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Theater Review: “The Red Shoes”

Matthew Bourne’s production of “The Red Shoes” plays through October 1, 2017 at the Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles,
Photo credit:
Johan Persson

Matthew Bourne has done it again. The world-renowned British ballet wunderkind and award-winning creator of such new dance classics as “Edward Scissorhands” and “The Picture of Dorian Gray” as well as new versions of old classics like “Swan Lake” and Cinderella,” has created a stage version of the 1948 classic film “The Red Shoes” – and it may well be his best effort yet.

The American premiere of Bourne’s “The Red Shoes” plays through Oct. 1 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles.

“The Red Shoes” is based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale about the little orphan girl who put on red shoes to dance, only to find herself compelled by some mysterious shoe demon to keep dancing as long as she wore them.

The film changed the original tale considerably, setting it in a ballet company where young hopeful Victoria Page comes for an audition. She succeeds, and gets her big chance when prima ballerina (Michela Meazza) sprains an ankle. Of course, she’s a triumph, and her choice will soon be between company composer Julian Craster (Dominic North) – who falls in love with her –  and company impresario Boris Lermontov (Sam Archer), who wants her to dedicate her life to her art (and to him).

Bourne has changed the story even more, modernizing both the action and the music. One of the most winning scenes takes place at the beach, where dancers in old-time swimsuits toss beach balls, swim and try to impress each other. My other favorite is a throwback to music-hall and vaudeville days, with two male dancers doing a take-off on the arch stereotype of Egyptians. There’s also a charming Paris cafe scene with rhythms jitterbuggy, tango-y and several stops in between. 

Bourne has replaced Brian Easdale’s Oscar-winning score with the music of film composer Bernard Herrmann, mostly taken from “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir,” “Fahrenheit 451” and even “Citizen Kane” (“Who knew that was full of dance music?” says Bourne.)

The principal dancers are all excellent: Ashley Shaw is achingly lovely as Vicky, a beautiful dancer emotionally torn, and able to communicate both with her dancing and expressions.

Dominic North, utterly convincing as the composer Julian, is best when confronting his competition, Sam Archer’s imperious Lermontov. If the art vs. love theme sometimes seems to get lost in the vastly different styles of dance and seemingly unrelated scenes on view (and I found myself thinking how much fun this is to watch rather than considering the story or the importance of the message is), well, being fun to watch matters too.

Lez Brotherton’s set features a clever revolving proscenium arch, which allows quick changes from backstage to onstage action. Brotherton also designed the terrific and extremely varied costumes.

Sound and lighting are excellently handled by Paul Groothuis and Paule Constable, respectively. 

Bourne is celebrating 30 years with his company New Adventures, and the Center Theatre Group turns 50 this year. “The Red Shoes” is a fitting tribute to both.

The details

Matthew Bourne’s production of “The Red Shoes” plays through October 1, 2017 at the Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles,

Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m.

Tickets: (213) 972-4444