What could be more perfect for Matthew Bourne’s newest New Adventure than a fairy tale / seminal film combo? Based on the 1948 classic in which a dance company put on an exciting new ballet of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale The Red Shoes, Bourne hits all the right notes here to create something visually thrilling and haunting. By utilising the emotive music of Hollywood composer Bernard Herrmann (best known for his soundtrack to Citizen Kane) Terry Davies has orchestrated a superb and striking score for The Red Shoes, perfectly encompassing life backstage, the ballet itself, and the struggle of the central characters.
Following the story of a talented young ballerina Victoria Page (Ashley Shaw), we meet the ballet impresario Boris Lermontov (Sam Archer), who gives Victoria and the young composer Julian Craster (Dominic North) their big break at his company. When the Prima Ballerina Irina (a delightful Anjali Mehra) hurts her foot, Victoria is both metaphorically and literally carried into the spotlight by Lermontov. However, despite the quest for art bringing the three together, their dogged obsessions with it slowly tear them apart.
The entire ensemble have great fun with their characters, and it’s clear much time has been spent carefully considering the social dynamics of each character – particularly in Lermontov’s company. Liam Mower is a delightfully funny and fey Premier Danseur, languidly puffing on a cigarette in a loose kimono before lightly leaping on stage. It’s also genuinely lovely to see a queer relationship depicted between this character and the Company Manager (an adorable Joe Walking) adjacent to the romance between Victoria and Julian, without it seeming forced. It simply is. And is simply beautiful. There’s also much fun to be had with second-rate auditionees, two rather virile Sand Dancers in an East End Music Hall, and the Creative Team flittering about preparing for The Red Shoes. Shaw is a stunningly petite but punchy Victoria with a delightfully expressive face, her turmoil clear from the back of the stalls. Sam Archer gives us a stoic and strong Lermontov, whilst Dominic North’s Julian is simply vibrating with energy, ideas, and creativity – never has playing the piano appeared so dynamic!
The set, at first appearing simple, is used to stunning effect. Although we may have seen the theatre within a theatre trope many times before, this beautiful hanging proscenium arch is more than dressing for the dance. Thanks to some clever mechanics, the arch dances too, moving fluidly from scene to scene, moving us front of house, to backstage, its curtains at once concealing and revealing. The beach set in Monte Carlo is also a delight – as always with Bourne’s work the visuals are heightened to perfection, and augmented by the glorious costumes. The eponymous red shoes are a delight, and everything else, from tutus to trousers feels structured and fresh. The design delights in a modernity that truly encapsulates the time. Perfect work from designer Lez Brotherston, which is in turn perfectly complemented by the dusty, stark lighting of the incredibly talented Paule Constable.
The ballet of The Red Shoes itself is clever in depicting the tussle of the modern vs the traditional in the arena of dance and it plays out beautifully with the help of a monochrome set and various shadow-y projections. The section in Monte Carlo is glorious too – Victoria and Julian’s romance echoing the tidal pull of the waves, some clever ‘swimming’ in a reflective sea, not to mention the ballet company really letting their hair down and jiving the night away. However, it is in Act Two where things muddy slightly (especially if you are unfamiliar with the film), as we struggle to really understand the complexity of Craster and Lermontov’s love for Victoria and/or art. The symbolism is strong, but perhaps the meaning not quite as clear for some. The pace is refreshingly quick in this show, but perhaps there are moments where the relationships could breathe just a little more, in order for us to fully appreciate the tragic end.
All said, this is classic Bourne at its very best! A visual treat of a story, told with a wink and a nod. Definitely one to catch on tour, whether you are a lover of dance or not. These sumptuous piece will leave your head swimming with symbolism and tragic beauty.
The Red Shoes
Milton Keynes Theatre
14th Feb – 18th Feb, 2017
Then continuing on tour. Details at -
© Carly Halse - Reviewed on Tuesday 14th February 2017.