I now somehow feel that another piece of my cultural knowledge jigsaw has been completed. The Red Shoes is a ballet, based on a 1948 British film, which itself was based on a Hans Christian Andersen story all bearing the same name; but having never read the story nor seen the film, I have now, at least, seen this - the World Premiere of Sir Matthew Bourne's newest creation; his ballet adaptation of that film.
It is a story of a young aspiring ballet dancer, Victoria, who joins a famous ballet company, the Ballet Lermontov, and her dancing so impresses the company's owner, Boris Lermontov, that he asks her to take the principal role in a new production, the ballet of The Red Shoes. [This is the Andersen story - where a girl wears a pair of red shoes and cannot stop dancing]. Lermonotov has fallen head over heels in love with Victoria, but it soon becomes clear that her affections lie elsewhere, and she starts a romance with the ballet's composer, Julian Craster. It's a tragic love story, and the wearing of a pair of red shoes....
In tonight's production the roles of the three protagonists were Sam Archer (Boris Lermontov); Chris Trenfield (Julian Craster); and Ashley Shaw (Victoria Page). And working with an abundance of talented dancers playing smaller roles and ensemble, the whole company were in tip-top form, and not only danced, but acted this ballet out in front of me, engaging me in a story which was completely new to me, and yet, I understood everything that was happening on stage and found myself completely enthralled and totally engaged right to the end. This is something of a rarity for me when it comes to ballet. I can easily become distracted or bored, especially when watching time-honoured cour-de-ballet routines or unimaginative replications of others' pas-de-deuxs. Here, Bourne had assembled not just excellent dancers but also those who were able to act, and act well, in order to tell a story, and be believable characters, not just the standard cardboard cut-outs of most ballets. I think it was this that impressed the most this evening.
Not only that but I loved the set. It was such a simple device on the face of it, using a fake prosc. arch and inverting it, but it worked wonderfully; and the set for the actual Red Shoes ballet with use of black and white and projections was simply fabulous. The whole late forties ethos of stage production, design and acting, was recreated with love and realism. It was truly a joy to watch. Along with some beautiful lighting, subtle when it needed to be and stark when it needed to be, and excellent costumes, both the lighting and design managed to bring to life the real world of 1948, and the fantasy of 1948, and blend them superbly. For this credit must go to Colin Falconer (set design), Rob Casey (LX design), Irene Bohan (costumes).
And as if all that wasn't enough, then there was also a live orchestra playing throughout under the baton of Brett Morris, and the music chosen to accompany the dancing came from many different sources, with the music of composer Bernard Hermann featuring as a number one choice. The music was unbelievably well chosen; it fit the story like a hand in a glove, and was also from the correct period too - very 40's, and highly emotive and dramatic.
This was a highly proficient, professional, exciting tragic love story which appealed to me greatly and cannot recommend highly enough. Directed and choreographed superbly, flawlessly, and imaginatively by none other than Sir Matthew Bourne himself, this was most definitely my ballet highlight of 2016.
Reviewer: Mark Dee
Reviewed: 29th November 2016
North West End Rating: ★★★★★