A new classic ballet came to life last night, as Matthew Bourne’s version of Powell and Pressburger’s ‘The Red Shoes’ came vividly to life on the stage of the Birmingham Hippodrome. The beautiful haunting story of dancer Victoria Page, and how she is destroyed by her talent and love, is one of the great movies, and now, in the hands of a superb company, the tale that started life as a rather brutal fairy story is recreated for the stage, and shows once again why Matthew Bourne is rightly recognised as a genius of modern dance.
The Red Shoes is a story of love, jealousy, obsession and determination. Aristocratic Victoria Page longs to be a dancer, and is invited to join an established company by Boris Lermontov, traveling with them to Monte Carlo. When the prima ballerina Irina is injured, Lermontov decides to thrust Victoria forward as the star of a new ballet that he has commissioned talented Composer Julian Craster to write. The ballet is ‘The Red Shoes’ and it is a great success, with Vicky and Julian falling in love. But Lermontov also has feelings for Vicky, and his jealousy forces Julian and Vicky to return to London. There Vicky is forced to confront her feelings – to stay with Julian and abandon her hopes of being a major star, or returning to ‘The Red Shoes’. Her decision leads to a horrifying tragedy.
The dance and characterisations of The Red Shoes are just stunning. Ashley Shaw is a wonderful Victoria, her dancing is filled with grace and passion in the early scenes, and she breaks your heart in the closing moments. Sam Archer brings Anton Walbrook to mind in the Boris Lermontov role – the arrogant, yet charming persona shines through beautifully, but he also shows softer side in the pas de deux with Victoria in Monte Carlo. Chris Trenfield is great as Julian, I love his initial scene where he is pretending to conduct an orchestra, showing the passion and determination that will bring him success. His scenes with Shaw are tender and loving, bringing romance to the proceedings.
The backstage scenes are incredibly staged, with the curtain twisting to show front of house and behind the scenes, and I loved how unengaged Anjali Mehra was as Irina during the rehearsals, contrasting beautifully with Victoria mimicking the dance with verve and beauty off stage. Another brilliant scene was the hilarious music hall scene, with the brilliant sand dancers delighting the audience with their funny, rude dance.
Of course, the crowning glory of The Red Shoes is The Red Shoes, the ballet within the ballet that makes Victoria a star. Based on the folk tale, the power of the shoes makes the wearer unable to stop dancing. This is so beautifully staged, helped by the incredible set and the soaring music of Bernard Herrmann, best known for his Hitchcock scores, and always able to create a mood with a sinister edge. When the imagined audience gives a rousing round of applause for the ballet, the real audience matches it, it is simply sublime.
The Red Shoes will be delighting audiences for many years to come, it is a thing of real beauty.
The Red Shoes
Wednesday 8th – Saturday 11th February
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