Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes (New Adventures) | Ballet Review ★★★★★

The reason why modern ballet is great because it incorporates all different styles of dance – it allows for more compelling choreography that can hint towards comedy and makes for a more accessible show for a ballet novice, which is obviously a great thing, who wouldn’t want to allow more people to appreciate the ballet?

Matthew Bourne is the king of modern ballet. According to Time Magazine, he is the world’s most popular living dance maker and is widely considered the UK’s best and most successful choreographer and director. Having won 7 Olivier awards, with this year receiving the 2017 award for Best Theatre Choreographer for this very show. As well as many other highly sought-after recognitions, the man knows his stuff.

The Red Shoes has been a bucket list ballet of mine for a very long time, it is a topic I find very compelling. It tells the tale of obsession, possession, and one girl’s dream to be the greatest dancer in the world. Victoria Page lives to dance but her ambitions become a battleground between the two men that inspire her passion; the man she loves and the man who facilitates her art. The ballet is based on the 1948 film which tells the story of Victoria who gets cast as the lead ballerina in a ballet based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of the same name, which tells the story of a girl who is given magical red shoes by the devil which mean that her feet can never stop dancing, it gets outwith her control and runs her ragged, ruining her relationships and exhausted herself. The ballet within the ballet then becomes a reflection of Victoria’s life, it is about how art, in this case dance, can be all encompassing and life-changing. It brings around the thought that if you’re fully consumed by your passions, does this pose a threat to other aspects in your life? Can you really have it all?

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This production choreographed and directed by Matthew Bourne is an adaption of the Powell and Pressburger film with gorgeous designs by Lez Brotherston, lighting by Paule Constable and sound by Paul Groothuis. The stunning and dramatic score is arranged by Terry Davies using Bernard Herrmann’s stunning golden-age Hollywood compositions from films by Hitchcock, Welles and Scorsese).

As always, Matthew Bourne’s choreography blew me away. His modern balletic style showed influences from Tango, Charleston, Lindy Hop, Cha Cha, Jazz and Contemporary styles. I particularly loved the dance pieces used when a new location in the show was being established, in particular London’s Covent Garden, where the company danced a beautiful, fast paced class exercise whilst characters were being established. I also loved the introduction to Monte Carlo, the choreography was fantastic and it looked like a lot of fun to dance, I want to roll about with a beach ball that gracefully! Another highlight was the wee Sand Man dance with the two boys dancing an Egyptian piece in the cabaret show, it was very funny. The most exquisite choreography, however, comes from The Red Shoes ballet performed by the Lermontov company within the show, when Victoria is controlled by the red shoes. Ashley Shaw’s performance was very convincing and impressive, truly looking like her feet controlled the rest of her body, and her acting reveals the pain and distress caused to Victoria during this story. Her performance was en pointe (pun intended).

Brotherston’s design was absolutely stunning and I really loved the contrast between the real world naturalism of the rehearsal rooms with their exposed brick and ballet barres and the dream-like world of the ballet within in the ballet, made surreal by the use of projection and bold imagery. The most amazing element of Brotherston’s set design is the gorgeous proscenium arch elevated from the flies, fully adorned with a sweeping red curtain. Cleverly it would rotate to highlight the different perspectives of on and offstage viewing of the performance. In the second, the arch was used to create a clever split stage affect by having one half of the curtain drawn and the other hanging, covering one side of the stage at a time. We go back and forth between ballet impresario Lermontov mourning the loss of his inspiration, Victoria and on the other side, the decline of Victoria and Julian’s relationship.

The cinematic theme of the piece was truly captured by the scale of Herrmann’s compositions, their breadth fully backs up the visual side of the show and salutes the much appreciated film of its basis. The sound also utilises a variety of dissonant noise s to symbolise how complicated Victoria’s mind become. Her confusion and frustration builds up as she finds herself stuck between the two choices of her love or her passion. Her frustration builds in Act 2 until she has no choice but to seek refuge in death. Showing how the ‘real life’ story in the ballet is reflecting the fairy tale ballet.

The show brings in an important consideration that if you sacrifice the passions that define you, can you ever truly be happy? It shows how important it is for us to embrace and appreciate our passions. Art is so incredibly important because, as the queen Viola Davis says, it celebrates what it means to live a life.

This ballet was everything I wanted it to be and more and has absolutely made its way up into my favourite shows of all time. I would 100% recommend to anyone who enjoys theatre and dance to buy a ticket and experience this stunning piece. It is no wonder the The Red Shoes received an Olivier Award this year for the Best Entertainment and Family show. Go see it!!

New Adventures continue to tour with this show, coming to theatres in Sheffield, Glasgow, Wycombe, Liverpool, Salford and Birmingham. For more details, click here!

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