Dancing shoes


Sir Matthew Bourne’s new version of The Red Shoes comes to our theatre later this month. We take a look at the famous film, and what to expect from the new version.

The Red Shoes began life as a folk tale by Hans Christian Andersen, telling the somewhat gruesome story of a girl who is punished for her vanity by being condemned to dance forever by the cursed shoes – she eventually escapes them only by begging a woodsman to cut off her feet with an axe (I told you it was gruesome). It then became the inspiration for the famous 1948 film, written, produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (the former of whom was raised in Canterbury, a fact marked by the seat in our theatre sponsored by the Powell & Pressburger Appreciation Society).

In the film version, the fairy story becomes a ballet, performed by the film’s heroine, Victoria Page, a brilliant dancer who is torn between her dedication to her art and her love for a young composer. It’s this story that has now been adapted for his New Adventures company by choreographer Sir Matthew Bourne.

Speaking about his new production, Sir Matthew said: “Set in the theatrical world of a touring dance company, the story is actually about dance and dancers. The film’s genius is to make that theatrical world at times surreal, larger than life and highly cinematic. My challenge will be to capture some of that surreal, sensuous quality within the more natural theatre setting.”

While the original film of The Red Shoes had a score, it didn’t contain enough music for a full-length, entirely danced piece, so Bourne has raided the cinematic archives of Hollywood’s Golden Age, stitching together a tapestry score from the work of one of its greatest composers, Bernard Herrmann, who composed scores for many Alfred Hitchcock classics, and the music for Citizen Kane, some of which features in The Red Shoes.

Bourne says: “I’ve loved the work of Herrmann for many years and I’ve toyed with finding a project to work with it… I feel it’s neglected and that theatrically it could be used to great effect… The marriage of this work with his music seemed to work beautifully and I feel I am on a mission to introduce his music to a new audience through this piece. It’s glorious music but I like the fact that it’s tinged with a kind of darkness even when it’s at its most beautiful… which is great for this story.”

The formula certainly seems to have worked: The Red Shoes has been enjoying sell-out runs, and receiving rave reviews. The Guardian described it as “deft and sensuous”, while The Independent praised Bourne for creating “his own swirling world of colour and illusion, luscious in its period detail.”

 The Red Shoes: Tuesday 25 to Saturday 29 April. To book, go to marlowetheatre.com 

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