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The Red Shoes

Dance, Ballet Sadler's Wells , Clerkenwell Tuesday December 3 2019 - Sunday January 19 2020
4 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars
(5user reviews)
© Johan Persson

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne adapts the classic dance movie for the stage

'The Red Shoes' returns to Sadler's Wells for Christmas 2019. This review is from its 2016 premiere

Translating a much-loved movie to the stage can be a fraught enterprise. Matthew Bourne keeps a steady hand on the tiller, though, as he transforms the classic 1948 Powell and Pressburger film, ‘The Red Shoes’, into a dance-drama that, as his company reaches its thirtieth anniversary, is up there with the best of what he has created.

Bourne’s gift for storytelling dazzles here. Every moment has purpose, and scenes bleed into each other so you are caught up and whirled through the story of Vicky Page, the dancer who must choose between her art and her heart when flinty ballet director Boris Lermontov refuses to countenance his rising star’s romance with struggling conductor Julian Craster.

Lez Brotherston’s impressive set designs are central to this slick narrative drive, effortlessly switching us from the Covent Garden stage to a Monte Carlo beach to a tragic cabaret in the East End. His central device is a suspended, revolving, gilt proscenium arch with its own red velvet curtains, used to ingenious effect, turning us from audience into backstage voyeurs, and changing or revealing scenes. Brotherston’s boldest move is for the ballet-within-the-ballet sequence, when Vicky gets her big break and dances the lead in Boris’s ‘The Red Shoes’. Projections beamed on to staggered layers of white backdrop create a dreamlike space for Bourne’s updated take on the fairytale of the girl forced to dance till she drops; the synchronicity between the kinetic visuals and the choreography is exhilarating.

Ashley Shaw is a beautiful Vicky; she gives emotional life to her character’s story arc with light and graceful dancing, adding depth to Bourne’s style of grandly gesturing stretched limbs. Sam Archer’s Lermontov and Dominic North’s Julian are also good as contrasting foils – Vicky and Julian’s anguished duet as their relationship crashes on the rocks of her ambition is a highlight. The score – music by Hollywood composer Bernard Herrmann and played live – is lush, enveloping and sweepingly dramatic.

This being a Bourne production, there’s also plenty of knockabout fun. Ballet Lermontov’s diva principals, played by Michela Meazza and Liam Mower, are amusing, sharply observed caricatures; Bourne’s affectionate glee at sending up the classical ballet world is palpable. Meanwhile, the dingy East End cabaret where down-on-her-luck Vicky finds herself performing gets its kick from a homage to Wilson and Keppel’s sand dance. In fact, the dance history references are piled on, but you don’t have to be a balletomane to enjoy ‘The Red Shoes’. This is Bourne on top form, offering a warm, vibrant paean to the art of dance. 




Venue name: Sadler's Wells
Address: Rosebery Avenue
Transport: Tube: Angel
Price: £15-£75

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3 out of 5 stars

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