Suede Shoes" (The Elvis Ballet) is a winner!
on The King: on a regular basis EIN examines a new release or issue
in the Elvis world. In this edition we shine our spotlight on: ‘A
Lost Elvis Treasure……Blue Suede Shoes (The Elvis Ballet)’.
ballet set to the music of Elvis Aron Presley! Who are we
trying to kid? But yes it did happen and it was a major hit.
On May 29, 1996 a most unusual ballet opened at Cleveland’s
world premiere of Blue Suede Shoes had both critics and audiences
Cleveland Plain Dealer printed the headline: ‘Blue Suede Shoes
sizzles with perfection!’ while the opening night audience
gave the performers a 15 minute standing ovation.
that were lucky enough to see Blue Suede Shoes were mesmerised by
its action and color. The brainchild of artistic director, Dennis
Nahat, it featured 18 brilliant sets and 280 spectacular, glittering
costumes designed by Hollywood’s legendary, Bob Mackie.
ballet sequences were choreographed by Nahat and the Cleveland San
Jose Ballet company. The ballet was presented by New Dance Ventures
and the Cleveland San Jose Ballet.
was particularly innovative about the Elvis ballet was the way it
used The King’s music to tell a powerful story about innocence and
the post-war American Dream. As Dennis Nahat commented:
didn’t realise it then, but Elvis set the tone for the time. I don’t
know if the current generation really understands who he was. To
my generation, he’s an icon. He came on the scene and hit us between
the eyes and captured our feelings with music. He freed an entire
structure of Blue Suede Shoes was clever. Each of the 36 Elvis songs
symbolised individual parts of the story (with Guitar Man used as
an overture linking different scenes).
example, Arthur tries to woo Sally (I Want You, I Need You, I Love
You), the local bad boy arrives (Devil In Disguise) and the Army
beckons (Soldier Boy). Returning home after a lonely winter (Long
Lonely Highway) the GI’s are unrecognised (Stranger In My Own Home
a fight ensues to the strains of Trouble and the boys spend a night
(One Night) behind bars (Jailhouse Rock). Other songs prominent
in the ballet included Hound Dog, Shake, Rattle and Roll, Bossa
Nova Baby, Starting Today, Tutti Frutti, Are You Lonesome Tonight?
And Mama Liked The Roses.
also noted how Blue Suede Shoes incorporated contemporary social
themes - for instance, In The Ghetto was used to symbolise the effect
of drugs. And initially, more traditional patrons of the ballet
form were quite dismissive. Dennis Nahat commented:
had some people say, “How can you use Elvis in this classical art
form?’, but I just said, ‘Elvis is classic.’ “
spectacle of the ballet involved seven scenes: High School Hot Dog
Drive-In In the Army Highways & Lonely Streets Saturday Night Jailhouse
Rockin’ Golden Oldies At the end of the day Blue Suede Shoes displayed
artistic integrity and was notable for introducing new patrons to
the art form that is ballet.
at the time as being as easy to watch as a movie Blue Suede Shoes
brought new ideas to the fine arts medium. It seems Elvis’s ability
to continually transcend musical, social and cultural genres is
limitless! At a time when the fine arts in the US were in trouble,
facing government funding cuts and falling patronage, Blue Suede
Shoes enjoyed immense success with 63,000 people attending its opening
by its success, the producers developed plans to tour the production
nationally and internationally. Sadly the plans to stage the ballet
outside of the US were never realised, apparently due to financial
and logistical considerations. As a result overseas fans missed
out being captivated by its fresh and energetic approach to the
soundtrack to Blue Suede Shoes was issued by RCA (#67458-2) in 1997
as a double CD set with attractive slipcase and a 16 page full-color
booklet. Sadly, a visual record of the ballet was never made.
Blue Suede Shoes was a brave, socially aware and sparkling undertaking
that richly deserved the success it received. EIN Postscript: Our
article is timely as a new musical featuring Elvis recordings, Can’t
Help Falling In Love, is now in production in the US with talk of
it playing on Broadway.
edition of Spotlight on The King was prepared by Nigel Patterson
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