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'I'm living Elton John's life,' says Love Lies Bleeding dancer

Yukichi Hattori performs in "Love Lies Bleeding"

Charles Hope

Tokyo-born Yukichi Hattori is a huge favourite with Alberta Ballet audiences for his formidable speed, crisp attack and virtuoso technique. He may be short, but he is a dynamo on stage.

Hattori, 31, is the lead dancer in Jean Grand-Maître's Love Lies Bleeding, the ballet set to the songs of Sir Elton John and Bernie Taupin. (The ballet tours to Vancouver this week, and to Toronto in November.) He is also a gifted choreographer who is showing work in the Alberta Showcase hosted by Calgary's Fluid Movement Festival on Oct. 22.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, The Globe reached Hattori in Calgary at 9 in the morning, which he claims is his quiet time. In the background, one could hear his three-year-old daughter Mae, presumably getting ready to interrupt her father's peace and quiet.

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How did you get into dance?

I wanted to go on the stage after I saw the musical Annie when I was six. My parents, who were actors, put me in ballet class because dance skills take the longest to develop. They figured that acting and singing could come later. I loved the special treatment I got as the only boy in the class.

How did you get to Hamburg Ballet?

I was 13 when Hamburg Ballet toured Japan. I was cast as a peasant boy in Swan Lake. I could see that the Hamburg dancers' technique was much more advanced over Japanese dancers, so I had to get to Europe. I got a scholarship to the Hamburg Ballet School. When I graduated five years later, I joined the company. I was promoted to soloist in 2004.

Dancers would kill to be in a prestigious company like Hamburg. Why did you leave?

After 12 years, I needed more rigorous eyes on me. They thought they knew me, and what I could do, so I felt that any new skills I developed would be overlooked. I was always going to be a 13-year-old boy.

You got to Alberta Ballet through your wife, Galien Johnston.

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We joined Hamburg in the same year, 1999. When we decided to leave, we were looking for a company that could accommodate both of us. She's 5'9" and I'm 5'4". We needed a place that was not obsessed with lines and height. In 2006, Galien was visiting her parents in Edmonton, and took a class with Alberta Ballet. They offered her a contract and also one to me, based on my reputation.

Let's move on to Love Lies Bleeding. What do you think the ballet is about, and what is your role in it?

It's about pop stars and pop culture. I'm living Elton John's life, the public and the private faces, the pleasure and the pain, the conflict and the harmony. The title reflects both his suffering and facing his demons. His soul is opened up through his music.

You are in almost every scene.

It's jam-packed with choreography, and I also go through a lot of emotional highs and lows. I'm completely exhausted at the end of the show, but I reach a state of ecstasy – a runner's high.

I understand that Jean Grand-Maître has reworked the ballet.

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It's a lot tighter. A few songs have been shortened, and the transitions have been reworked. He's also beefed up the choreography to reflect the higher level of dancers from two years ago.

Alberta Ballet is becoming known as a company of songbooks.

Ballets set to specific songwriters create excitement. It's about the contemporary arts – living choreographers using the music of people who are alive, sharing stories that are about now. These ballets also open doors to touring in a time of recession. They are part of the art of entertainment. It's not a bad thing to have a ballet that is a commercial success. It's survival over innovation.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Loves Lies Bleeding tours to Vancouver, Oct. 13-15 and Toronto Nov. 8-13.

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