Sequins, sunglasses and 'a big party': Elton John ballet brings pop star's wild life to stage

Love Lies Bleeding, a ballet dedicated to the life and career of Sir Elton John, opens Wednesday night at Winnipeg’s Centennial Concert Hall.

Love Lies Bleeding opens Wednesday night at the Centennial Concert Hall

Love Lies Bleeding, a ballet about the life of Sir Elton John, opens in Winnipeg Wednesday night. (Don Lee)

The latest show from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet features everything from sequins and feather boas to Rollerblades, flying angels and of course, some wild sunglasses.

While it may not sound like traditional ballet, it's just what fans of famed songwriter Sir Elton John might expect.

Love Lies Bleeding, a ballet about the life and career of Elton John, opens Wednesday night at Winnipeg's Centennial Concert Hall, after successful previous runs in Alberta and Toronto.

"We knew that with Elton John we needed production values because people think Vegas," said choreographer Jean Grand-Maître. "People who like Elton John will love this ballet."

Grand-Maître, the artistic director at Alberta Ballet, developed Love Lies Bleeding with help from the English pop star.

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      Since it debuted in Calgary in 2010, it has toured across North America. Grand-Maître worked on a ballet with Joni Mitchell in 2007 that caught the attention of John. After the two met, they began to create the production.

      "He's so cultured. He knows opera, ballet, he collects art, photography, glass pieces, pottery. He's a big fan of the arts," Grand-Maître said. "I was so impressed by how much he knew."

      The choreographer says John wanted the ballet to showcase not just his triumphs, like recording 30 albums and the fact he's sold more than 300 million records, but the struggles he went through as well.

      "He wanted to talk about his addiction to drugs, the fact that he was repressed sexually, his addiction to food, and he was an alcoholic … it's a miracle he survived."

      But the show itself is a "a big party," Grand-Maître said.

      "It's Elton John, so there's all kinds of music throughout his career, every decade, every album," he said. "We've got every style from honky-tonk to rock, pop music, folk music. He's done it all."

      It wasn't hard to interest ballet dancers in the more populist production, he said.

      "Dancers today are amazing because they don't want to just do Swan Lake or the classical ballets … They want to do everything nowadays, they are open-minded."

      Super fans of John will also be treated to rare recordings the piano player provided to Grand-Maître for the production, the choreographer said.

      "Demos and things like that. So we were really supported by him throughout this creation."

      In total, the ballet features the music of 14 classic songs by John and his longtime collaborator and lyricist, Bernie Taupin.

      The Royal Winnipeg Ballet's production of Love Lies Bleeding runs at the Centennial Concert Hall from March 1 to March 5.