giant screen.  Elton Fan is lifted up and carried across the screen as the white line contracts to represent him snorting cocaine.

Towards the end of the show when Elton starts to find salvation to the tune of "Someone Saved My Life Tonight", he is attached to a wire by "angels" and soars to the air to perform a beautiful aerial acrobatic dance.

In the end when he finally finds his true love David, they perform a pas de deux where David lifts Elton up in the air several times.  In our performance, Elton Fan is played by miniscule Japanese dancer Yukichi Hatttori while David is played by Kelley McKinlay who is much larger in stature, as shown in this newspaper photo of the two practising together.  In other performances, the two men switch roles and I thought about how much more difficult it would be for little Yukichi to lift Kelley!

Though I don't usually like dance or ballet, I was enthralled by this show.  The familiar songs with lyrics that were brilliantly reflective of the storyline, the innovative dance moves and the amazing costumes all made this a thoroughly entertaining experience.  The more conservative people in the audience had to brace themselves for the overt homosexual components (revealing costumes, gay embraces and kissing), but should have known what they were getting into when attending an "Elton John based ballet".  Our show, which was the premiere, was dedicated to the Toronto Gay Straight Alliance who were in attendance in full force judging from the huge roar of approval.

A filming of the show will be broadcast on CBC on April 9, 2012, 9pm.  I have this marked on my calendar and look forward to seeing it again!

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