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Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes

A gifted ballerina is torn between lurve and her passion for the dance in this exhilarating production now on at the Bristol Hippodrome

Prepare for a journey of enchantment and delight with this welcome revival of Matthew Bourne’s double Olivier award-winning The Red Shoes at Bristol’s Hippodrome.

This magical show is theatrical dance at its best and from the opening scenes you know you are in the hands of a master. Feted choreographer Matthew Bourne is best known for his legendary Swan Lake, which caused acclaim and outrage by replacing the traditionally female swans with male dancers.

This is the story of gifted ballerina, Vicky Page (Cordelia Braithwaite), who is torn between her ambitions of attaining the highest artist achievement – embodied by brooding and controlling impresario Boris Lermontov (Glenn Graham) – and pursuing a chequered romance with composer and fellow creative, Julian Craster (Dominic North).

Classic movie buffs will know the story from the Powell and Pressburger 1940s dance masterpiece, inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale of enchanted red shoes dancing a ‘scarlet woman’ to death. This is recreated in ‘a ballet within the ballet’ – thrillingly –  in this production in expressive modernist style.

The rest of the show conjures up the glamour of the golden-age Hollywood era, with sumptuous costumes and an achingly romantic score based on the music of Bernard Herrmann. Bourne’s stunning choreography pays homage to a myriad of dance and ballet styles, and artfully conveys the blurring of fantasy and reality, and the passions and pull of emotions driving the narrative, with affecting performances from all the lead roles.

The set design is sublime, transporting us on a whirl of touring locations, ranging from Covent Garden to glamorous Monte Carlo. And the seafront scenes are so immersive you can almost taste them and feel them. But much of the action moves seamlessly between front and backstage – and real and imagined audience – using the deceptively simple device of a moveable proscenium arch. Performance, rehearsal and backstage drama shine the light on artistic endeavour, with its intense highs and lows.

The message is that art is life-changing, bringing intense joy and meaning, but often demanding sacrifices from those compelled to follow its calling. The melodramatic and tragic Anna Karenina-style ending takes this to the extreme but this is a show that leaves you feeling that art really is to die for.

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Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes is on at the Bristol Hippodrome until Sat 7  March.

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Bristol Hippodrome, St Augustine’s Parade, Bristol BS1 4UZ. Buy tickets

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Words Ann Dix. Photos Johan Persson.

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