‘The Red Shoes’ Was Remade For The Stage, And Dancers Are Already Obsessed
‘The Red Shoes’ is a 1948 British film beloved not only by dancers and fans, but film royalty like directors Martin Scorsese and Brian DePalma, who call it one of their favorite films. It’s been adapted for the stage by choreographer Matthew Bourne, whose male version of “Swan Lake” and “Edward Scissorhands” gave audiences a new look at dance.
Click through for a look at the classic film and the new stage edition in which New York guest artists Sara Mearns and Marcelo Gomes will join the stars of Bourne’s company New Adventures.
A New Stage Adaptation Will Tour The U.S. In Fall 2017
In Bourne’s adaptation of the film, Ashley Shaw, a leading lady of his U.K.-based dance company New Adventures, originated the stage role of protagonist Victoria Page in the sold out London production.
New York City Ballet's Sara Mearns Alternates Lead Role of 'Victoria Page'
For the Manhattan run at New York City Center (October 26—November 5), New York City Ballet’s principal dancer Sara Mearns will alternate the role of Victoria Page with Shaw. The role marks Mearns’ debut with the New Adventures company.
The Dashing Impressario
The role of the Svengali-like impresario Boris Lermontov was originated by dancer Sam Archer who is returning to New Adventures, having creating the title role of the company’s ‘Edward Scissorhands’ in 2005.
The Story Is Very Meta
‘The Red Shoes’ tells the story of Victoria Page, who lusts to be the most famous ballet dancer in the world, but is tangled in a love triangle with the show’s young composer Julian Craster and the dance company’s impresario Boris Lermontov.
Ballet Within A Ballet
Lermontov casts Victoria in a new ballet called “The Red Shoes” based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale called…”The Red Shoes.” The fifteen-minute ballet is the high point of the film, and it was the first time a mainstream film dared include such a long a ballet sequence as its central storytelling device.
Bourne's Production Ups The Meta Considerably
Bourne’s stage adaptation is a full-length ballet. While the story stays faithful to the film, there is no dialogue. The clarity of the choreography and dancers’ characterizations are the only narrative devices used. This transforms the story’s centerpiece into a true ballet-within-a-ballet.
U.K. critics have referred to co-lead Ashley Shaw as a “dead ringer” for Moira Shearer, whose performance is revered by devotees of the film.
The Film Had A Deep Bench
Beyond the star power of its leading roles, the film cast renowned dancers and choreographers in many of its supporting roles. Russian choreographer and ballet dancer Leonide Massine played the villainous Shoemaker in the film’s ballet, and he also choreographed his own dancing.
Hans Christian Andersen’s source material is a cautionary allegory about sin, vanity, punishment and redemption. A young woman sees a pair of red shoes in a shop window, which are offered to her by a demonic Shoemaker. She rapturously dances her heart out, but finds that she cannot stop when she wants to. The shoes will not let her. She loses everything because of this, even her own life.
Alternating the lead in New York is a dance celebrity: Sara Mearns has been a principal dancer with New York City Ballet since 2008. She’s danced many of the company’s signature lead roles, including in George Balanchine’s “Serenade,” “Concerto Barocco” and “Apollo.” City Ballet’s fall season has yet to be announced, but among her triumphs is Odette/Odile in “Swan Lake.”
Dominic North created the role of Julian Craster for the new production. One of New Adventures’ most popular dancers, he was nominated for his second National Dance Award in 2016.
On these shores, American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Marcelo Gomes will play Julian for the U.S. performances. Dominic North will resume his role for the rest of the world tour.
'The Rite of Spring' Redux
In Andersen’s tale, the heroine falls into a netherworld. She hallucinates dancing with her boyfriend, until he metamorphosizes into a scrap of newspaper. Grotesque creatures beset her, including the evil Shoemaker. It’s reminiscent of the Stravinsky ballet “The Rite of Spring” – another story of a woman who dances herself to death.
Moira Shearer’s performance as Vicky is sacred to legions of the film’s fans. Even her crimson locks matched the titular footwear. The film propelled her into a decades-long career as an actress and dancer, but she remains indelible as Vicky.
A Career-Defining Performance
Reviewer Margaret Willis said of Shaw’s performance: “With a head full of burnished copper curls and a sweet angelic expressive face, she embodied the Shearer mystique and charm. For a dancer (and company) who does not normally work en pointe, she gracefully proved herself, demonstrating lyricism and a natural fluid line in her every move.”
'Nothing Matters But Art'
Asked what attracted him to the project, Bourne told New York City Center: “I have loved the film since I was a teenager with its depiction of a group of people all passionate about creating something magical and beautiful. It seemed to be saying that art was something worth fighting for, even dying for.”
The story’s main themes, Bourne said, is simple: “The main message of ‘The Red Shoes’ is that nothing matters but art.”
Mama Don't Dance
The young woman in Andersen’s story tries to go home, but her mother is unable to save her from the fevered shoes.
A New Score
In 1949, “The Red Shoes” won two Academy Awards, among them was was one for best original score by Brian Easdale, but Bourne didn’t use it. Instead, he dusted off and repurposed lesser known works of the Hollywood composer Bernard Herrmann, whose music for film masterpieces includes “Psycho” and “North By Northwest.”
Says Bourne: “I think it will be one of the revelations of this piece.”
Set Design Superstar
For the stage production, set designer Lez Brotherston — a frequent Bourne collaborator with Tony and Olivier Award-winning credits — had the challenge of creating an adaptable space depicting both onstage and backstage, as well as locations from Covent Garden to Monte Carlo.
Brotherston, together with lighting designer Paule Constable, takes “the audience from the literal theatrical world into the sensuous and surreal world of the artistic endeavor,” Bourne told City Center.
Vicky’s ambitions become a battleground between the two men who inspire her passion. Bourne said: “The heart of the story is a tragic, real-life, triangular love story like no other. Two men in love with the same woman but in very different ways, and all tied up with their combined artistic achievement.”
Dancing With The X-Factor
Bourne believes Vicky and Julian’s obsessions with fame – as well as Lermontov’s fixation on Vicky’s star power – speak directly to today’s audience and the fascination with performance-based reality TV. If it were set in 2017, Vicky would probably be gunning for the $1 million dollar prize on NBC’s “World of Dance.”
In Andersen’s story, after the young woman’s death by dancing, the Shoemaker reclaims his poisonous pointes to strike his next victim.
'A Potent Image For Creative Minds'
We’ll leave you with this final quote that Bourne gave City Center: “The image of ‘The Red Shoes’ that, once put on, will not allow the wearer to stop dancing, has long been a potent one for creative minds.”