Red Shoes – Birmingham Hippodrome
I am slowly working my way through Mathew Bourne’s repertoire. Single-handedly, he has introduced me to ballet as an enjoyable art form. He seems to have had the same affect on others, the opening Tuesday night was packed.
“Red Shoes” is a visual extravaganza, culled from the eponymous Powell and Pressburger’s film which appeared in 1948 ,it tracks a young woman’s obsession with art which ends in spectacular tragedy. Victoria Page wants to be the greatest dancer in the world but is caught in a romantic and creative vice between two men who are pivotal to her aspirations.
The ingredients are tried and trusted. A love triangle between veteran talent spotter and upcoming composer and ballerina, the subtly different pas de deux with her suitors are exhilarating. An aspiring soubrette seizes her chance from an injured seasoned prima ballerina, and a play within a play. The latter is delightfully subversive as house applause is mixed with pre-recorded applause at the shows end, blurring the edges between performance and reality.
Michela Meazza was suitably haughty and aloof as the Prima Ballerina, Irina Boronskaya, exuding Russian hauteur. Liam Mower’s Ivan Boleslawsky was riotously excessive.
Reece Causton as Boris Lermontov, the Ballet Impresario, was brooding and demanded the stage at every entrance, while Dominic North portrays Julian Kraster, Victoria’s love interest, with tenderness and drama and his solo performance at the piano in Act One is a highlight.
Physically, the set is dominated by a rotating proscenium arch which rotates to present the action as both front of stage, and backstage, it too appears to dance along with its human co -stars. Bernard Herrmann’s classic Hollywood style score , orchestrated by Terry Davies, beautifully underpins the action which offers numerous highlights. A glorious beach dance, a stunning storm scene, and a monochrome dance in front of a surreal white arches backdrop, the highlight of the cinematic designs by Lez Brotherston, lighting by Paule Constable, sound by Paul Groothuis and projection from Duncan McLean.
Bourne has an instinct for the accessible, without dumbing down the dance content, although I did struggle with the narrative from time to time. Not that this made any difference, you do not have to understand what you are seeing, you are compelled to enjoy it.
Ashley Shaw is the staggeringly good principal ballerina, a blur of sharp feet, beguiling seductive shapes, and glorious movement, her skirt moving as if it were part of her body in spectacular choreographed fluidity.
An after show “audience with” Mathew Bourne revealed that he regularly rotates the cast to keep the show, and dancers, on their toes. It also serves to underline that the show is the star, which runs at the Hippodrome until Sat 15th February, and continues on national tour.