Alberta Ballet's show based on the music of Elton John and Bernie Taupin delivers on glitz and glamour but has little depth.
When one chooses to see a ballet based on the music of Elton John and Bernie Taupin, one cannot be surprised to see some feathers, sequins, high heels on both men and women, and a few shirtless men in thongs gyrating against a white grand piano. It practically goes without saying.
But given the pair’s knack for timeless lyrics and storytelling, one should also be able to expect a little depth, too.
Love Lies Bleeding was created in partnership between John, Taupin, and the Alberta Ballet’s artistic director, Jean Grand-Maître, using a few of Elton’s chart-toppers like “Bennie and the Jets” and “Rocket Man” and more of his lesser-known songs to explore the personal turmoil, exhaustion, energy, and excess of fame and music. Having already made its way through Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver, the ballet that’s billed more as a rock concert starring a spandex-decked chorus and Yukichi Hattori as the Elton Fan (but not Elton himself, exactly) made its debut in Toronto last night to the live cheers of the audience, which often mixed in with those on the show’s soundtrack.
Love Lies Bleeding certainly isn’t in the vein of traditional ballets. The choreography by Grand-Maître is more of a mix between ballet, jazz, tap, and pop, with plenty of high kicks and Broadway-inspired moves with canes. The movements are bold and inventive, and each number has a unique personality to it—mostly due to Martine Bertrand’s costumes and Grand-Maître’s use of set and props, including a giant rotating record and a pair of roller skates and sparklers for “Rocket Man.” While these songs in particular made for thrilling numbers, when every single song has its own gimmick, what is kitschy can become gawdy and distract from the real dancing. For instance, while the enormous gowns of the Marie Antoinettes in “I Need You To Turn To” were remarkably beautiful, the full skirts completely hid the dancers’ legwork.
At times Love Lies Bleeding struck a balance between the traditional and the contemporary, as the chorus created images of satellites hurtling through space with the red lights on their costumes, or as Mark Wax, Anthony Pina, and Blair Puente pulled off their dance to “Believe” in sky-high stilettos as The Drags. The use of props and over-the-top costumes made for an impressive aesthetic perfect for the glitz and glam of Elton John and certainly pleased the crowd. On the flip side, they overpowered the beautiful work of Hattori and the chorus members, Grand-Maître’s intriguing blend of dance styles, even John and Taupin’s music itself.
Love Lies Bleeding is one show-stopper after another, without a lot of room for story development in between. It nails Elton John’s dramatics, for sure, both in good times and in bad. But even through the sequined speedos, feathered shoulder pads, and rose-coloured glasses, Elton could bring audiences to tears simply with his words too.