Matthew Bourne melds his masterful theatrical use of motion to convey a fully lived story in “Red Shoes,” currently playing at the Ahmanson. This is a ballet with love, lust, obsession, homosexuality and suicide. This might not be the right presentation for younger ballet bunheads or those of the homophobic persuasion. For the rest of theater and dance fans, this is a must-see. Once might not even be enough to fully appreciate the movement, the costumes and the staging.
Tuesday night’s cast included Sam Archer as Boris Lermontov, Ashley Shaw as Victoria Page and Dominic North as Julian Craster. The Hans Christian Anderson 1845 story involves and old lady, an old soldier, an angel and the curse of red shoes at church with a bloody bit of foot amputation. The 1948 British movie which won Best Original Score and Best Art Direction adds romantic love and obsession to the plot and what dancers are more obsessed than ballet dancers?
Matthew Bourne’s ballet follows the movie plot. A young girl, Victoria “Vicky” Page from an aristocratic background attends a performance of the Ballet Lermontov at the Covent Garden with her aunt, Lady Neston (Daisy May Kemp). Also there is Julian, a student of Professor Palmer at the music conservatory. Julian recognizes parts of his own compositions in what is supposedly Palmer’s original ballet score, “Heart of Fire.”
The ballet impresario Boris, is invited to a party at Lady Neston’s grand residence. He reluctantly attends and is even more reluctant to watch Vicky dance. In the end, Boris hires Julian (as an assistant to the company’s conductor) fully realizing that he is the true composer of “Heart of Fire,” but he also invites Vicky to join a rehearsal.
In Bourne’s stage version, Vicky replaces the injured prima ballerina, Irina Boronskaja (Michela Meazza). In the movie Irina gets married. Luckily Boris already has his eyes on the budding talent of Vicky. While the ballet company frolics in Monte Carlo in fun beach and swimming scenes, Boris decides to create a new ballet, “The Red Shoes,” with Vicky as the star and Julian the composer. The ballet which is based on the Andersen story is a great success, but Boris finds himself drawn to Vicky and Vicky and Julian have fallen in love.
Three months later, the company is having an end of the season party at Villefrance-sure-mer. In Monte Carlo, a jealous Boris fires Julian and Vicky goes with him. The two marry and, in Bourne’s version, end up playing and performing six months later on the East End of London at a music hall where the male performers paw and insult Vicky. Vicky dreams of “The Red Shoes” and is eventually seduced by Boris to return. Boris allows Julian to think that Vicky has also become his lover and Julian leaves, angry and disillusion. A desperate Vicky chases after Julian, flinging herself in front of a train. Julian holds the dying Vicky and she asked him to remove the red shoes, something that is also happens in the Boris’ ballet. For Boris, the show must go on, but it goes on without Vicky as a sign of Boris’ guilt and shame in the death of Vicky.
“Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes” only is on stage until 1 October 2017 at the Ahmanson, The sets beautifully realized and the costumes sumptuous (Lez Brotherston) and transitions are seamless. Bourne’s ballet also gives ballet-inspired renditions of the dances of yesteryear including the Lindy, the Apache and even tango. There is also a non-traditional pairing in the company of men dancing with men. If you’re homophobic and out of touch with the WeHo reality, this might be problematic, but every romantic move is tastefully done and there’s plenty of humor, too.
Don’t miss this beautiful interpretation where movement emotes and words are unnecessary. This production ends on 1 October 2017 (Sunday). Tickets are still available at reasonable prices. For more information visit the Center Theatre Group website.