The mere mention of The Red Shoes conjures up technicolor memories of the 1948 Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger British film that tells the story of a love triangle sided by a controlling director, an idealistic composer, and a dedicated dancer thrown together in a creative crucible. It also brings to mind remembrances of the dark Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale of a pair of red slippers that once worn may never be removed until the dancer dies of exhaustion or has her feet cut off to make the madness end. First produced in London last year it took twenty years for director and choreographer Matthew Bourne and his New Adventures dance company to bring his sumptuous vision to life. Every day spent conceiving this masterpiece was time well spent.
The theatrical story of The Red Shoes follows the film closely. The simple plot is a love letter to dance, theatre, the life of performance artists at work and the sacrifices they are willing, or are forced to make, in order to create a legacy. Still set in the 1940’s, Victoria Page, a young ambitious dancer arrives at Covent Gardens to audition for the demanding company director Boris Lermontov. While there the company composer Julian Craster spies her as well. Once cast she begins her rise within the company ranks and in the hearts of both men. But they each want her for reasons of their own. Craster is in love with her heart. Lermontov is in love with her gifts. Once she dons the aforementioned shoes to dance the ballet written for her by the composer, and created for her by the director, she begins to feel torn by both men and her growing fame. Eventually the emotional and artistic strain is too much on the threesome and they begin to pull at each other. This results in rejection, revenge, and a tragic ending foretold by a train whistle in the first act.
The phenomenal cast of twenty-six dancers includes members of Bourne’s New Adventures dance company, the New York City Ballet, and the American Ballet Theatre. In this particular performance Sam Archer was dark and dramatic as ballet impresario Boris Lermontov, Sara Mearns was exquisite and flawless in her role as rising star Victoria Page, and Marcelo Gomes was romantic and heartbreaking in his interpretation of struggling composer Julian Craster. The rest of this outstanding cast is split between a variety of dancers at various times. A mix born out of the necessity to rest dancers during what must be a grueling run. The choreography that guides and glides them all is detailed and complex. Scenes are filled with movement both front and center and deep in the background. Every character that occupies a space is at work bringing this vision to life.
The music of New York born composer Bernard Herrmann serves as the foundation that brings this lush world to life. The score of The Red Shoes is a compilation of the original film score and Herrmann’s works on Citizen Kane, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and Fahrenheit 451. All these orchestrations were webbed together by Terry Davies into what amounts to a haunting score. In a traditional Broadway musical there is always the hope that the tunes are catchy enough that the audience is humming them as they leave the theatre. The score for The Red Shoes will be playing in the theatre of your mind in a bittersweet blend for days afterward.
Though there has been some very impressive production design and execution, both on and off Broadway, this season but the sets, lights, sound, and costumes of The Red Shoes outshines them all. The beautifully clothed to perfection dancers dance but the set dances as well. A suspended curtained proscenium arch is flown about the stage as needed to give points of view from a myriad of angles. One moment we are on stage, the next we are backstage, the next we’re stage left, or stage right, and in one set of scenes with a simple side to side motion we are transported from one distant room to another. The rest of the settings from Covent Gardens, to the Monte Carlo Opera House, to a seaside resort, and theatrical offices, and lover’s apartments are all equally grand with minimal execution. Such is the magic of set and costume designer Lez Brotherston, lighting designer Paule Constable, projection designer Duncan McClean, and sound designer Paul Groothuis.
At the center of all this, The Red Shoes ballet itself is the culmination of all the parts of the overall whole. It’s different than the wild color explosion of the film and yet it holds its own as a darker richer piece. It’s a unique sparkling grey gothic gem at the center of a ring setting of bright color rich diamonds. To experience the New Adventures rendition of The Red Shoes is to surrender yourself to master storytellers using every facet of their talents to bring romance and tragedy to life. Without a single word spoken, with only powerful grace filled movement, one is made to truly believe in the transformative powers of a pair of crimson slippers.
New York City Center Main Stage 131 West 55th St, New York, NY www.nycitycenter.org/pdps/TheRedShoes/ 212.581.1212 Oct 26 – Nov 5, 2017 $35 - $140
From an original post on TheaterScene.
Photo credit Johan Persson.