Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes – impressions of Katrena Cohea

The Red Shoes-Ashley Shaw and Victoria Page. Photo by Johan Persson

Watching Matthew Bourne’s new adaptation of The Red Shoes is like remembering a dream where you had a secret conversation with your soul about life, death and the passions and choices that scare the living daylights out of you.

If you’re looking for a criticism of Bourne’s choreography or of the dancer’s technique, you won’t find it here. There’s no critique I can give of Bourne’s choreography; he’s a creator I’ve admired ever since his Swan Lake turned the dance world on its head back in 1995. His choreography is pure storytelling, his dancers generous both in their movement and in their character portrayals. The set design is simple, striking and clever, and combined with cinemagraphic lighting, the entire stage is awash in nostalgia, both for the past and, like in a dream, for an intangible future.

The Red Shoes, based on a Hans Christen Anderson story, is about ingénue Victoria Page; a beautiful dancer with a bright future whose downfall comes in the form of a bewitching pair of red dancing shoes.

But Bourne’s story begs a deeper question: is it really the shoes that are bewitched to bring about Vicky Page’s downfall, or are they simply a vehicle that give her a bewitching glimpse into her passions – passions without boundaries or balance?

We dancers are known for going all in. An integral part of our training is being taught to show up 100%; to give class, performance, and rehearsal our all. We can, if we choose, become consumed by our art, the boundaries between it and ourselves blurred, and any outside experiences shunned as ‘distractions’.

It’s only a matter of time before our choices take over the momentum we’ve created, in dance, or in life. An object in motion wants to stay in motion, and Vicky Page’s passion and ambition are forces of nature that can’t be stopped once she makes the choice to take the red shoes.

What’s so gut wrenching and bittersweet about this show is how it reflects back to us our own desires, left behind choices, and almost forgotten regrets. This story, brought to life by amazing and emotional dancing, sheds light in the dark corners of our dreams that are too painful to remember. Vicky Page shows up bravely to face life, love, and passion, even though her choices ultimately bring about her death.
As another brave dreamer once said: “It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities” (Albus Dumbledore). If that’s true, Victoria Page is an all-consuming passion for a life that’s just too big for this world.