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Extravaganza with a twist set to rock Tallinn

  • 2002-11-28
  • Steve Roman
TALLINN

The idea of a modern ballet that fuses the rhythms of legendary glam-rock group Queen, classic works of Mozart and designs by Gianni Versace might sound a bit overly ambitious, but it's just that creative brashness - and a lot of high-energy dancing - that's bound to wow audiences in Tallinn's Saku Suurhall this Dec. 3 - 4.

"Ballet for Life," a music and dance extravaganza that's won critical acclaim in over a dozen countries since its opening in Paris in January 1997, should appeal both to Queen fans and to ballet buffs when it takes to the stage in Estonia for the first time in early December. The work features the Béjart Ballet of Lausanne, Switzerland, performing to a roster of 18 Queen tracks, with a handful of Mozart instrumentals added for good measure.

The production is the brainchild of the company's choreographer and director, the French-born Maurice Béjart, who was inspired to create the work after his principal dancer, Jorge Donn, died of AIDS in 1992. Queen's lead singer Freddie Mercury died of AIDS just a year before that at the same age. Both men were just 45 when the virus claimed their lives. "Ballet for Life" is Béjart's tribute to both Donn and Mercury, and by extension to all artists who die young.

Appropriately, the show opens with dancers rising from the dead, emerging from the sheets that represent their death shrouds. As they progress through "It's a Beautiful Day," "Heaven for Everyone" and "Radio Ga Ga," the characters are stalked by Death on Two Legs, who makes a periodic appearance to remind them, and perhaps the audience, of the ephemeral nature of their existence. As can be expected, a Freddie Mercury figure, clad at one point in Union Jack tights, plays a prominent role. And of course the most charismatic dance solos are left to the performer who represents Donn.

Some of the numbers might seem more like video clips than ballet, at least according to London reviewers. With a production set to rock music, and a cast and set as involved as Riverdance, it's hard to avoid the comparison. But critics have had universally high praise for the verve the dancers bring to the stage, right up to the final crescendo - set to Queen's anthem "The Show Must Go On" - after which the dancers return to their shrouds.

As central to the production as the dancing itself are the costumes, created for Béjart by renowned Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace, who was tragically killed just a few months after the show's premiere. "Ballet for Life" has now become a retrospective tribute to Versace as well.

Dancers take the stage in costumes that range from the casually sporty to the scantily risqué, with the odd intricate gown making an appearance. It's these and other costumes, which occasionally delve deep into the realm of the bizarre, that put the final touch on the show's extravagance.

Tickets for "Ballet for Life" range from between 18 euros and 38 euros and are available at the Soprus cinema (Vana-Posti 8,) at Piletilevi and Piletikivi outlets, and online at www.fbi.ee. Unless the show is sold out, tickets will also be on sale at the entrance to Saku Suurhall just prior to the performance. Doors open at 7 p.m.; show begins at 8 p.m.