In a chance meeting at a recording studio in 1977, Sid Vicious once sneered to Freddie Mercury that he was trying to bring ballet to the masses -- a jab at Mercury's well-known love of the art form and his penchant for wearing ballet-inspired leotards on stage. While the merger between rock and roll and ballet never really happened during either Vicious or Mercury's lifetimes, in 1997, the surviving members of Queen teamed with famed choreographer Morris Bejart for the Ballet For Life, a performance that mixed ballet with the music of Queen and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with fashion by Gianni Versace. A performance of the ballet from 1997, along with a behind the scenes video from that year and a modern day documentary make up the new Blu-ray Queen + Bejart - Ballet For Life.
The surviving members of Queen met Bejart at the unveiling of the Freddie Mercury statue in Montreux, Switzerland. Bejart was interested in creating a ballet around Queen's music as well as that of Mozart. The idea was that it would celebrate the lives of people taken too young -- Mercury at age 45, Mozart at age 35 and Jorge Donn, the longtime lead dancer for Bejart, at age 45. While the band had recently completed Made In Heaven, an album that featured some of Mercury's last recordings, in 1995, they really considered Queen to be over, especially in the wake of Mercury's death. The surviving members, particularly Brian May and Roger Taylor, were open to ideas that would keep their music out there and potentially reach a new audience. Mercury had a love for ballet and this seemed to be an appropriate tribute to his legacy. Adding in fashion by Versace, who would soon be dead himself in a tragic murder, was the icing on the cake.
Bejart treated the ballet as individual music videos for each song. The idea was to show the circle of life and death. The songs included cover the entire range of not only Queen's career but also Mercury's solo material as well. In some cases, it is not just the studio versions being utilized either. A live version of May's unaccompanied guitar solo makes for an interesting performance piece with the dancers accentuating every note. The result is a visual and audio assault on the senses, more like a rock concert than a ballet, with fans cheering throughout. The fashion was inspired by the band's early stage attire and was primarily in black and white, helping to underscore the themes of life and death in the performance.
The Blu-ray is notable for featuring footage of the band with Elton John rehearsing and performing "The Show Must Go On" at a Paris performance of the ballet. This would prove to be bassist John Deacon's final live appearance with the group. Both May and Taylor comment about how he took Mercury's death extremely hard and he does look visibly uncomfortable in places. Still, it is a potent performance (albeit not quite complete) and worth having for completists.
The documentary is presented in 1080i High Definition 16:9 and looks great. The archival footage seems to be cleaned up as well. The material from 1997 is in the original 4:3 and looks good, though not quite up to modern HD standards. Audio options include LPCM stereo and the sound is full and powerful, befitting the music.
While it never happened during his lifetime, Freddie Mercury eventually succeeded in taking ballet to the masses. Taylor is quoted as saying that Mercury would have loved it and it is hard to imagine him not enjoying this combination of his music with the ballet he loved so much.