Review: Love Lies Bleeding (Alberta Ballet, David Mirvish and Corey Ross)

David Mirvish and Corey Ross present the Alberta Ballet’s Love Lies Bleeding featuring the music of Elton John at Toronto’s Sony Centre for the Performing Arts through November 12, 2011.

Admittedly, I’m not super-familiar with Elton John’s musical catalogue. I came of age in the ‘90s so I’m more familiar with Elton through The Lion King and Billy Elliot than Bennie and the Jets or Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. But since Sir Elton has been such a prolific figure in pop culture throughout his illustrious career I’m certainly aware of his music as well as many of the details of his personal life.

This was also my first time seeing a production by the Alberta Ballet and I’m left to wonder if all their work is as daring and outside-the-box as this show. Artistic director and choreographer Jean Grand-Maître certainly defies a lot of the rigid conventions of ballet with spectacular results.

In many ways songbook ballets are the dance world’s equivalent to the jukebox musical and true, Love Lies Bleeding is more Fosse than Balanchine and closer to Broadway than Bolshoi. Though I’m sure some purists will balk at the show for being tawdry, over-the-top and showy, even they can’t deny that it is daring, original and immensely entertaining.

The story is an abstract series of vignettes tracing a loose story arc inspired by Elton John’s life. We follow a character called “Elton Fan” (lead dancer Yukichi Hattori) as he traverses a fantasy world where he embodies the spirit of Elton John and acts as an analog through which we explore the rock star’s meteoric rise as well as the struggles throughout his career and personal life.

Hattori is an absolute dynamo! He’s a firecracker (in one scene, quite literally). On stage for nearly the entire 2-hour show he is the epitome of stamina. He may be diminutive in stature but he has an immense stage presence and a youthful charm that captivated me throughout the entire performance. His dancing is powerful and explosive. Much of the show rests on his shoulders and I never once tired of watching him.

For this show the Alberta Ballet seems to have borrowed a page out of Cirque du Soleil’s playbook. The Quebec circus company has recently made a name producing musical tribute shows for artists such as The Beatles, Elvis and Michael Jackson incorporating music, dance, multimedia and sheer spectacle.

In the same vein, Love Lies Bleeding has a bit of everything, video elements, aerial dance, spectacular costumes and fire-spitting roller skaters. There’s a lot of Vegas-style razzle-dazzle on display here.

One of the most memorable scenes for me featured pairs of dancers in stylized space suit costumes covered in LED lights dancing around the stage to Rocket Man and evoking constellations during their lifts. Another stand-out number features scene-stealing drag queens lip syncing to Believe. I couldn’t believe they were able to pull off such intricate choreography in 6-inch heels!

As spectacular and flashy as the show is, my favourite scenes are the simplest. The second act opens with two male dancers, Kelley McKinlay and Elier Bourzac, performing a pas de deux to Sixty Years On as a sword of Damocles hangs threateningly overhead. Their dance is tentative yet beautifully evocative.

Later in the second act Elton Fan performs a pas de deux with his lover “David” to The Bridge. Again, the dance is simple, poetic and elegant and I’ll admit it made me a little emotional.

In the end, I think the show is a commentary on fame itself. Rock stars and performers crave attention and fame because they need the love of an audience; it’s like a drug. But sooner or later they all realize that fame is never a substitute for true love.

I really like how the show makes ballet accessible to new audiences, a quick poll before the show revealed that much of the audience consisted of ballet virgins and I think the show has great crossover appeal.

My friend Tara was my theatre-going companion for the night and this was her first ballet. At first she thought it was a bit hard to follow since it’s more of an abstract ballet and not a narrative one with a clearly-defined story like Swan Lake or The Nutcracker but by the second half she quickly adapted to the storytelling style and enjoyed the show immensely.

It’s undeniable that Elton John is a hugely talented, larger-than-life icon and a natural fit for the subject of a tribute show. This show is a real crowd-pleaser. If you’re a fan of Elton John, you’ll adore this show, or if you’re like me and only tangentially aware of Elton John but enjoy your ballet with a healthy dose of high-energy spectacle, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll love this show too.

Details:

  • Love Lies Bleeding is playing at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, 1 Front Street East, Toronto
  • Dates: November 8 through November 12
  • Performance times: Tuesday through Thursday 7:30 p.m., Friday through Saturday 8 p.m., Saturday 3 p.m.
  • Tickets: From $33.10 to $178.10. Available now online at Ticketmaster.ca or by calling 855-985-5000.

Photo credit:

Yukichi Hattori and Company Artists, Alberta Ballet Love Lies Bleeding