Sunday 18 December 2016

The Red Shoes - Review

Sadler's Wells, London


Based on the film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
and the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale
Music by Bernard Herrmann
Directed and choreographed by Matthew Bourne

Ashley Shaw

The influences of cinema on Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes are everywhere. Walking into Sadler's Wells one sees that the stage is hidden behind an old style cinema curtain. The impression is both enchanting and effective, for Bourne’s latest offering is, in its elements, a ballet about a movie, about a ballet.

In the way that, back in 1948, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger created the Oscar winning movie that itself had been inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's classic fairy tale - so too, nearly 70 years later has Bourne taken that movie and re-imagined it onto the dance stage. 

But this ballet is so much more than a glorious re-imagining of a classic film - for where Powell and Pressburger invited Brian Easdale to score the movie, Bourne has actually shifted his musical focus to Easdale's contemporary (and fellow Academy Award winner) Bernard Herrmann - and assisted by Terry Davies' magnificent orchestrations, a new musical composition for the ballet has been carefully stitched together, drawn entirely from Hermann's scores. The choice of music is inspired - and as cigarette smoke hangs in the air of nearly every scene, whilst the shoes may be red, the very essence of this production is noir.

The story revolves around Victoria Page, prima ballerina in the Ballet Lermontov and her role within "The Red Shoes" ballet within a ballet. The first half spills across locations in London and Monte Carlo and as Page moves closer to the first half's closing routine of the Red Shoes ballet itself, a doomed love triangle emerges. Boris Lermontov burns with an unrequited jealous desire for his star. Page however only has eyes for Julian Craster (Lermontov's orchestra conductor) and it is clear that both she and Craster are madly in love with each other.

Act Two tracks the trio across Europe and as much as Bourne's visionary choreography relates the narrative, so too does Lez Brotherston's stage design, with curves of balustrade immediately evoking the French Riviera. Brotherston draws upon the simplest concepts of design, married to 21st century technology. Suspended from a gantry, that itself moves across the stage in a way that the Starlight Express designers could only have dreamed of, the aforementioned cinema curtains evolve into the proscenium arches of opera houses, before melding into tugged back glimpses of the triangle's respective boudoirs as passions smoulder. Elsewhere, Brotherston’s evocation of a Monte Carlo steam engine is every bit as effective as his creation of a Mississippi steamboat for Sheffield's Showboat last Christmas.

But the beauty of a Bourne ballet is the visionary dance. As Victoria Page, Ashley Shaw drives the show, a mixture of poised passion and pathos. Bourne coaxes so much expression from her, both facial and in her movement, that the story flows effortlessly. Sam Archer and Dominic North as Lermontov and Craster respectively offer equally poised and perfectly weighted support to Page's arc. 

The Red Shoes Ballet sequence itself is of course enchanting. Duncan McLean’s projections providing a eerily ethereal backdrop to Bourne’s interpretation of the fairy tale. Alongside Shaw, Michela Meazza, Liam Mower and Glenn Graham as key dancers in the Ballet Lermontov provide a perfect complement to the story's detail. 

Sold out at Sadler's Wells for the rest of the run, a continued bravo to Sir Matthew and his New Adventures company for spending the next six gruelling months on the road, touring The Red Shoes around the UK. Whether one is a lifelong ballet devotee, or completely new to the genre, the show is unmissable. Kill to get a ticket!

Runs until 29th January 2017 - Then on tour. Tour details here
Photo credit: Johan Persson

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