N. 265 - January / February 2017

Legendary film “The Red Shoes” has been made into a ballet by Matthew Bourne: the offbeat  and film-loving choreographer-director is the subject of our cover-story.  This issue brings us news of forthcoming creations and of what the major companies and leading choreographers on the international scene will be doing in the coming months, as well as special reports from Vilnius (Lithuania) and Cali (Colombia) and reviews of the latest shows by the following:
Paris Opéra Ballet
DC Entertainment
The Bavarian State Ballet
Royal Ballet Flanders
La Scala Ballet, Milan
Jone San Martin
Ballet Nice Méditerranée
Lyon Opera Ballet
The Royal Ballet, London
Rome Opera Ballet
Larreal, Conservatorio de Madrid
Ballet Preljocaj
Mediterranean Focus
Staatsballett Berlin
Ballet Zurich
As always, you will find our BalletTube column and MultiMedia section covering recently-released DVDs, freshly-published books and news from the internet.

Ballet2000 n. January / February 2017

Ashley Shaw, The Red Shoes (ph. Johan Persson)

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The Red Shoes is far too famous a film for anyone to dare tackle it by rehashing it for the stage. That would indeed be an overly-ambitious operation, were it not Matthew Bourne taking on the task, an excellent “remaker” who can afford to do so given his distinguished curriculum.
In his own way, Matthew Bourne is a “dancetory” teller; we have to invent a special word to describe this British choreographer/director who was born in 1960. Bourne studied at the Laban Centre in London (from where he graduated late, at 25), thereupon deciding not to follow the highway of Anglo-American contemporary dance but, instead, but to take the ‘story lane’. He states that he adores the cinema, classical ballet and London’s West End shows, some of which (such as Children of Heaven and Oliver!) he himself worked on.
In 1987 Bourne established his “Adventures In Motion Pictures” (now New Adventures) company and caused a sensation in 1995 with his all-male Swan Lake which was also a take on the British Royal Family. No tutus, but feathered breeches and – at the heart of the plot and, with a mix of romance and comicity – the story of an impossible love between a solitary prince and the “pack leader” of a wedge of swans from Hyde Park. With this “ballet” Bourne won the “Tony Award for Best Choreography and Best Direction of a Musical”. One of its memorable scenes found its way into the award-winning film Billy Elliot when the rebellious and strong-willed little boy, who defies family and social prejudice by preferring ballet to boxing, ends up dancing in the Bourne Swan Lake at Covent Garden, bringing tears to the eyes of his father, who had taken part in the notorious miners’ strike.
Prior to Swan Lake, which with its pseudo Queen Mother and pseudo Prince Charles, exploded as a planetary success, the ballet-loving Matthew Bourne had already reworked Nutcracker! relocating it to a bleak Dickensian orphanage run by the wicked Matron and, afterwards, to Sweetieland with its candy-coloured pop/rock sweeties and a gigantic cake, not to mention the white, winter scene which was a take on Frederick Ashton’s Les Patineurs.
Not forgetting Bourne’s junkie and alcoholic Sylphide, a fallen and sexy “bad girl” who doesn’t perish in the woods but in a car demolition dump. He re-titled it Highland Fling (1994), alluding not only to the famous Scottish dance but also to one night stands. The bleary-eyed lass is irresistible and entices Glaswegian plumber James who uses a pair of garden shears to cut off his overly frisky and unfettered companion’s wings.
Cinderella (1997) – where the protagonists are an RAF pilot and a Red Cross nurse during the London Blitz of World War II – was a further feather in Bourne’s hat as reworker of the great ballets, in this case of a 20th-century classic.
There is no doubt that the timeless themes of the ballet classics’ plots can be reset in any era or place in the world, as long as this is done cleverly, rather then mechanically or expediently.
In Bourne’s new version of Cinderella a mousy girl, downtrodden by her weirdo Addams Family-like relatives, blossoms into a Lana Turner/Ginger Rogers belle, her airman into a David Niven/Fred Astaire beau, while the Fairy Godmother, in silver lurex, takes Cinders to the ball in a side-car; the unfailing Stepmother, a malevolent drunkard who vampishly seduces young men, resembles Joan Crawford the villainess.
It is in this category of dominating and unhappy women that Bourne also places the Queen Mother of Swan Lake and the Manager Talent-Scout of his very sexy and unscrupulous Dorian Gray (2008), after Oscar Wilde, who recalls the arrogant and mean female boss of blockbuster The Devil Wears Prada.
In 2000 the zany Bourne turned Bizet’s Carmen into a handsome and damned American Graffiti-style CarMan, a gigolo in vest and jeans who everybody falls for, men and women alike, just like the lead Swan in Swan Lake (a role originally created by Adam Cooper of The Royal Ballet).
In 2012 Bourne tackled Sleeping Beauty, thereby completing his trilogy of the Tchaikovsky masterpieces – with a difference.
Here the climate is dark, gothic and Victorian, with “wicked” fairy Carabosse (placing a curse on the newborn Princess Aurora), “good” fairies who go by the names of Feral and Tantrum and a “top dog” fairy called Count Lilac, in lieu of the usual sugary Lilac Fairy. Aurora, make no mistake, obviously grows up wayward and bad-mannered and, when she is sixteen she develops an interest in the romantic gamekeeper, as well as in Carabosse’s vampire son. After a century-long sleep, as per the traditional version (however here they all survive as vampires), comes the inevitable happy-ending-cum-wedding and the birth of a baby (vampire) girl…
Cult movie The Red Shoes is Matthew Bourne’s newest challenge. He had already tackled another highly-successful blockbuster, Tim Burton’s fantasy film Edward Scissorhands (1990), reworking it into an equally-successful show in 2005, dreamy, romantic and with a special 1950s flavour.
Matthew Bourne cleverly pulls out all the stops of his across-the-board culture, is playful and refined in his own way, and can count on the contribution of his usual set/costume designer Lez Botherston, a expert on fashion and styles of all eras, which is of essence for transferring films (especially his beloved musicals) onto the live stage.
Bourne’s actor-dancers are terrific, multi-talented interpreters, highly expressive both bodily and facially (worthy of close-ups on the silverscreen) in portraying the icons of film classics.
Each new chapter which this capable storyteller writes in that typical style of his attracts the attention of a heterogeneous public, regardless of whether or not they are well-versed in the ballet repertory. Matthew is undoubtedly an authentic “post-ballettomane” who always wows the public – and so, with reason, they consider his name as a hallmark, a guarantee of high-quality entertainment.
Elisa Guzzo Vaccarino

Red shoes and redheads
The Red Shoes – chor. Matthew Bourne, mus. Bernard Herrmann – New Adventures
London, Sadler’s Wells Theatre
The Red Shoes is something of a culmination of thirty years of work for Matthew Bourne. Directly inspired by the iconic 1948 film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, it is a ballet about ballet itself and also about the life-changing, all-encompassing power of art; it is the work of a mature dance maker, able to look at the medium in which he works, its past and its present, in order to create new work. It is also a huge success. Bourne, who has been delighting, stimulating and challenging audiences for three decades, has made a two-hour show which delights the eye in Lez Brotherston’s virtuoso designs and costumes and ravishes the ear with a delightful pot-pourri from scores by the Hollywood film composer Bernard Herrmann.
Bourne’s company, New Adventures, is an interesting and eclectic ensemble of dance-actors whom he has carefully chosen over the years as particularly adept at interpreting his work, ranging from the light and jokey to the serious, from social dancing to music hall to ballet. The subject matter he deals with relies on a strong narrative, from his reinterpretations of classical ballets to Edward Scissorhands and Carmen (The Car Man). Some artists have been with Bourne for many years, satisfied by his own particular mix, a style which has found its own place in the dancing canon. What Bourne does is hugely popular both around the country and in London where his Christmas residency at Sadler’s Wells Theatre is always a sell-out, a Christmas dance-going tradition in London as strong now as seeing The Nutcracker.
The Red Shoes, Bourne’s love-letter not only to the film The Red Shoes, but also the magical, almost mythical world of the Ballets Russes and the glamorous world of pre-Second World War society. He retains the film names for the love triangle of the Diaghilev-like Boris Lermontov, the English dancer Victoria Page and the composer Julian Craster, and retains Ivan Boleslawsky as an affectionate parody of Robert Helpmann who played the role in the film. Additionally, he gives names to all the dancers of the Lermontov Ballet which evoke the great names of the past: from Svetlana (Beriosova) and Pamela (May) to Anton (Dolin) and Serge (Lifar). His choreography is packed full of references from the past, from an evocation of Nijinska’s Le Train Bleu and Les Biches for the ‘Ballon de Plage’ section in Monte-Carlo to the style of Lifar for the ‘Concerto Macabre’, and snippets of Ashton in the rehearsal studio. Bourne is unafraid of presenting ballets within his ballet, letting the audience immerse itself in the word of dance; he has a long fifteen-minute pure dance section, representing the ballet ‘The Red Shoes’ itself to close the first half. He creates his own, particular form of dance narrative – here, given the context, far more balletic than almost anything he has done before; certainly, the pas de deux in The Red Shoes have a balletic sweep to them, and pointe shoes are frequently used. He is, perhaps, closer to West End/Broadway in style than any other, but he uses so many cultural references and dance forms to tell his stories, that he cannot be categorised as such.
Designs by Brotherston are striking and integral to the work – a huge proscenium arch which can descend from the flies also rotates and moves around the stage, allowing for speedy changes of scene, from front to back-stage, from Julian and Victoria’s hotel room to Lermontov’s lounge, from Covent Garden to the esplanade at Monte Carlo. The narrative moves along just as speedily, Victoria and Julian’s developing attraction played within and alongside ballet rehearsals, and perhaps too speedily at the very end when Victoria’s Anna Karenina-like demise comes as something of a surprise through a lack of build-up. What Bourne does well, though, is in creating vignettes, both in terms of character and in his choreography – he has never created dancing for a faceless, identikit corps de ballet, so that even his ensemble work is peopled with characters. Additionally, he cannot resist little numbers which delight by their very eccentricity – an Egyptian sand dance, so familiar to British music hall audiences makes an appearance, simply because it is funny.
It is this quality among many others which makes Bourne so successful and why his works are so popular; drawing on a wealth of cultural and historical references, he creates his own brand of show, choreographically fluent, placed absolutely in both time and place. The Red Shoes is the latest of such shows, and one which, one suspects, already occupies a special place in his heart.
Gerald Dowler