|Publicity Photo for the Red Shoes|
Creative commons licence
If you are already a balletomane or film buff you will know all about The Red Shoes choreographed by Sir Robert Helpmann and featuring Moira Shearer, Ludmilla Tchérina and Léonide Massine. If you are not a balletomane you will perhaps begin to understand the condition if you watch the film. You have the chance now and for the next 6 days to watch it on BBC iPlayer. You can also download a short talk on the film by Deborah Bull.
Although the film carries a notice that it is a work of fiction and that any resemblance with individuals living or dead is purely coincidental the parallels between the film character Boris Lermontov and the impresario Sergei Daghilev are overwhelming. Diaghilev introduced the British public as well as much of the rest of the world to the Russian imperial ballet. However, he did much more than that. He surrounded himself with brilliant young artists and composers as well as dancers from around the world and employed them to create the most dazzling productions. Ballet is not just choreography and dancing. It is the synthesis of many arts - drama, music, painting et cetera - the product of something that is so much greater than its component parts. That is what attracted me to ballet nearly 60 years ago and it is also why I just can't see enough of the stuff.
In her talk Deborah Bull lists so many reasons why one should dislike the film such as the outrageous attitude to women and its outlandish clichés and yet she loves the film as I do. One of the reasons she gives is its authenticity and she mentions a missed step by Moira Shearer which only a dancer would recognize. Certainly that point eluded me until Deborah Bull mentioned it but then I am not a dancer in the way that she is. But I also recognize authenticity in the film from the perspective of the humble theatre goer. Ballet is life for us just as it is for the dancers.
Red Shoes was made 6 months before I was born which makes it a very old film. It contains shots of the old fruit market and the stone staircase up to the amphitheatre and the upper and lower slips that I remember well. The accents are clipped. Yet this film remains fresh. It is one of the most beautiful that I have ever seen. My favourite by a country mile.
Deborah Bull talked about authenticity from a dancer's perspective and I alluded far more vaguely to authenticity from the audience's perspective without giving an example. I have just thought of one. Shortly after Pavlova died the theatre in which she was due to perform presented the ballet as scheduled but instead of her a spotlight traced her steps around the stage. For those who were there it must have been one of the most poignant moments of their lives. The gesture was repeated in The Red Shoes after the heroine still in costume and wearing the red shoes threw herself in front of a train.