Acclaimed choreographer, Matthew Bourne talks to John Bultitude about his glamorous ballet, The Red Shoes and how Hollywood inspired him from an early age.
The Red Shoes is one of the first movies which brought the world of dance to the big screen and it is a film which has played a big part in the life of Matthew Bourne.
Opening his eyes to the genre when he was young, it was a story that the multi-award-winning choreographer had always wanted to bring to life.
He first brought it to the stage in 2016 where it won two Olivier Awards plus proved incredibly popular generating tremendous audience acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic, and now Matthew and his New Adventures company are taking the production back out on tour again.
Matthew recalled first seeing the film which was released back in 1948 is something which deeply inspired him. He explained: “The Red Shoes is considered by many people to be one of the most important and beautiful films ever made in the way the camera was used and the way it captured dance on film for many people for the first time. It is very influential and I saw it when I was very young. I didn’t really know anything about that world as I was more into musical theatre and film musicals. My parents didn’t go to the ballet.
“It was an introduction to an extraordinary world which was glamorous and eccentric and full of these larger-than-life characters. It was also this great story about people who spend their lives being creative, creating beautiful things and the passion they have to do that.”
Years later, Matthew decided The Red Shoes was a perfect piece to add his creative magic to. It tells the story of Victoria Page who loves to dance and has a fierce ambition to be the best she can be in her profession but this drive finds her at the centre of an emotional tug of war between the two men who inspire her.
For Matthew, it is about so much more than just dance. Although it features a showpiece ballet sequence, it was also about capturing Victoria’s complex professional and personal life without words. “It was a challenge to tell the whole story of the human characters and the central love story and conflict. All those things have to be told through dance. It is bringing these things to a different medium. The larger-than-life emotions in The Red Shoes are good for dance. You are already on to a winner with those obsessive relationships and passion and conflict,” he said.
The music was also important to help bring out these themes and Matthew turned to Bernard Herrmann who composed the score to many Alfred Hitchcock movies as well as the likes of Citizen Kane and Fahrenheit 451. Matthew explained: “I found a lot of music in his back catalogue which was written for different films and which could be used to tell different aspects of the story.
“You have three areas of storytelling in The Red Shoes. You have the ballets the company performs, you have the life of the company and the life of the places they go and their atmosphere, and then you have the central love story and conflict between the girl who wants to be a great dancer and the impresario who wants her to devote her whole life to that and the young composer she falls in love with.”
While the love and passion remain at its core, Matthew believes it also tackles some very meaty themes and how a combination of ambition, hard work and talent is not enough on its own to be at the top of your profession. “It is also not just about being famous. It is about the passion for the work. For these characters, the work is more important than anything else in their lives.
“There is also the conflict between having those sorts of passions and that work ethic against a relationship of some kind. That became a very universal thing about this story for our audiences and a story that resonated beyond the dance world.
“A lot of people have that conflict in their lives between work and the relationships they are having whether it is their partners or other family members or their friends. I think that is where people can relate to this story.”Bringing The Red Shoes to life will be a strong company which includes a host of names well known to followers of the work of Matthew and New Adventures including Dominic North, Liam Mower, Ashley Shaw and Cordelia Braithwaite.
Matthew is also reuniting with Adam Cooper for the first time in over 20 years which he calls “major event in New Adventures history.” Adam famously created the role of The Swan is Matthew’s 1995 production of Swan Lake. “Adam’s role as The Swan is iconic and he is an inspirational figure for many of my dancers and many aspiring dancers. We’ve talked many times over the years about working together again but nothing quite worked out so I am utterly thrilled to have finally managed to persuade him to come home to his New Adventures family in the perfect role of Boris Lermontov, another iconic role that I’m sure he will make all his own,” said Matthew.
It also pays homage to the iconic film while creating something quite different. He said: “We did not just want to ape something that came before. We want to capture the essence, the spirit and almost the perfume of this film. It is a spellbinding piece and does that in your own way and find new ways of doing it. It tells the story in a uniquely theatrical way.”
Those cinematic sweeps that Matthew’s work is known for are there but it also maintains its theatricality in a number of ways including a proscenium arch which moves around the stage almost as if it is a character or dancer in its own right.
And he is keen to ensure the company get the mood, character and feel of the period exactly right particularly as it is very far away from day-to-day life now. He said: “They really have to do their research as it can be quite difficult for the young people of today to capture that era. The manners, the way the people are, their eccentricities and their concerns are all very different.”
Equally Matthew is still fuelled, buoyed and enthused by this production along with Swan Lake which is touring the world and cinematic screenings of Romeo and Juliet which saw members of his company perform alongside the dance talent of tomorrow. He said: “Through those productions, we have introduced a very exciting range of new young talent to the country. I am really excited about that. Romeo and Juliet gave a lot of opportunities to develop younger members of my company to take on bigger roles and that is really serving as well now and will do for the future. The new talent is off the chart.”
Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes is at The Lowry, Salford Quays from 26-30 November 2019.