The world premiere of Love Lies Bleeding, Alberta Ballet's new production inspired by the life and music of Elton John, was a smash hit in Calgary Thursday night, earning three curtain calls and kudos from dance critics and friends of the pop music icon.
"I thought the ballet was a lot of fun. It was a good time. The audience obviously thought the same. I don't think I've ever heard such a howl of approval at the end of a ballet premiere in this theatre as I did tonight," veteran dance and opera critic Michael Crabb told CBC News shortly after the final curtain.
"This is a ballet that aims to have wide appeal and achieves that in a very direct way."
Crabb, who has reviewed dance and opera for the past 40 years, said he found it interesting how different styles were blended in Love Lies Bleeding, a multimedia production that incorporates video images in its staging.
"It's a sort of mix of Chippendales, Vegas, A Clockwork Orange [and] a number of classical ballets that are quoted in it," he noted.
"There's a lot of ballet in it.… The women are on pointe shoes. They're on their toes, [dancing] to Elton John music. It gives a sort of an interesting contrast between the qualities — the refined qualities — of ballet and this very visceral, heartfelt quality that the music has."
Though John was unable to attend the debut due to a long-standing engagement in Los Angeles, he sent his best wishes and a flower arrangement "as big as a car" to Alberta Ballet artistic director Jean Grand-Maître, who put together Love Lies Bleeding in about six weeks.
"I'm always proud of the dancers," Grand-Maître said late Thursday, just after the premiere.
"When they reach a place where it's so brave what they're doing and they take risks — I think they went there tonight. There [were] different styles of dance and there's a lot of different theatrical moments that they have to really nail down.… In the end they pulled it together quite beautifully with just three rehearsals on stage. I was very proud of them."
John's personal manager, Michael Hewitson, and his regular percussionist, Ray Cooper, attended the Calgary premiere on his behalf.
"I thought that Jean [Grand-Maître] couldn't top The Fiddle and the Drum, but he has — a thousand times over. Joni won’t like to hear that, but she can do another one," Hewitson said, laughing, after the performance, referring to Grand-Maître's celebrated ballet collaboration with Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell.
"It's fantastic.… It's genius stuff. World class," he said of Love Lies Bleeding.
"I just loved everything about it: the costumes, the energy, the mixing of modern and ballet and modern dance. It was fantastic. It's just something so different."
John's approval is required for the $1.2 million production to expand beyond Alberta's borders. The hope is that the pop ballet will eventually be staged elsewhere in Canada or even internationally following its run in Calgary (which ends Sunday) and Edmonton.