Performing Arts: Dance
November 5, 2017
Many young girls went mad for ballet after watching the beloved 1948 Powell and Pressberger classic film The Red Shoes.Known for re-tooling classic ballets, Matthew Bourne returns to City Center with his stage version of The Red Shoes.

Unable to re-create the filmic magic – especially in the central Red Shoes ballet, Bourne crafts a successful theater ballet that captures the heart of the film while leaving the sweeping, large screen strokes in the wings.

His company, New Adventures, is composed of polished, classically trained dancers with a strong theatrical bent. In the lead role made famous by the fabulous Moira Shearer, Ashley Shaw shares her part with NYC Ballet principal Sara Mearns. Red hair complements the bright red shoes that carry the ballerinas towards their greatest love -- dance, and then to their doom.

An old fashioned gold drop curtain suggests the opening of the 1948 film as well as the gilded European concert theaters. All sorts of well-attired, vacuous swells preen and dip on their way to a grand soiree. Little things make a difference in Bourne ballets, like his attention to detail when placing a cigarette dangling from a cigarette holder in the mouth of one of the supercilious men.

Forced to witness an impromptu performance by the Countess’ niece Veronica Page (Shaw or Mearns), Boris Lermontov (aka Serge Diaghilev) expertly performed by Sam Archer, disregards the young, female dancer until he can’t.

Ultimately, he invites her to an audition as well as the young male accompanist, Julian Craster (nailed by Marcello Gomes). The amazing set and costume designer Lez Brotherson, conjures up the sweaty rehearsal studio, perfectly decorated with dancers in individualized rehearsal clothes and headgear. The music by Bernard Herrmann as well as the sets, establishes the mood for each highly melodramatic section and over-the-top visual jokes.

When the fictional ballet company lands in Monte Carlo, Bourne—who adores dance history—fashions a seaside ballet that nods to the very popular Train Bleu costumed by “Coco” Channel and choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska in 1924 for the Ballets Russes.

Although the central relationship between Paige, Lermontov, and Craster is demonstrated through broad strokes, it’s clear that the two men love Moira in different ways, and both want to control her. Sadly, she cannot live by those rules.

After the ecstatic response to the “The Red Shoes” ballet, the company members celebrate at an outdoor café by the beach in Monte Carlo. Dancers in seaside attire nod to Branislava Nijinsky’s 1924 “Le Train Bleu” a ballet costumed by "Coco" Channel for the original Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Large, colorful beach balls roll around the stage and as the dancers, run and flirt while frolicking in the sun.

Already heralded as one of the great ballet actor dancers, Marcello Gomes proves his charisma as the temperamental composer who scores Lermontov’s new ballet The Red Shoes and falls madly in love with Page. Perfectly suited to the leading man role, women (and likely men) in the audience actually swooned over him. Completely understandable.

Bourne originated the starring role of Veronica Page on Ashley Shaw. And not only does she bear an uncanny resemblance to Moira Shearer, her interpretation feels very natural, particularly in the scenes before The Red Shoes Ballet.

Newly inserted into the role, Sara Mearns might not exude the same ease, but once the production steps into The Red Shoes ballet passage, Mearns excels. A generous performer, her pliant body slides luxuriously over the classical sequences. On top of that, there’s evident chemistry with Gomes plus she’s sensational at visibly portraying profound anguish when struggling with the choice of staying with her husband or returning to the ballet.

Matthew Bourne’s “The Red Shoes” delivers fine ballet theater entertainment.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

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