BWW Review: THE RED SHOES, Sadler's Wells
It's fitting that Matthew Bourne's The Red Shoes returns to London to finish up another year of reviewing dance. By far one of Bourne's most accomplished, creative and complete works, it's a theatrical joy from start to finish that is performed with confidence by a cast who have now had time to perfect it since the 2016 premiere.
An adaptation of the 1948 film starring Moira Shearer, it tracks a fantastical love triangle. Victoria Page is an aspiring ballerina caught between the affections of humble composer Julian Crastor and the intimidating figure of Boris Lermontov, an all-controlling impresario who has the power to dictate her success in a fickle industry.
Ashley Shaw reprises the role of Page, demonstrating flair and finesse in abundance. The audience lives through her wide-eyed reactions to the obstacles she overcomes in order to become the star of the Ballet Lermontov. She is charmingly naive and delicate in her entrance as she tentatively dances a few neat steps for her aunt and other aristocratic guests; later, she is compellingly frenetic through her chaotic journey to stardom.
New to the cast in 2019 is Adam Cooper as Lemontov, former Royal Ballet Principal and much celebrated for creating the lead role in Matthew Bourne's all-male Swan Lake. Cooper brings a calm but assertive presence to the role, a sense of underlying menace never far away with some forceful and defiant mime.
In The Red Shoes, Bourne has found a platform on which can really showcase his snappy storytelling to the greatest extent. The audience is whisked through the opening scenes; Vicky's successful audition, the rather tongue-incheek rendition of La Sylphide and prima ballerina Irina Boronskaja (Michela Meazza) getting her injury, and the ballet itself of The Red Shoes all contribute to a meaty first act. It's ably assisted by the slick designs of Lez Brotherston, the rotating proscenium arch forming the jewel in this particular creative crown.
The only slight niggle, and it's a pain to find one, is perhaps the ambiguity of the male characters in the first act. The pace has such momentum, from a distance it's tricky to establish who is who, especially for those unfamiliar with the story. It's quickly rectified with the beautifully set scenes on the Villefrance-Sur-Mer in Act Two, however, where Page and Crastor (Dominic North) share a tender duet danced with beautifully gentle musicality.
Later, the final scene depicting the opening night of Page's return is a breathless, heady, whirlwind. Bernard Hermann's score builds with great effect before the dramatic conclusion.
A deliciously theatrical festive treat to get swept away in.
The Red Shoes runs at Sadler's Wells until 19 January, 2020
Image: Johan Persson