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< Set Designer Bunny Christie's People, Places and Things | Main | Musical Theater Improv Troup Robot Teammate’s New York City Debut >

October 15, 2017


by Ann Greer

The new ballet “The Red Shoes” is on tour at the Kennedy Center.  It is directed and choreographed by Matthew Bourne for his New Adventures company, and is inspired by both the 1948 movie and the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale.  Bourne’s choreography, along with the set design by Lez Brotherston, projection design by Duncan McLean, and a bevy of engaging and talented dancers, give this take on the story both a sensuousness and a surreal edge.  It’s wonderful to look at, sometimes serious, other times just plain fun.

Ashley Shaw 'Victoria Page'. Photo by Johan Persson.

The narrative considers the sacrifices that artists make, and their consuming passion and dedication.  Impresario Boris Lermontov (Sam Archer) casts young ballerina Victoria Page (Ashley Shaw) as the lead in his ballet “The Red Shoes.”  In it, a dancer gives all to her art, including her life, when she cannot stop dancing while in magical shoes.  Victoria then falls for struggling composer Julian Craster (Marcelo Gomes) and Lermontov, in a fury, dismisses them.  They end up performing in a seedy burlesque hall, and Victoria is drawn back to her former life as a star dancer.  Her choice results in life imitating art, which ends when she falls under a train.

Ashley Shaw 'Victoria Page'. Photo by Johan Persson.

The work is particularly strong when the dancers portray the camaraderie of a dance ensemble – I especially was tickled by a number set in Monte Carlo, with dancers in bathing costumes cavorting on the beach.  The Red Shoes ballet-within-the-ballet is a mélange of music and visuals, and the pacing thrills.

The Company. Photo by Johan Persson.

I stayed for the talkback discussion with Bourne and the three principal dancers following the performance.  Several audience members were more familiar with the movie than I, and queried Bourne on changes he made for his ballet.

A woman who had seen the movie several times, most recently the night before, asked why the prima ballerina was injured in his ballet, making way for Victoria.  In the movie, the prima ballerina got married, and Bourne didn’t think it would play as well today as in the middle of the last century.

A fellow was adamant that the genesis of the magical red shoes was best portrayed as in the movie with a cobbler, not with a satanic dancer.  When no explanation really satisfied him, Bourne said, with tongue in cheek, that the questioner should use the cobbler when he does his own version.

Questions like these, and a conversation with my seatmates, caused me to think about how necessary it is to see the movie before the ballet.  I had not.  Such a compelling story begs to be told in a variety of media, and there are many such examples in addition to “The Red Shoes.”  While there are advantages and disadvantages to familiarity with other versions, I doubt that there’s anything you can do to put those initial preferences and reactions out of your mind.

Marcelo Gomes 'Julian Craster' and Ashley Shaw 'Victoria Page'.
Photo by Lawrence Ho.

My advice is, no matter what version you are experiencing -- go, enjoy, find meaning.

“The Red Shoes,” at the Kennedy Center through October 15 and at New York City Center, October 26 - November 5.

Ann Greer has covered culture in the DC region for The Washington Post, Capitol File magazine, and WAMU-FM, among others.  She was the first online theater critic in the DC region, for AOL Digital City Washington.


Posted at 5:02 PM

< Set Designer Bunny Christie's People, Places and Things | Main | Musical Theater Improv Troup Robot Teammate’s New York City Debut >