Matthew Bourne makes another triumphant return to the Ahmanson Theatre with his latest feat of dance brilliance, the American Premiere of The Red Shoes, Sir Matthew’s breathtakingly imaginative reinvention of the British film classic that made Moira Shearer a star.

 This time round it’s Ashley Shaw* donning the titular footwear as aspiring ballerina Victoria Page, who like 42nd Street’s Peggy Sawyer before her, skyrockets to fame and fortune when the slated leading lady suffers a leg-breaking fall.

 Like Peggy too, Victoria finds herself torn between two would-be lovers, ballet impresario Boris Lermontov (Sam Archer) and up-and-coming composer/conductor Julian Craster (Dominic North), commissioned by Lermontov to adapt Hans Christian Andersen’s The Red Shoes for the late-1940s Monte Carlo stage.

Unlike either 42nd Street or the movie that inspired Sir Matthew’s latest theatrical endeavor, however, Bourne’s The Red Shoes (like his Bizet adaptation The Car Man or his screen-to-stage Edward Scissorhands) recounts Victoria’s rise to international celebrity entirely through the medium of dance, no spoken words needed for audience members to follow along, even those unfamiliar with Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1948 film.

 Anyone experiencing Bourne for the first time might be fooled by the show-opening “Countess Tamara’s Dilemma,” the first of The Red Shoes’ several ballets-within-a-ballet, into thinking that what they are about to witness is dance at its most traditional, though even here Bourne sneaks in signature bits of humor and whimsy amongst pliés, pirouettes, and tour jetés.

Lez Brotherston’s ingenious scenic design then transports us seamlessly from the London stage to a high-society soirée where hoity-toity dancers execute ballroom à la Bourne, i.e. quirky moves executed with consummate grace, and before long Victoria has made her entrance and two men’s lives are about to be changed.

 Segue to the beach at Monte Carlo, where bathing beauties both female and male cavort to Bourne’s exuberant “Ballet De Plage” in period swimwear revealing designer Brotherston to be as imaginative at costumes as he is at sets.

Theatergoers expecting the Brian Easdale score to which Shearer, Robert Helpmann, and Léonide Massine danced the movie’s Red Shoes Ballet may be surprised to hear in its stead melodies introduced in Citizen Kane and other Bernard Hermann-composed film classics, a quintessentially Hermannesque mix of mystery and romance that works to perfection even as it distinguishes Bourne’s theater piece from its cinematic source material.

 Even more radical is Bourne’s reinvention of the film original’s saturated-color, special effects-enhanced, unnervingly surreal Red Shoes ballet, replaced here by a stark, angular, black-and-white palette with only the prima ballerina’s redder-than-red shoes and bustier to add Technicolor to monochrome.

 And we haven’t even gotten to intermission, after which comes the deliciously bizarre Ancient Egypt-meets-Ancient Greece “Concerto Macabre” followed by a trio of East End music hall ballet wannabes at their most over-the-top.

 Ahmanson Opening Nighters found themselves treated to the same sensational sextet of stars who debuted The Red Shoes at London’s Sadler Wells Ballet this past December, the radiant Shaw earning every decibel of her standing ovation alongside the commanding Archer, the ever so engaging North, Michela Maezza’s glamorous Irina, and premiers danseurs Liam Mower and Glenn Graham as Ivan and Grischa.

 Add to the above Stephanie Billers (Beryl), Will Bozier (Anton), Joshua Lloyd Moise Harriette (Serge), Daisy May Kemp (Lady Nestor, Joyce, Edith), Philip King (Frederic), Dominic Lamb (Sergei Ratov), Katrina Lyndon (Pamela), Philip King ( Kate Lyons (Nadia), Danny Reubens (Mikhail), Joe Walkling (Dimitri), and Katie Webb (Svetlana) and you’ve got more dance brilliance on the Ahmanson stage than has been seen since the last time Bourne and company stopped by for a visit.

Duncan McLean’s dramatic animated projections make The Red Shoe Ballet even more of a visual stunner, Paul Groothuis’s sound design expertly amps prerecorded tracks gorgeously orchestrated by Terry Davis (with special snaps to a spectacular Act One-closing mashup effect), and Paule Constable’s lighting dazzles throughout.

 The Red Shoes is a New Adventures production.  Etta Murfitt is associate director and choreographer. Neil Westmoreland is assistant choreographer. Archer is choreographic assistant. Sarah Garrett is production managers and Erik Birkeland is company manager.

You don’t have to be a ballet aficionado to fall under The Red Shoes’ seductive spell. (I’m certainly not, and I did.) Balletophile or not, expect to stand up and cheer.

*All roles are double or triple cast. The Red Shoes ensemble also includes Cordelia Braithwaite, Jackson Fisch, Marcelo Gomes, Jack Jones, Nicole Kabera, Anjali Mehra, Andrew Monaghan, Leon Moran, and Seren Williams

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Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N Grand Ave, Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
September 19, 2017
Photos: Johan Persson
Additional images from The Red Shoes trailer

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