Ballet Stars

#TBT: "The Red Shoes," Then and Now

Moira Shearer and Robert Helpmann in "The Red Shoes."

Black Swan wasn't the film industry's first ballet-themed psychological drama. In The Red Shoes (1948), theater and life conflate, with tragic results for the dancer caught in the middle. Unlike Black Swan, however, The Red Shoes starred a real life ballerina. Moira Shearer, then a leading dancer with Sadler's Wells Ballet (now The Royal Ballet) plays Victoria Page, a young prodigy who catches a Russian impresario's eye, joins his company and stars in a new ballet based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, The Red Shoes.

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In this clip from the dance sequences, the ballet character sees the infamous shoes at a carnival booth and immediately covets them. Shearer's skill as a dancer and actress are evident. Each twirl, reach and penché evokes her desperate longing. The shoemaker, danced with incredible precision by famous choreographer Léonide Massine, taunts the girl. When she finally leaps into the red shoes (with kitschy film effects), she forgets her partner completely. She dances with bounding energy, depicted by Shearer's crisp, light petit allégro. Later, it becomes clear that the shoes have a fatal sort of magic, both onstage and off.


Although Shearer shared roles with the likes of Margot Fonteyn at Sadler's Wells and even created the title role in Sir Frederick Ashton's beloved Cinderella, she is more well known for her acting career. The film itself, directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, met with wild mainstream success. A 1993 Broadway version flopped, hard—it played only a handful of times and lost millions of dollars. But that didn't stop British choreographer Sir Matthew Bourne from putting his unique spin on The Red Shoes, a film he called a "Technicolor riot" in a Washington Post interview. Bourne is famous for revamping the classics, translating ballet into Broadway for Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and more. His Red Shoes had its American debut in Los Angeles last month and is currently at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. It will later make stops in North Carolina and New York, with exciting appearances by American Ballet Theatre's Marcelo Gomes and New York City Ballet's Sara Mearns. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

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