love lies bleeding


Stuart Gordon, Calgary Herald. Love Lies Bleeding dress rehearsal, May 5 2010

Love Lies Bleeding, Alberta Ballet. Jean Gand-Maitre, choreographer.

Ballet lite this isn't.  It is dark, dark, dark, in the way that Berlin cabaret had its dark eroticism.  By comparison it is the old Frederick Ashton-type ballets, all romantic with tutus, that seem very light.  The themes of Elton John's life are large and powerful: identity, addiction, AIDS and celebrity: ubiquitous as these themes might seem, they are not normal little narratives.  They are disturbing and operatic.
The recorded soundtrack belts out at rock concert volumes; many of the cuts were live versions so there is additional crowd frenzy. As no doubt in John's life itself, there is no respite: scenes, songs, costumes and crises are relentless. There is a large video screen as backdrop commenting and contextualising, and sometimes amplifying, what is being danced below it.  

From the first step this ballet does not pretend, as ballet has for so long, to be about heterosexuality: it is overtly homoerotic.  Along with the classic entrechats and bourrées are several Tom of Finland moments; along with dancers on point there are just as many in stiletto boots; the outstandingly revealing but traditional tights and leotards of classical male dancers are sent over the top with huge striped codpieces worn by all, male and female.  Flesh glistens, buttocks are thonged, S & M clichés pound on, the audience popularity prize went to three dancers in drag.

Our wee hero, supposedly an Elton fan, but clearly Elton John as a fan of his own narrative, is mostly seen as small and nekkid, and who dresses up sometimes, but is always left on his own at the end of some dramatic event, coping alone.  or not coping.  The scale shift between the larger than life corps de ballet and this small person is exploited throughout: one gets the sense, that despite the sensational leaps and bounds of Yukichi Hattori (who was dancing the lead the night I saw this), there was an absolute vulnerability to the lead dancer, usually assigned to the prima ballerina in conventional ballets.  The two pas de deux between men were so much more moving, and sexual, than the gender and power imbalance in the traditional pas de deux where the male is the often wooden support and armature for the fluttering, tragic female heroine.

One can see that Love Lies Bleeding has the potential to develop audiences that turn out in star-shaped glasses, platform boots and feather boas in the way that fans who go to the Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Sound of Music do.  It is perhaps inevitable, but unfortunate.  Is part of John's celebrity, in this age of celebrity, that the public refuses to look past the costuming?  The rose-coloured glasses, the Liberace excess, the gay hilarity of performance: they are all in this ballet, but they sit on a bedrock of terrible personal confusion and loss, also all in this ballet.

Stephanie Whitedance