DanceReviewSouth West

The Red Shoes – Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Composer: Bernard Herrmann

Director and Choreographer: Matthew Bourne 

Reviewer: Emily Pearce

Made in 1948, Powell and Pressburger’s cinematic masterpiece – a film about a ballet dancer and the all-consuming nature of love and art is a perfect, bold match for Matthew Bourne’s vision in this stunning production.

A young ballerina, Victoria Page (Ashley Shaw) auditions in front of the impressive Boris Lermontov – the strict director of a ballet company. He invites her, along with Julian Craster, an enthusiastic young composer, to join the company. Under Lermontov’s eye, the two artists are given the opportunity to write and star in a ballet, The Red Shoes – until their budding romance threatens his creative plans.

The dual nature of a ballet within a ballet could be complicated to pull off, but the swinging design of a stage curtain eases the audience into the plot. Particular credit should go to the design team for the actual Red Shoes ballet, where the monochrome production and stiff choreography is an imaginative foil to the technicolour opulence shown in the other scenes.

Sam Archer as Lermontov is played magnificently with quiet threat and poise. His stillness is what draws the audience, and Vicky, to him. Gradually as the plot begins to mirror the Grimm Fairytale, so too do Lermantov’s movements begin to reflect the puppet master cherishing his marionette. It’s incredible creepy, but utterly compelling. In complete contrast to Lermontov’s contained characterisation, Chris Trenfield as Vicky’s lover and composer is full of unbridled enthusiasm and flowing creativity. His solo as he composes, as well as the tenderness between him and Ashley Shaw make for joyful watching.

It is Ashley Shaw as the leading lady in turmoil, however, who drives The Red Shoes – her performance is entirely enthralling. The fluid movement of her innocence and ambition turns into something far more complex and sensitive as she discovers the delight and horrors of wanting to dance beyond anything else.

The use of Bernard Herrmann’s music, an assortment of scores plucked from several of his films matches the melodrama of the movement and 1940s setting beautifully – managing to be light and frothy in the more humorous company scenes, before gradually unfurling as the drama crescendos.

The Red Shoes makes one contemplate whether art and love are possible simultaneously, or only one can be sustained. For Vicky Page, the choice ends in tragedy, but never has tragedy looked so fervent and enticing.

Runs until 18th March 2017 | Image: Johan Persson

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