Matthew Bourne’s new contemporary ballet The Red Shoes is largely based on the 1948 film of the name, along with references to the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. Music from the original film is not used but instead Terry Davies has arranged a new score taken from the works of American composer Bernard Herrmann; an influential name in Hollywood motion pictures.
The production centres on Victoria Page who aspires to be the greatest dancer in the world. Upon being spotted by ballet impresario Lermontov, she is pulled into the lifestyle she always dreamed of when she is cast as the lead role in newly commissioned ballet, The Red Shoes. Here she meets composer Craster who she soon falls in love with. Page is then torn between her passion for dance and the love of a man.
Lez Brotherston’s set is all-encompassing and features a proscenium arch on stage which revolves seamlessly between the on and off stage action – or reality and fiction as it comes to light. The direction of the performers around the dominant set piece is co-ordinated to perfection. The set change that occurs the first time we go to the ballet within the ballet is synchronised beautifully and is a visual treat. Going from a rich theatrical setting full of colour to a blank canvas formed by additional masking and fly pieces is a stunning contrast and the black and white sequence against the projected backdrop is something of real beauty. Award-winning lighting designer Paule Constable does a phenomenal job in separating the two worlds and makes all of the action leap off the stage.
Since its opening in December last year, there has been a great deal of hype surrounding the production and deservedly so. Not being a fan of traditional ballet myself, a dance piece of this kind takes a lot to hold my attention. However, every Matthew Bourne ballet I have been fortunate to see has been a complete joy from start to finish. The amalgamation of various dance styles and the strength of his storytelling is the best of a generation. The company he has formed is exceptional with many familiar faces from his previous productions such as Swan Lake, Car Man and Edward Scissorhands. Ashley Shaw as Victoria Page is utterly stunning. With her Hollywood film star beauty to her effortless dance prowess, she is every inch the leading lady. Her love interest Craster is played charismatically by Chris Trenfield who gives a masculine and confident performance, whilst Sam Archer is a dominant and commanding presence as Lermontov. Archer doesn’t get quite as much opportunity to shine choreographically but his characterisation is exactly right. The principals are supported tremendously by a talented ensemble cast.
Exhilarating, mesmerising and memorable.
The Red Shoes plays at Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 11 February and returns from the 19-22 July 2017.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Review by Jenny Ell
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