BWW Review: THE RED SHOES at The Kennedy Center
The Red Shoes is almost more big-budget Broadway musical than ballet. With a sweeping score, dramatic narrative, and lavish production values, Matthew Bourne's production does nothing by halves.
The Red Shoes tells the story of the young dancer Victoria Page, who falls in love with her company's pianist, Julian Craster, just as the company's director, Boris Lermontov, develops an unhealthy obsession with her and her talent. Victoria plays the lead in the eponymous ballet-within-a-ballet "The Red Shoes", about a young girl who is doomed to dance until she dies by her coveted, cursed slippers. Victoria's fate mimics that of the heroine she plays.
While it is ostensibly a dance piece, the true star of The Red Shoes is Lez Brotherston's set and costumes, Duncan McLean's projections, and Paule Constable's lighting design. A rotating proscenium arch transports us effortlessly from backstage before the company performs to center stage to back again. Projections against a stark white background create an incredible scene of stormy weather and constant wind during the ballet-within-a-ballet sequence. Layers of scrim peel away, revealing new scenes piece by piece. There is so much brilliant set on stage, it is sometimes difficult to pay attention to the dancers themselves.
But there is some excellent talent on display here. Ashley Shaw shines as Victoria. Liam Mower as Ivan Boleslawsky, Lermontov's leading male dancer, manages to be both a funny character as he lounges backstage and a truly moving one as he dances onstage in the ballet-within-a-ballet sequence. The ensemble are all fully realized, quirky characters. But with so much acting to do and so many set pieces to navigate, the actual dancing does tend to get a bit lost. There are moments of brilliance, like the tortured peaux de deux between Ashley Shaw as Victoria and Marcelo Gomes as Julian Craster as their relationship falls apart. But these quieter moments, when the audience can focus on the dance at hand, are few and far between.
The Red Shoes ends as Victoria takes her own life in front of an oversized steam train. It's a beautiful image, but feels a little hollow emotionally. The Red Shoes is a decadent desert of a ballet-it's beautiful, but may leave you feeling hungry and longing for heartier fare.
Photo credit: Lawrence Ho