Bowie & Queen: My Story and A Ballet
On a Saturday night in May, while visiting the nation’s capital for a conference, I was fortunate enough to be invited to see the Washington Ballet at The Kennedy Center performing a piece entitled Bowie & Queen. Now ballet is not really my thing. I think the dancers are divine; superlative athletes and majestic in their own right, but I’ve never been able to fully engage in the emotional relevance as I do with live theatre whether it be musicals or plays. But with this program, at least in the way my brain operates, I thought this was the perfect mix to watch beautiful dancers perform the choreography of Trey McIntyre (Mercury Half-Life) and Edwaard Liang (Dancing In the Street) dancing to the genius classic music of two of my favorites, David Bowie and Queen.
First off, I have a special love and devotion for Queen that goes back to my teen years. Queen was the first big stadium concert that I was fortunate to attend way back in my high school days. One of my best buddies, Ricky, his sisters (who were our chaperones and drove) and I traveled from London, Ontario to the big city of Toronto one summer’s day to see our favorite band live at the CNE groups stadium. Not even sure the structure or the concert series even exists today, but the carnival-like atmosphere and the CNE Expo still does (I think). We couldn’t have been more excited to witness the We Will Rock You Tour, and we were not disappointed. The stadium vibrated with the beat and our feet stomping to the opening sounds of ‘We will, we will rock you’ and ‘We are the champions, my friend’.
And when the ballet choreographed to Queen began with that same infamous beat, I knew I was going to enjoy myself. It was a powerful and energetic program. The music was magnificent. Every one a hit from Queen, sung by the legendary Freddie Mercury. The songs seemed to electrify the dancers and the dance, and I almost could feel the same energy that I did so many years ago back in Toronto. The principle leads were all spectacular, reveling in the dynamic energy of the pre-recorded music of Queen. It had a very masculine drive and feel, and the male dancers seemed to take center stage, fueled by the testosterone of the rock legendary beat.
Oddly enough, or maybe not surprisingly, my second concert at that same arena was David Bowie. Thrilling, but I must admit, not as exciting as it was when I saw Queen. This same sentiment matched my response to Washington Ballet’s first act Dancing In the Street. The music was more obscure with special music composed by Gabriel Gaffney Smith to bridge the songs together more gracefully. I’m not sure it worked in the way it was intended. Act two, with just fantastic song after fantastic song by Queen seemed to not need a bridge. My heart leaped with every new Queen song. This less than enthusiastic response to Bowie’s music, which was pretty palpable in the theatre, could be partially blamed on the more obscure song selected from his collection. (There was talk that this had something to do with permission not being granted to the more popular songs.) The dance itself felt lazy to me, and just didn’t carry the drive and the force that followed soon after with Mercury Half-Life.
Not being one that runs to see ballet or even dance very often, I know very little about ballet. I did take pleasure in the idea that regardless what I thought of this program, I was going to be overjoyed and excited to hear Freddie Mercury performing some classic Queen songs, and this would be worth it, regardless of all else. I don’t really feel that I am a good judge of the choreography or the ballet in general, as I know so little about the art except to say that the Washington Ballet Company seems to be stellar and truly accomplished. The only thing I can say is that Queen was King for the night, their music rocked us, and in turn, so did the dance.
Choreography: Trey McIntyre
Dancing In the Street
Music: David Bowie, Gabriel Gaffney Smith
Violin: Machiko Ozawa
Choreography: Edwaard Liang