Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes: To Dance or To Love, The Choice is in the Shoes.
To many, including the likes of Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, and my goddess of song, Kate Bush (who created an album called “The Red Shoes“, inspired by this film), the Oscar winning 1948 British film, “The Red Shoes”, written, directed, and produced by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger is the quintessential ballet film. The sumptuous movie famously explores the obsessive love of ballet tragically crashing up against the desire of romantic love and companionship. Powell and Pressburger magnificently push the limits of filming in Technicolor’s three-strip process, especially noteworthy during the signature dance sequence using a bold, fluorescent-lit color palette. It’s not surprising that Sir Matthew Bourne, the famed wild child of the British ballet world, using his three decade old dance company, New Adventures, was also caught in the film’s magical vision and decided to take on the compelling task of adapting the film into a full length ballet. As the movie was more of a backstage melodrama with very little dance sequences, Bourne’s greatest challenge (well, one of many) was to turn this love triangle and career struggle into a sumptuous two-act ballet, with barely a word spoken between the dramatic characters. And somehow, against all odds, he miraculously succeeds giving us an elegant backstage drama, centered on the incompatibility of having a romantic love life and a celebrated dance career all at the same time. Much like the Hans Christian Andersen’s tale that this ballet is loosely based on, one has to suffer and give up one in order to have success in the other.
Being a theater-junkie at the ballet, much like a few days prior when I saw the opera, Dolores Claiborne by the New York City Opera, I found myself at a slight disadvantage. Asked by the lady sitting next to me if I reviewed dance and ballet, I had to acknowledge that I rarely even went to see dance, preferring spoken or sung dialogue to a physical expression of storytelling. She didn’t seem to be impressed with my answer, wondering how I could adequately write about this particular ballet, knowing so little. My answer is as with all things I review, be it movies, dance, opera, performance, and even theater: I always try to write from my emotional experience and gut reaction. For me, this is a valid position, and also extremely relevant to all those other non-dance aficionados who watch and sit in the same position as I do when we try stretch our minds and go to places outside our comfort zone. So here at the New York City Center, I found myself in the position of experiencing something new. For one, I found myself perpetually craving dialogue or some musical lyrics to enhance the emotional connection (I was not going to get nary a word spoken), and unable to really create a critical discussion of the technical aspects of the dancer and the dance. I am able to register how it effects my soul, what it is like to fully embrace the storytelling process, to find myself reveling in the strong love physicalized, and in the immensely satisfying theatrics on display. (for the full review, click here)