BWW Interview: THE RED SHOES Keep Cordelia Braithwaite on Her Toes
"It was a huge challenge for me to wear pointe shoes because my training is in musical theater, not ballet," Braithwaite said. "Getting en pointe was a massive deal. Your weight is shifted completely different, and my core strength has gotten stronger even off pointe," she added.
"I'm using muscles I didn't know I have, and my feet have definitely changed," she said. "My bunions have come back."
Braithwaite shares the plum role of Vicky Page with Ashley Shaw and Sara Mearns. THE RED SHOES, based on the beloved 1948 Academy Award-winning film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, has roots in the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. Moira Shearer played Vicky in her film debut. Music is by Bernard Herrmann. Bourne's company has taken the production on tour from the U.K. to the states. It runs from October 26 through November 5th at City Center.
Braithwaite and her castmates prepared for the rigorous production by watching the film multiple times during six weeks of rehearsal. "We had the film to watch and lots of research books on dance and history of that era," Braithwaite said.
"We made character sheets and the film was on constantly. This is Matthew's interpretation of the film, it's not a copy of it," Braithwaite added. "It's such a reflective story, and specific facial expressions and gestures are important to notice." When she's not performing the lead role, she dances in the ensemble as Nadia. "It was challenging to create and play another part," she said.
When she was younger, Braithwaite eschewed visions of sugar plums. She didn't have a favorite fairy tale. An animal lover and tomboy, she had her heart set on being a veterinarian.
She grew up with an assortment of creatures, including a hedgehog. She and her siblings, two brothers and one sister, put on shows; she was always in charge. She enjoyed dance but thought her vocational path would be dense with fur. Dancing was a fun hobby, she thought. But a savvy teacher encouraged Braithwaite to take dance more seriously, and she did.
"I wouldn't say I'm obsessed with dance, but it's all I've done," said Braithwaite, hooked at 14 when she saw Swan Lake. She followed a path to musical theater. Since joining Bourne's company, her repertoire now includes advanced dance, modern, tap and ballet, acting and singing.
THE RED SHOES tour may be the most daunting production the 24-year-old has experienced. "The first time I did the show was such an emotional journey. I was utterly exhausted," Braithwaite said. "You're drained. But I also remember saying to Ashley how amazing it felt at the end.
"It's such a rewarding role to play. The music is incredible and almost talks the story through," she said.
"I feel you can put an element of yourself into the character. She's a dancer and has a love interest and another love interest with dance. It's a classic story of being torn, and I'm sure a lot of people relate to that," she said. Generations of would-be ballerinas were inspired to dance after watching the film, she said. The story continues to resonate with contemporary audiences.
Before each performance, the company members entertain one another boisterously. "There's always backstage chaos," Braithwaite said with a laugh. "We're a big company and we're always laughing about something."
She considers her dancing less classical than modern. "I'm more of a lyrical dancer than a regimented ballet dancer. I use all of my training and definitely feel like my legs and feet have gotten stronger.
"I still have no idea what I look like on stage," Braithwaite said. "I have a solo in the beginning and the story is such a vast journey. You have to turn yourself into a headspace step by step. You have to get so lost in the story that there's no time to get distracted."
The tour originated in the U.K. and played in Los Angeles before coming to New York. "The U.K. audiences were more reserved, and the L.A. audiences were much more visibly and audibly moved," Braithwaite said. The production also played in Charlotte, N.C., and Washington before enthusiastic audiences.
Braithwaite keeps herself injury-free by doing Pilates, using foam rollers and spikey balls. "It also helps to have a physiotherapist backstage," she said. "She's great, completely checks us over."
She fuels her metabolism by grazing on small snacks throughout the day. "I love to eat everything, but while I'm with the show, I eat small amounts of plain food because otherwise you can feel very lethargic," Braithwaite said. "I graze on nuts, cheese, hummus, flat bread, good food in general," she added. When she's not rehearsing or performing, she listens to rock music. "I also love classical but my favorite genre is rock and roll."
THE RED SHOES is famed for its lush sets and costumes. Braithwaite's favorite outfit is a striped leotard, blue high waist shorts, a red belt and 1940s wig. "They had very glamourous hairstyles then," she said.
"This is my first year for such a demanding role," said the native of a small English town called Leighton Buzzard. 'It's about an hour away from London," she explained. "I'm looking forward to going back home when the tour is finished."
The Red Shoes is at City Center, 131 West 55th Street, from October 26-November 5th.
Photo Credit: Dave Morgan