Back in 1948, the film The Red Shoes was responsible for inspiring a generation of little girls to take up ballet, and its star, the flame-haired ballerina Moira Shearer, became a household name. Now Matthew Bourne has revived his 2016 stage production for his company New Adventures, and this tale of obsession and jealousy will be running throughout the festive season at Sadler’s Wells Theatre.
The ballet follows the film version (which is itself based on a rather dark tale by Hans Christian Andersen) fairly faithfully, depicting the stark choice a young dancer must make: true love with another person or total dedication to her art.
Bourne brings his typical wit to the story, poking gentle fun at some of the traditions of classical ballet, but he has also created lovely dances for the heroine, Victoria, and her lover, Julian. At the performance I saw, Victoria was danced with fire and passion by Ashley Shaw, while Dominic North was Julian. Adam Cooper – who was Bourne’s first Swan in his seminal production of Swan Lake some 25 years ago – returned to the Sadler’s Wells stage as Boris Lermontov, the powerful and manipulative impresario. His presence dominates the stage whenever he is on it.
The entire production is a visual treat: the set (including an ingenious rotating proscenium arch) and glamorous 1940s costumes by Lez Brotherston work well, and the dancing is delightful. There is an interesting mix of classical and contemporary dance, (plus an entertaining Egyptian sand dance), with the small company making the most of every step.
For the music, Bourne uses snippets from scores by the late Hollywood composer Bernard Herrmann. Parts of his richly romantic composition from the 1947 film “The Ghost and Mrs Muir” feature in the lovers’ duets – those passionate, sweeping melodies are just perfect for this lovely work.
The Red Shoes is at Sadler’s Wells Theatre until 19 January.