So runs the ballet fable at the centre of The Red Shoes film (1948), adapted by popular choreographer Matthew
Bourne for his latest dance spectacular and Sadler's Wells Christmas offering.
And faced with what many refer to as the best dance film
ever, he has done a spectacular job.
The Technicolor original introduces us to young dancer
Victoria Page (played by the flame-haired ballerina Moira Shearer) and talented
composer Julian Craster. Discovered by the inflexible impresario Boris
Lermontov, both find themselves catapulted into not only fame, but the highest
realms of their art, by the ballet of The
Red Shoes. Glorious careers begin.
But they fall in love. Lermontov, refusing to share his
protégé with her lover, throws Caster out, and Vicky follows. But the struggle
between love and art strangles her, until the catastrophic moment when the two
men force her to choose.
The film spliced the glamorous world of émigré ballet
with surreal moments of psychosis, and Bourne’s ballet sips at the same
vicious cocktail. The elegant silks and Monte Carlo terraces are blacked out by
the descent of a tunnel of white arches which traps the dancers in the central Ballet
of the Red Shoes.
There’s beauty and darkness, but traces nonetheless of
Bourne’s wit. The first act is littered with pastiches of 20th
century ballet, danced by suitably glamorous characters.
One fabulous moment sees the ballet company’s star rehearse
her glittering role in a fur coat, fag in mouth, but only her costume dances the steps while her face simpers in time to its twitching steps.
As the ballet morphs between reality and Vicky’s disintegrating
mind, the action becomes harder to follow. But music is a guiding light throughout. A live orchestra
plays an arrangement of Bernard Hermann film scores (Farenheit 451 and Citizen
Kane) with relentless vigour, the string sections a lesson in tension and drama.
The Technicolor-drenched original has directly informed the
vibrant designs of Lez Brotherston and lighting designer Paule Constable
towards the same cobalt blues and camellia reds, to quite magnificent effect.
The cast for the film were almost entirely pinched from the
principals list of the Royal Ballet (then Sadler’s Wells Ballet), so even more
credit to the New Adventures dancers for taking their usual Broadway style into
balletic territory. Ashley Shaw glows with Moira Shearer’s grace in the role of
This isn’t by any means an update. Bourne’s devotion to
the film and its brilliance is clear, and his tribute is cinematic. Even the
black shadows beneath Vicky’s eyes at the height of her panic are an image
straight out of the original.
The detail of this homage might be lost on audience who have
not seen the film, so we recommend watching first.
Bourne is an infallible choice for the Sadler’s Wells Christmas ballet but this year we
suspect he has surpassed even his own standards.
|What||Matthew Bourne: The Red Shoes review|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
06 Dec 16 – 29 Jan 17, Matinees on the 10, 11, 17, 18, 22, 23, 24, 27, 29, 30 & 31 December, and 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22, 26, 28, 29 January. Times vary.
|Website||Click here to book via the Sadler's Wells website|