Review: All Life’s a Swirling Proscenium in ‘The Red Shoes’

Smooth flow and swirling action are also the strengths of Mr. Bourne’s choreography and direction. This production moves. But besides the set, its chief cleverness lies in its choice of music, a collage clipped from various film scores by Bernard Herrmann. It’s the sound of “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” and Alfred Hitchcock, of high anxiety and romantic melodrama, with string sections desperately scaling musical cliffs and orchestral waves crashing.


Mr. Gomes as Julian Craster. Credit Andrea Mohin/The New York Times

The deftness with which Mr. Bourne (aided by the arranger Terry Davies) makes Herrmann’s musical moods and cues serve his story gives sustained delight. The shoe keeps fitting.

The production’s achievements, though, are tangled up with its flaws. Crucial plot points can get lost in the bustle and detail. And Mr. Bourne’s push for efficiency — making a dance number work both as period flavor and plot advancement, quickly slipping in a dramatic turning point in the middle of something else — can shortchange or skirt character motivation and decision making.

Mr. Bourne is a master of surface style, and the abundance and variety of pastiche dance — from the stiff, hoppy ridiculousness of aristocrats to awful music hall numbers to an ample survey of between-the-wars ballet — is another pleasure, especially for connoisseurs. Yet all this affectionate parody leaves him without much of a straight mode. The anguished danced monologues share the atmosphere of parody.


Ms. Mearns as Victoria Page. Credit Andrea Mohin/The New York Times

Meanwhile, the story has been streamlined and simplified, transformed into a standard love triangle. The tension in the film between Lermontov’s personal involvement and his principled objection to a ballerina’s marrying is absent. So is his religious devotion to ballet. Admittedly, these are difficult layers to convey without dialogue, but when Mr. Bourne has Lermontov moon over a statue of a shoe, the spiritual pursuit of beauty has been reduced to a foot fetish.

The show’s conception of Lermontov is characteristic of its swerving from the challenge of the film’s indelible performances. Anton Walbrook’s flamboyant portrayal of the impresario is, along with the saturated colors, the movie’s greatest glory. Sam Archer, who plays Lermontov in every New York performance of Mr. Bourne’s show, is dashing but subdued, buttoned-up British instead of larger-than-life Russian.

Despite Mr. Bourne’s tidying, he doesn’t take the opportunity to flesh out the love story between Vicky and Julian. As in the movie, it basically comes out of nowhere, though the thinness is more of a problem without a complicated Lermontov. Mr. Gomes, imparting Julian with his usual warmth and charisma, helped, but couldn’t redeem the role’s histrionic conducting. Ms. Mearns, out of her usual element, fit in fine, her sense of drama proving equal to the role’s acting demands, her performance only a tiny bit rougher than that of the first-cast Vicky, Ashley Shaw. (Ms. Mearns and Mr. Gomes, by the way, make an excellent couple: Company directors and casting agents take note.)

Where Mr. Bourne’s show most successfully breaks free of the original is in the “Red Shoes” ballet, the allegorical work that Lermontov and Julian make for Vicky. In a reverse homage to the movie’s surreal colors, Mr. Brotherston sticks to black and white and gray, and Mr. Bourne’s choreography finds its own stylized nightmare.

As for the rest, it can feel as conflicted as Vicky, not sure what movie it wants to be. Mr. Brotherston’s rotating set adroitly mixes up performance and rehearsal, art and life. When it stops spinning, it leaves you impressed and a little dizzy and not very moved.

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