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BWW Reviews: LOVE LIES BLEEDING Flies High as a Kite, Never Comes Down To Earth

Company Artists of Alberta Ballet play ball.
Photo: J.J. Thompson
Image provided courtesy of Alberta Ballet

"You're gonna hear electric music, solid walls of sound."

First, the roar of the crowd, starting quietly and slowly ascending in volume, and next the simple hypnotic piano followed by the equally enticing drums. By the time Elton John sings "Hey kids...," I'm ready to move. Based on last weekend's performance of LOVE LIES BLEEDING, the Elton John inspired ballet created by Alberta Ballet Artistic Director Jean Grand-Maître that premiered in 2010 by the Alberta Ballet, I'm not the only one. At one point, I think someone threw underwear on the stage but I can't verify this, because I'm lying. At any rate, there were more whistles and cheers than applause. That's not customary for a ballet. We can thank Houston Ballet Artistic Director Stanton Welch who extended the invitation to the Alberta Ballet who went on to bring down the house.

"I'm gonna be a teenage idol no matter how long it takes/ You can't imagine what it means to me/ I'm gonna grab myself a place in history/ A teenage idol that's what I'm gonna be, yeah"

Elton Fan (Yukichi Hattori) poses in his royal finery.
Photo: Charles Hope
Image provided courtesy of Alberta Ballet

The ballet tells of a fictional character named Elton Fan whose experiences are very much like his idol's - Elton John, which is not so coincidentally very much like songwriter Bernie Taupin's, master lyricist and Elton John's long time collaborator - subject matter in songs like "I'm Gonna Be a Teenage Idol" and "Bennie and the Jets." "Bennie and the Jets" in particular. The earworm of a song that seems to celebrate celebrity is actually satirizing it. Likewise, LOVE LIES BLEEDING both celebrates Elton John's legacy, but it also delves into the unsavory nature of infamy. There's some bitterness with the boogy, but you can't have a cake without a little salt or lemon tart without a little bit of lemon. Without them, you're left with a cloying, much too sweet, depthless mess.

"And I think it's gonna be a long, long time/ 'Til touchdown brings me 'round again to find/ I'm not the man they think I am at home/ Oh, no, no, no/ I'm a rocket man/ Rocket man/ Burnin' out his fuse up here alone"

Apparently, this is the way Elton John wanted it. There's more to the music legend then the trademark glasses. It has been a long road to the Elton John we know, the settled down family man with Lady Gaga the godmother of his child. When he described himself as bisexual in a Rolling Stone article in the 1970s, his record sales nose dived. Former fans burned his albums in effigy. In the early 80s, his career was back on track, but he was still embroiled in a battle with drug addiction, and the HIV epidemic was in full swing: "You know, I was having people die right, left, and center around me, friends." It wasn't until 1988 that he was comfortable publicly identifying as gay. He achieved sobriety in 1990. In 2015, he's married with two sons and has the successful Elton John Aids Foundation. He wanted his highs and lows to stimulate emotion and thought, to educate and entertain. Like his music. LOVE LIES BLEEDING succeeds. The ballet does a great deal to cement his legacy and highlight his importance, not just to music but to society. Elton is 60 years on, and his influence is undimmed.

Alberta Ballet Artistic Director and LOVE LIES BLEEDING choreographer and librettist Jean Grand-Maître focused on style, aesthetic, pomp and circumstance rather than movement. Nevertheless, the choreography was diverse including Jazz, Ballet, Modern movements. The Alberta Ballet's dancers perform the acrobatics and athleticism with power and precision.

Coming into the production, Elton John's "Bennie and The Jets" was the only song I was familiar with. Usually a concert ends with the artists' biggest hit. Jean Grand-Maître started with his subject's most iconic hit. It was a good choice. The movement and the music was electric. And the song and accompanying performance was a microcosm of the show to come. In "Bennie and The Jets," the artists of the Alberta Ballet dressed up as, and called, Baseball Players slinked, stretched, and strutted through the high energy hit.

Elton Fan (Yukichi Hattori) held aloft by his guardian angels.
(Company Artists of Alberta Ballet)
Photo by Charles Hope
Image provided courtesy of Alberta Ballet

Jean Grand-Maître says he was inspired by the vibrant colors of the 70s, surrealistic imagery, sexual liberation, and homosexual erotica. It is apparent.

The touches of surrealism are found in the Costume Design by Martine Bertrand. Royalty is juxtaposed with latex like costuming. Men and women wear cod pieces. There's the homosexual (male) erotica. And how can I forget the CLOCKWORK ORANGE bowler hats and flesh colored, skin tight body suits. Video Design by Adam Larsen is equal parts cheesy and touching. There's the blaring so bad it's good taste of the 70s, but there's also images of hate and intolerance that, unfortunately, have spanned decades.

Elton Fan Yukichi Hattori's well-sculpted muscles, exquisite showmanship, and swagger made "I'm Gonna Be a Teenage Idol" ooze sex and shine. The lifts, leaps, extensions and spatial constructions during "Rocket Man" are the perfect mixture of sweet and sour. Such a soulful song punctuated by Yukichi Hattori shooting across stage on skates with sparks beside him. "Sixty Years On" is lovely. Kelley McKinlay and Nicolas Pelletier are The Lovers. The pièce de résistance or the big finish, as it were, is "Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)" with the full company boogying. All in all it was a good way to spend a Saturday night.

LOVE LIES BLEEDING closed last Sunday, but that doesn't mean you can't get some more Houston Ballet in your life. From February 26 - March 8, 2015, Houston Ballet presents a spectacular new production of Romeo and Juliet, featuring choreography by Stanton Welch and opulent scenery and costumes by the internationally acclaimed Italian designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno. Welch will bring a totally fresh, brilliantly imagined interpretation to Shakespeare's classic story of two star-crossed lovers. With its exquisite score by Sergei Prokofiev, Romeo and Juliet is one of the great works of the international ballet repertoire. This new production, Houston Ballet's first in 28 years, is made possible through the generosity of longtime Houston Ballet supporters Ted and Melza Barr.

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From This Author Katricia Lang