The flamboyant world of Elton John comes to Alberta Ballet.
Attending Love Lies Bleeding — Alberta Ballet’s new production inspired by the music and life of Sir Elton John? If so, choreographer and artistic director Jean Grand-Maître asks that you dress like John — giant glasses or flamboyant fashions that conjure up the burlesque Fellini-like world he wrapped himself in.
Ballet maniacs, rock fans — some of whom have never seen a ballet — critics and other dancers are desperately seeking tickets. The sweeping acceptance and adulation heaped on The Fiddle and the Drum, using the music and art of Joni Mitchell, has fuelled great anticipation.
Anticipation has even gripped John. The remarkable British pop legend has expressed his delight on CNN and other international media. He views ballet’s boundaries as less restrictive than other performing arts, including his own performances. He has given choreographer Grand-Maître carte blanche for the narrative, suggested some of his personal favourites for the music, given the choreographer insight into significant but lesser-known aspects of his life and supported the process through his management and personal comments from afar.
But anxiety seeps into Grand-Maître’s being as he contemplates the possibility that Elton & Co. may not sanction the ballet for future productions, truncating any international touring. Plus, a tepid response would not bode well for next season’s collaboration with singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan. This will be the artistic director’s third venture combining the centuries old art of ballet with the music heard on today’s IPods .
The future of the ballet company, as Grand-Maître envisions it, depends on the success of Love Lies Bleeding. With this production, he has been able to keep the company’s dancers on salary to the end of May. By training and retaining a solid company of professionals capable of performing traditional and new works to international standards, Grand-Maître hopes to honour the past and embrace the future — balancing those productions that drain the company and those that nurture it creatively and financially.
His choreography for this ballet is symbolic of his approach, incorporating classical ballet, neo-classical ballet, Bob Fosse-style jazz, cabaret esthetics, tap, theatre and pure dance. Grand-Maître uses aerials and special effects learned for the Olympic ceremonies (where he was choreography director) to reflect the talent and impact of John.
The production follows a fan — alternatively danced by Yukichi Hattori or Kelley McKinlay — who becomes John in his own mind. Grand-Maître invites the audience to explore the dangers of celebrity and fame.
“The pop music industry is a killer industry,” he says. “They burn them out every decade. How do you survive? Well Sarah McLachlan is a yoga type who goes to meditate rather than party. And then you have the Elton John and Janice Joplin and Michael Jackson types who basically fell through the treacherous traps that are laid out for such power. And Elton is a survivor. He is raising money now and he’s performing for all the right reasons. He found human values that meant something to him. He fell in love and married David Furnish and together they are doing philanthropy and helping young artists every day.”
On opening night, the dancers will strut their stuff, in 150 spectacular costumes and headdresses, to 14 Elton John and Bernie Taupin songs, plus original soundtrack transitions on seven sets created by six international designers. The choreography — whether on rollerblades, on a spinning turntable, on the ground or high in the air — challenges the movements of classically trained dancers to interpret John’s syncopations and counterpoint rhythms.
Grand-Maître has his fingers crossed that John will experience this spectacular ballet in person and give it his blessing.