Matthew Bourne’s enthralling stage version of “The Red Shoes” cast a captivating spell at its American debut Tuesday, Sept. 19, at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles. British choreographer and director Bourne is known for emphasis on storytelling and creative retelling of classic stories in innovative full-length dance theater presentations.
“The Red Shoes” as staged by Bourne takes the classic movie’s plot – a stalwart ballet fan favorite – and elevates it. The show still serves as a parable about the consuming passion required to make art. However, it is so well done, it does not require knowledge of the plot or even a love of ballet.
Mashing Up Old and New
Bourne’s Olivier Award-winning (the British version of the Tonys) version of “The Red Shoes” is a perfect example of his art as well as the talent of his company, New Adventures. The show makes the most of its imaginative presentation that offers a combination of humor and athleticism, a dramatic score, dance styles (ballet, tango, ballroom, and more) mash ups, and great cast.
Bourne successfully combined the plot of the 1948 Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger movie with music arranged by Terry Davies using music taken from Hollywood scores by Bernard Hermann (“Citizen Kane,” “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir,” and even “Fahrenheit 451”). The “Red Shoes” ballet within the show is still based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale.
The “Red Shoes” dancing is exquisite, whether the ballet numbers (which include a snippet of “Les Sylphides”), ballroom scenes, or simulated swimming beachside. But, besides grace and dance ability, Bourne’s troupe has effortless acting ability. They give their roles believability beyond the usual ballet pantomime action that moves the story along far more than their feet.
Complex Story and Staging
The plot starts with Vicky Page, an aspiring ballerina, hoping to impress a Svengali-like impresario and ballet company director – Boris Lermontov. Vicky snags his attention. He invites her and Julian Craster, a promising young composer, to join his company. An injury to the star ballerina, Irina Boronskaja, gives the ingénue Page her chance. This leads Lermontov offers her the starring role in his new ballet, which ends the first act.
Under Lermontov’s eye, the new ballet star and the composer realize their gifts. Page receives her scarlet pointe shoes. While the imperious Lermontov urges herto focus solely on her ballet, Page falls for the charming composer. In time, the enchanted ballet shoes nudge her off balance and become the dancer’s nightmare, forcing her to choose art or love.
The cast switches off at different performances for this demandingly physical full-length dance show. The opening night cast was stellar. The engaging Ashley Shaw is a delight as Page, showing her tremendous dancing talent and believability as the tormented lover. Dominic North, as Craster, is earnest and delightful, particularly in a pas de deux with a piano when imagining and constructing his score. Sam Archer is appropriately authoritarian, controlled and controlling as Lermontov. Of the rest of the talented troupe, Michaela Meazza stands out as the elegant prima ballerina.
The set and lighting also star here and propel the plot. Lez Brotherston created a mobile curtained proscenium arch that seamlessly swivels and dances between front and backstage, allowing the cast to glide between rehearsal and performance scenes. The lighting by Paule Constable also moves the action between cheerful romance, aristocratic elegance, and a nightmarish windstorm. Between them both and Brotherston’s fun costumes, the show morphs London into Monte Carlo and Villefrance-Sur-Mer, classical ballet into beach bathing, glamor and tatty grunge.
Matthew Bourne’s ‘The Red Shoes’ will continue to cast its spell at the Ahmanson in downtown Los Angeles until Oct. 1. The production then moves to Washington, D.C.; Charlotte, N.C.; and New York City.
By Dyanne Weiss
Performance September 19, 2017
Center Theatre Group
Los Angeles Times: Matthew Bourne and the U.S. premiere of ‘The Red Shoes’: ‘Art is important, it’s worth fighting for’
Photos of Matthew Bourne’s production of “The Red Shoes” by Johan Persson and courtesy of Center Theatre Group. Top, Ashley Shaw. Insert, Shaw with Dominic Nortb.