Returning to London, after touring both the UK and the US, is the first revival of Matthew Bourne’s 2016 Olivier Award winning The Red Shoes. A contemporary ballet based on the 1948 film and the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, we follow Victoria: a woman caught between her love of dance and her love for a young composer.
Victoria Page, (Ashley Shaw), is an aspiring ballerina who tries to win over Boris Lermontov (Adam Cooper), director of a prestigious ballet company. When Irina, the prima ballerina of the company (Michela Meazza), gets injured; Victoria takes centre stage. However, what Boris asks of her is pure devotion to the company and her craft, which he sees to be in jeopardy when Victoria begins to fall in love with upcoming composer Julian Craster (Dominic North). As Boris tightens his hold on Victoria, along with the gravitational pull of the red pointe shoes, she allows her passion to consume her and become her downfall.
Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures company is a personal favourite, after seeing their previous adaptations of Cinderella and The Nutcracker: they always create a contemporary fresh feel to ballet, combine elements of other dance styles, and make ballet feel accessible to all, with The Red Shoes being no exception. For someone unfamiliar with the 1948 film, and therefore the original story, the storytelling by each dancer makes the plot smoothly sail through. Likewise, Lez Brotherston’s magnificent set also helps to guide the audience between the action offstage and the on stage performance of the ballet-within a-ballet of the Hans Christian Andersen tale.
Bourne’s choreography is simply exquisite, (which comes as no surprise after winning the 2019 Special Award at the Olivier’s for his achievements in dance). Besides their beautiful expression, it is clear every emotion is deeply felt by the principal dancers, translating to an emotive experience for the audience. A particular highlight is the scene where Julian and Victoria argue: the combination of Bourne’s choreography and the emotional chemistry between Shaw and North is sublime.
The only qualm is that the ending feels a little hurried. Drawing out Victoria’s inner battle between her two futures could help to alleviate the slightly confusing final blend of her psyche and reality, and add further gravitas to the tragic ending.
Once again Bourne has created a masterpiece: long may he continue to reign supreme in the world of contemporary ballet. See The Red Shoes to allow yourself to be completely transported for an evening.