Forget everything you think you know about ballet – from roller skates to high-stepping drag queens, the Vancouver premiere of Love Lies Bleeding was worlds away from the classical tutu-clad sphere of Swan Lake.
An original Alberta Ballet work presented by Ballet BC, the zany spectacle is inspired by the music of Elton John and Bernie Taupin and features performances to 14 of their songs, including Rocket Man, The Bridge and Believe. And right from the opening act set to Bennie and The Jets, wherein dancers pranced about in sequined baseball uniforms wielding bats, it was made abundantly clear that the audience was in for something altogether unique.
Principal dancer Yukichi Hattori stars as the spectacled singer and is perfectly suited for the role. His grace is undeniable and he has enough sass and emotional depth to pull off a character as wonderfully weird as Elton John.
While not a linear biography per say, the show provides an affective look back at the music man’s impressive four-decade career, most notably highlighting his legendary penchant for elaborate ensembles. A dazzling and continuously changing line-up of colourful costumes made for a truly eye-popping visual experience: There were studded g-strings, half-naked cowboys and cowgirls in sparkly fringed get-ups, mile-high powdered wigs, feathery angel wings, shimmery gold lamé short shorts and of course, many a pair of oversized sunglasses. Frankly, there’s just something about seeing a supple male dancer scooting about on roller skates, his crotch lit up with red mini light bulbs and sparks flying out from a contraption strapped to his butt, that will ensure I never listen to Rocket Man the same way again.
Beyond the psychedelic attire, the ballet also briefly touches upon Elton’s previous struggles with drug addiction, allusions to cocaine and heroin use peppered throughout the show. Hattori convincingly captures the highs and lows of drug dependency –writhing on the floor at one point in the throes of agonizing withdrawal.
It should also be noted that the work contains a strong homoerotic tone throughout. A steamy male-on-male embrace is portrayed on a video screen in the background while shirtless men writhe seductively onstage. A touching pas de deux with Hattori and fellow male dancer Kelley McKinlay, complete with passionate kiss, is set to The Bridge and references Elton’s enduring relationship with current husband David Furnish. At no time does any of this comes across as gratuitous – if anything, it serves to powerfully underline Elton’s struggle to come to terms with his sexuality.
In short, this was literally the craziest, most creative dance performance I’ve ever been lucky enough to enjoy. A must-see.
Love Lies Bleeding runs at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre until Saturday. Tickets available at ticketmaster.ca.