Tuesday, 17 December 2019

REVIEW: The Red Shoes at Sadler's Wells

What is it about dance companies that sometimes brings out a sense of horror, from “Suspiria” to “Company” and “The Red Shoes”? Is it the tireless work that the artists put in, the late rehearsals that end in someone walking home in the dark, or that one dancer with red hair who catches everyone’s eye and is too perfect for words?

The Red Shoes was my first ballet by Matthew Bourne and I was blown away by it – the costumes, music by Bernard Herrmann, ensemble, and that central dancer! 

This story was originally a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen (whose tales, as we know, can go very dark) and was adapted for the big screen by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger in 1948. It follows a dance company and the obsession of two men for a red-haired dancer who will become possessed by her red dancing shoes. 

This fiery colour red at first warms up the theatre thanks to Lez Brotherston’s gorgeous set and costume design as well as Paula Constable’s lighting, and then becomes horrifically ominous as it creeps up the dancer’s legs like a spider, tears at her dress, and takes over not only her but those who love her. While at first, the Ballet Lermontov company is putting on a piece about this very story of a ballerina possessed by her shoes, as the evening wears on, the obsession represented by the shoes takes over Victoria’s true life. As the set keeps twirling, we no longer know what is real or not.

I can’t be the only one who saw the phallic shape of the shoe. In one scene, Boris Lermontov, the company director, sits in his study and adores his statue showing a golden pointed ballet shoe. Later, as mostly men try to save Victoria, the threat of the shoe takes shapes of all kinds, from a noose to a serpent.

The dancers of the New Adventures company are exquisite, mixing elegance and humour in Bourne’s bold and precise choreography. The two men jumping around like ducks in the East End music hall scene are delightful, as well as the group of swimmers in Villefranche-sur-Mer. Michaela Meazza as the other prima ballerina Irina Boronskaya who hurts her leg during rehearsal is striking and the scenes around her accident are lovely. The detail of the dining room dancers at Lady Neston’s Soiree in Act One shows new levels that classical movement can take. Ashley Shaw, playing Victoria Page, is graceful and a delight throughout the piece. 

One can analyse the red shoe as the painful obsession of the artist, arriving first and leaving last, hurting themselves in the process. The object of two men’s desire, Victoria runs away with the one who adores her as a person. However, she later leaves him to join the obsessive and dominating Lermontov again. There is no right answer here, as art and life are in a constant battle. 

I highly recommend this show as a pre-Christmas treat or even afterwards, as it is striking, surprising, provocative and visually beautiful.

Review by Sophie Tergeist

Rating: ★★★★★

Seat: F31 | Price of Ticket: £75
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