After what has seemed an interminable wait, finally last Thursday it was time to see Matthew Bourne's new ballet, his stage adaptation of the classic ballet film, THE RED SHOES at Sadler's Wells. It was certainly worth the wait, it is a wonderful feat of story-telling through dance to the lush music of film composer Bernard Herrmann.
I cannot say I have ever been totally sold on the film which I find rather emotionally sterile - not the first time I have felt that regarding a Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger film - but it's cinematography and music certainly create memorable moments during the central 15 minute ballet sequence. Personally I am with Val in A CHORUS LINE who shocks the other dancers by saying "Oh, yeah, let's get one thing straight. See, I never heard about "The Red Shoes", I never saw "The Red Shoes", I didn't give a fuck about "The Red Shoes."
The story remains the same - imperious ballet impresario Boris Lermontov sees young ballerina Victoria Page dancing at a party given by her aunt and is impressed enough to offer her an audition for his company based in Monte Carlo. Lermontov discreetly follows her progress as a member of the chorus so when the star ballerina Irina is injured , he promotes Victoria to her roles and ultimately to star in the company's new production, a version of Hans Christian Andersen's THE RED SHOES.
Victoria triumphs in the role of a girl who tries on a pair of magic red shoes only to find she cannot stop dancing in them, and also starts a relationship with the composer of the ballet Julian Craster . The jealous Lermontov sacks Craster and Victoria chooses love over her career and leaves the company. Their relationship founders however when they return to London after Victoria can only find work dancing in a tatty music hall. She returns to Lermontov but the red shoes will again change her fate...
The intensely cinematic story is turned by Bourne into a wonderfully vivid and fluid ballet told through many different styles of dance: from classical ballet to romantic duets, from stiff social dancing to the routines of the music hall comedians and showgirls...
THE RED SHOES provides Matthew Bourne with a fantastic opportunity to tell a story which is never less than gripping and shows all his strengths as a master of narrative through dance, there are opportunities for him to show his fondness for character work - the ballet company and backstage creative team - but the importance of keeping the focus on the three main protagonists stops any indulgences in minor characters being too distracting as in his flawed version of EDWARD SCISSORHANDS.
Bourne is reunited with his previous collaborators, designer Lez Brotherston, lighting designer Paule Constable and orchestrator Terry Davies who all contribute hugely to the show's excellence - Brotherston's evocative and atmospheric design of a rotating proscenium arch takes us both front and backstage within seconds and his costumes are ravishing; Constable's powerful lighting creates mood and place on the stage, while Terry Davies has woven Herrmann's scores for films as diverse as CITIZEN KANE, THE GHOST AND MRS MUIR and FAHRENHEIT 451 into a seamless whole.
As usual, Bourne uses a rotating cast of dancers who have all had previous experience in his productions: on the night we went, the luminous Cordelia Braithwaite was quite wonderful as Victoria while the opposing, brooding men in her life were Sam Archer as Lermentov and Chris Trenfield as Craster.
As I said, Matthew Bourne gives great opportunities for supporting performers to shine and here Liam Mower and Michela Meazza were excellent as the star performers in Lermontov's company - their jaded Covent Garden rehearsal was great fun to watch, and Glenn Graham was very effective as the company's ballet master and featured dancer.
It was thrilling to see Matthew Bourne again delivering an absolute classic and THE RED SHOES provides a fitting climax to the year which started with his receiving a knighthood for services to dance. Next year is New Adventures' 30th Anniversary which will see a regional tour for THE RED SHOES after it finishes it's sold out run at Sadler's Wells, a tour of Bourne early works called EARLY ADVENTURES and the year finishes with a revival of his production of CINDERELLA at Sadler's Wells.
If you can I urge you to see THE RED SHOES, it has remained dancing around my mind like the red shoes of the title...