Magazine article The Spectator

Dance: The Red Shoes; Sleeping Beauty

Magazine article The Spectator

Dance: The Red Shoes; Sleeping Beauty

Article excerpt

From a film about ballet to a ballet about film. In reworking the 1948 Powell and Pressburger classic The Red Shoes for his latest show, Matthew Bourne pays homage to far more than the unforgettable story of a budding ballerina and the bloody toll of her choice between love and career. With the glee of George Lucas recreating second world war dogfights in space, Bourne, a cinéphile since childhood, stuffs his Red Shoes with images from Hollywood's Golden Age: a French Riviera coast here, a battered old piano there, fur coats and train whistles and sequin-and-feather tap-dancers.

The problem with this love letter to cinema is that it blunts the edge of the story's cruelty towards Victoria Page, the wearer of the titular shoes. For all the charm of Ashley Shaw (who does a remarkable approximation of Moira Shearer's quicksilver musicality) and the clever stagecraft that suggests the fatal locomotive, her death on stage doesn't have quite the same bite as it does in the film. Bourne's oeuvre, stuffed with stories about outcasts, misfits, moral ambiguity and the costs of personal happiness, still tends more towards redemption through art than damnation.

Unsurprising, then, that his portrait of the borderline-sadistic impresario Lermontov has far less menace than either Anton Walbrook in the film or other baddies from the Bourne back catalogue --though that may also be a function of poor costuming, which makes it difficult to distinguish between the anti-hero Lermontov and the romantic hero Julian Craster (played by the ever-ravishing Dominic North). The confusion is a rare faux pas on the part of Bourne and designer Lez Brotherston, who are masters of character and story delineation: elsewhere in The Red Shoes we marvel at the skill and economy with which Bourne can sketch a vain ballerina (played by Michela Meazza), coarse music-hall dancers, a deathly dull society party or young lovers on a moonlit promenade. Marvels are supplied, too, by the set's triumphantly mobile proscenium arch (practically a dancer in itself) and the score, a stitched-together medley from Hitchcock favourite Bernard Herrmann's early work that sounds like something much grander.

Bourne has spoken several times of the resemblance between his own New Adventures company and the Vic-Wells (later Royal) Ballet in its hardscrabble touring phase in the 1930s and '40s. …

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