THE RED SHOES
I was too enthralled with Matthew Bourne’s new ballet, The Red Shoes, at the Ahmanson Theatre in downtown LA on opening night to write even one note! So, if this review is a bit scattered, please forgive me. All you really need to know is this: get tickets for the show this very second!!!
I waited all year for this exquisite dance show to arrive, and my anticipation was rewarded. And correct! It was as stunning as I expected it to be. And as fabulous as I tell you The Red Shoes is, it’s so much more. You really just have to experience it for yourself. [Note: I think many of you know how food-obsessed I am, but I was so enraptured with this dance that, even though I had barely eaten all day, my mind didn’t wander onto that fact for even a second! That’s a first!]
Really, is there more of a creative genius than Matthew Bourne? I think not. He is soooo brilliant! How does one man envision all that?! It just does not seem possible. And he’s such a nice, personable, down-to-earth guy, to boot! I’ve met him twice now, (including after this opening night performance,) and I marvel at how normal he is, even with those gorgeous visions in his brain. I was near him in this audience, and I still can’t believe that the man enjoys sitting with the rest of us, watching his own magical work, hopefully with the same joy that he gives the entire assemblage!
Okay, now let’s get to The Red Shoes in specific. I can’t imagine that any of you don’t already know this, but, of course, it’s the same story that’s portrayed in the iconic 1948 film of the same name. Basically, ballerina Vicky Page has to choose between her two loves—ballet and her boyfriend. (I know that’s really simplifying it, but I don’t have time to go into the psychology of the arts here.) And in-between, she dances the lead in the ballet The Red Shoes, which is a horrible story (in my opinion) by Hans Christian Andersen. (If you feel you need to know more of the plot than that, it’s very easy to research.)
I’ve always been aware that every ballet girl is supposed to say The Red Shoes is one of her favorite movies, but, since I’m always honest, I have to admit that it is not mine. I hate sadness, especially when it borders on horror. (I’m just shocked that I haven’t been terrrified of red footware my entire life!) And just seeing Robert Helpmann, (even though he plays a good guy in this film,) has always given me the willies, since I had first seen him in Tales of Hoffman on TV when I was a little girl.
But I absolutely adore Moira Shearer, the star of the film, so I have seen it several times. She’s always been my image of what a ballerina should be. (I wonder if she’s the reason I have red hair now!) I’m very aware that The Red Shoes is a classic film, and I so appreciate the wonderful ballet dancing in it. There’s way too little dancing like that on film.
But this Matthew Bourne ballet is soooo much better than the movie to me. On every level. Even though the story is equally dramatic and sad, he injects much humor into his version, as he always does with all his work. And these fabulous dancers convey so much with just one little hand movement or cock of the head! It’s truly amazing, (and you all know that I do not use that word lightly.)
Sir Bourne’s “ballet-within-the-ballet,” of The Red Shoes, is absolutely breathtaking! I’m not the only one who gasped during that segment on opening night, as danced by Ashley Shaw, with Liam Mower as her boyfriend and Glenn Graham as the evil Shoemaker. Before I saw the show, I could not imagine how they were going to pull-off that lengthy and dramatic piece of the puzzle. It’s the only part of the film that I love, and I had no idea how the vast, sweeping locations portrayed in the movie could possibly be emulated on stage.
But the entire section was literally perfect, and not just the magnificent choreography. The dancing, (of course,) the sets, (by Lez Brotherston, who also designed the costumes,) special effects projections (by Duncan McLean,) and Vicky’s costume in it (that looked like my favorite Barbie prom dress,) were all a dream come true for dance and theatre fans. And fans of beauty, in general. If the entire presentation had been solely that twenty-minute Act I-closer ballet, I would have still gone home happy. (The only problem is—I want to see that part again and again. And right away!) [Note: I must commend Ms. Shaw for something additional on opening night. The tattered costume that she changes into during this section opened in the back while she was dancing, which had to be not on purpose. I’m sure she was aware of it, but she did not miss a beat.]
It wasn’t only that one costume that caught my eye; it was just about all of them. When Vicky and her beau, Julian, (played that night by Dominic North,) do a dance in what would be considered street clothing, the swirl of her skirt reminded me of a big reason I originally loved all things ballet as a tiny girl. That one almost plain-looking outfit, (with the ulterior motive of the swirling skirt,) made my whole night.
Mr. X is a krump dancer, which is about as far from ballet as one can get, but he was as impressed as I was. He kept raving about how precise all the movements are.
One interesting note about this version of The Red Shoes is that, unlike most of his previous works, Matthew Bourne did not seem to change much of the original story. In his mouth-watering Swan Lake, he changed the swans to males, and he transformed Carmen to The Car Man, (which uses Bizet’s score, but is actually the story of The Postman Always Rings Twice.) And his Cinderella takes place in London during World War II. But The Red Shoes stays the same. There’s so much going on in this story that I think he was wise to preserve it as is.
I’m about to share other aspects of opening night with you, so I want to finish-up the actual review of the show by telling you it’s a must-see! If I haven’t used enough superlatives to describe this production, please use a thesaurus and apply all synonyms of “beautiful” and “amazing” to Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes, and you’ll have the complete picture!
Now, on an auxiliary note, I love how the dance world supports each other, I think perhaps more so than any of the other arts. I not only saw some local choreographers whom I know, but waiting to say hi to Matthew alongside me at the end were Dancing With The Stars’ judges Bruno Tonioli and Carrie Ann Inaba. But the absolute most exciting sightings to me were the four finalists from this season’s So You Think You Can Dance, all together and sitting way up close! I would have loved to meet Lex Ishimoto, who had “liked” a tweet of mine the night before, where I said that if he doesn’t win, the show’s voters are idiots!!! (A bit harsh perhaps? But I totally mean it—I labeled him the winner from his very first audition! Mark my words!) That’s actually the same way I feel about anybody in Southern California who misses The Red Shoes!!!
And on a personal note, part of the fun of going to ballets is getting ready for them. I think that all dance girls do that, but most stop playing dress-up when they grow-up. But, luckily for me, I never grew-up, (which is why I’m often referred to as “Peter Pan,” which is a story I hope that Matthew Bourne tells next, by the way,) so I still have that joy. As I was going through my closet that day, searching for my red sequined sneakers, (because I erroneously assumed that everyone would be fun enough to wear red shoes to…The Red Shoes…duh!,) I came upon—wait for it—red flats that are practically ballet slippers! I hadn’t worn them in probably a decade, and there they were, calling my name, as the Shoemaker’s red toe shoes did to Vicky.
So, I Cinderella step-sistered my feet into them, and decided to go with all black attire, so as to feature the shoes. Imagine how thrilled I was when I heard multiple attendees gasp, “She’s wearing red shoes!,” as I passed by! People even asked to take photos of them!
But did I stop at the shoes? Oh no! Have you met me??? I broke out my giant Lunch at the Ritz (remember that brand?,) earrings featuring…pink ballet slippers! And, of course, I polished my nails a very sparkly red. How much fun did I have?! Probably more than anybody else there.
Okay, one last note here, and it’s about this theatre’s line-up: The Ahmanson is on a roll this season! It just may be their best one yet. Next up is Steve Martin’s Broadway show, Bright Star, followed by Something Rotten, so if you were ever thinking of becoming a subscriber, this just may be the time. See you all there!
Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes running through October 1, 2017
Ahmanson Theatre 135 N. Grand Ave. 213-972-4400 www.CenterTheatreGroup.org