Last night I had the pleasure of attending a ballet, which makes me feel really civilised and posh. I only wish that I was wearing a ballgown and accompanied by a strapping young man in a top hat – but unfortunately that was not to be. The ballet was Matthew Bourne’s production of The Red Shoes which is currently touring the UK – I caught it at the wonderful Curve Theatre in Leicester.
The Red Shoes began in 1845 as a fairytale by Hans Christian Anderson before being transformed into an Award-Winning movie in 1948 by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. In this modernised production, young ballerina Victoria Page finds herself torn between her love for struggling composer Julian Craster and her passion for ballet; represented by Boris Lementov the rather intimidating company impresario. The story stays true to Anderson’s original concept; that ballet/religion is a life-changing force that gives intense joy but requires extreme sacrifice. This theme remains at the core of a seductive and entrancing production and has the audience hooked from the word go. The first act culminates in The Red Shoes ballet, a 10 minute piece within the production which cleverly foretells Page’s tragic fate and as Act 2 begins you can’t help but feel overcome with some foreboding feeling.
One thing which stood out to me perhaps more than anything else was the set – designed by Lez Brotherston – which comprises a magestic moving proscenium arch and transforms the space into a multitude of settings with ease and elegance. The transformation from ‘real-life’ to the Red Shoes ballet is truly breathtaking with Duncan McLean’s mesmerising projection design used to create a completely immersive experience.
It almost goes without saying that Matthew Bourne’s choreography is flawless and it beautifully accompanies Bernard Herrmann’s exquisite score. Bourne’s pieces are clean and precise – injecting an innovative modern twist into a traditional story in a way that only Matthew Bourne can. My personal favourites were his beachball ballet scene in which we are transported to Monte Carlo and of course the Egyptian skit section which had the whole audience tittering in their seats. There were times that I wished I had a second pair of eyes to watch and appreciate everything that was going on on stage and others where my brain completely switched off and I was lost in a simple but spectacular duet.
Leading lady Ashley Shaw steals the show as Victoria Page. Her dance ability is second to none and she performs with enchanting poise and grace. Liam Mower and Dominic North also caught my attention with their strength, power and emotion being particularly outstanding. The rest of the New Adventures company showed incredible talent, bringing this innovative piece to life at the highest of standards. They must be exhausted after the number of quick changes they have but they make intricate choreography look easy.
I do wish I had read up on the story prior to seeing this performance as I found myself a little lost at times, and I must admit I found the ending rather bizarre. The story came together by the end, but I wasn’t the only one who left the theatre a little confused. My advice would be to read a reasonably detailed synopsis before heading in.
Overall, Matthew Bourne has gone and produced yet another masterpiece. The Red Shoes is a magnificent display of dance and stagecraft which together provide a feast for the eyes. Go in prepared and you won’t be disappointed.
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Production Images by Johan Persson
*I was kindly gifted tickets for this performance in exchange for an honest review