I am a big fan of ballet and an even bigger fan of Matthew Bourne. The Red Shoes is the third of his performances that I’ve seen. I paid for my own tickets although being in a wheelchair it does mean I get to sit in a specific box for disabled users and I also get to take a carer with me for free.
You are not allowed to take pictures of the performance but you can see them for a while on the Birmingham Hippodrome site This post may contain spoilers, but nothing compares to watching the dancers perform.
The Red Shoes
The Red Shoes originates from a fairy tale from Hans Christian Anderson in 1845. It’s a dark story based on vanity of the main character.
In 1948 a film was directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger with the same name. During the film was a fifteen minute ballet based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale. The film was widely acclaimed and won many awards.
Of the three Matthew Bourne perfomances I’ve seen so far, I think The Red Shoes stays closer to the original plot of the film. The main character, Vicky, is chosen to play the main part in the ballet and we see the the ballet as envisioned by the director, Lermontov who has feelings for her. He has a box in which he shows how he would like the performance to be done, and when we see the actual ballet, it has the same box like stage setting.
Vicky is in love with composer Julian Craster, who is passionate about his music and gets upset that he is not getting the credit he deserves from the jealous Lermontov.
The Red Shoe’s ballet is performed beautifully and Vicky gets her taste of the fame that could be hers. But in the end she is forced to choose a life with the man she loves instead and they move away to london to be together. Here we see her performing in some less classier shows and her relationship with Julian is falling apart. At the same time we see Lermontov longing for the girl he has lost.
Eventually, torn between the chance of dancing fame and being with her lover Vicky leaves to be with Lermontov. But she is not happy and her choice leads her to a very similar demise as the dancer in The Red Shoes.
Romeo + Juliet was set in an asylum, Cinderella was set in the blitz of WWII, but the Red Shoes is most closely related to the original story. We do still see a fair bit of the novelty you come to expect of Matthew. The bathers in San Francisco were a lot of fun, as were the acts in the less classier London shows. You certainly get a bit off a shock when the Egyptian dancers appear. There are also some strange goings on during the upper class parties. It was certainly a little confusing at times. When the ballet within the ballet had finished I was almost convinced that the story was over, despite knowing there was more to come.
The scene changes were both elaborate, fantastic and at times confusing. There was a huge curtain on stage which showed the different circumstances of both Vicky and Julian and the lamenting Lermontov. During the final scenes we see the screen twirl around and around which I believe represented the many performances Vicky performed after leaving Julian and achieving her fame.
The ending is shocking and sad, and I guess a lesson is learnt, just as Hans Christian Anderson would predict in his somewhat gruesome fairy tales. And of course, the red shoes were finally removed.
I would encourage anyone to see a Matthew Bourne Ballet, if not for the stirring music, the stunning dancing or the original storytelling, you will be left with a feeling of being a part of something very special.