Celine Dion Tackles Grief (and Tear-Away Sleeves) in Courage World Tour

A tale of ballads, sequins, and some hard-won wisdom.

We don’t always associate pop music with gut-wrenching reality, but after the tragic death of both Celine Dion’s husband and her brother in January 2016, the Canadian chanteuse’s songs of love and heartbreak have taken on a deeper resonance.

Nowhere is that more evident than on her new album, Courage. Released last fall, the record is not only a deeply personal acknowledgment of her grief but also the 51-year-old singer’s declaration that she is not giving up.

The Courage World Tour, which kicked off in Quebec in September, is the embodiment of both sentiments: It leans heavily on her classic oeuvre—”It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” “That’s the Way It Is,” “I’m Alive”—with a few covers and poignant numbers from her latest release.

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“I still come home from a long day / So much to talk about, so much to say,” she sings in Courage’s title track. “I love to think that we’re still making plans / In conversations that’ll never end.”

While many middle-aged entertainers desperately try to show us just how nubile they are, Dion makes no attempt to hide her years—or her continued sorrow. (Dion’s 92-year-old mother, Thérèse, died last month after a long struggle with cancer.)

When she rose from beneath the stage wearing a sky-high-slit red gown at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall in late February, both her boldness and fragility were on display. During her costume changes, beautiful video projections offered close-ups of the Grammy winner’s narrow, Botox-free face, which was etched with sadness and hard-earned wisdom.

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But Courage isn’t just about Dion: Throughout the show, she invited the audience to sing along, teaching some 10,000 fans the chorus to John Farnham’s 1986 single “You’re the Voice.” She was backed by a 17-person band and joyfully shared the spotlight with her backup singer Barnev Valsaint during a duet of “Beauty and the Beast.” Sharing music has always been healing for Dion, one of 14 kids in a musical family, and her voice has never sounded better—she’s evolved from a musical ingenue into a consummate diva who knows when to hit the power notes.

Despite this newfound gravitas, she offered up moments of cheeseball frivolity, too—gay fans, in particular, understand the need to celebrate in the face of devastating loss. She cracked wise, flexed her biceps, and mugged for the giant video screen. Acknowledging that it’s been a decade since she played AC, Dion joked about being locked up in the Nevada desert during her Vegas residency. A medley incorporating David Bowie, Queen, Prince, and Tina Turner was pure Vegas schmaltz, with Dion dolled up in a sequined jumpsuit from Project Runway alum Michael Costello.

In fact, the show is filled with glorious fashion moments, from the mammoth tear-away sleeves she wears during “To Love You More” to the diaphanous Zac Posen gown she dons for “My Heart Will Go On.” She flaunts the same no-fucks-given attitude she exhibited in her stunning, hilarious Vogue magazine video from 2017.

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While Dion was once teased for her awkward gesticulation (think Ana Gasteyer’s Saturday Night Live impersonation from the ’90s), she’s in command of her body these days; it’s both an extension of her performance and an instrument in its own right. As a video cutaway illustrates, Dion has taken up ballet in recent years, working under the tutelage of ex-tour dancer Naomi Stikeman and Cirque du Soleil performer Pepe Muñoz. It’s incredible that after nearly 40 years in show business, she has not just survived but grown as an entertainer. Another artist might have collapsed under so much loss. But Dion has rededicated herself to her music, her fans, and her life.

The Courage World Tour runs through September 2020 with upcoming stops in Brooklyn, Pittsburgh, Denver, and Washington, D.C.

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.
@ItsDanAvery