British ballerina talks beauty, madness of ‘The Red Shoes’ at Kennedy Center

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'The Red Shoes' at Kennedy Center (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — It was a Danish fairy tale that became a British movie masterpiece.

This week, the stage version of “The Red Shoes” hits the Kennedy Center from Tuesday to Sunday after winning two Olivier Awards, London’s equivalent of Broadway’s Tonys.

“It’s beautiful, it’s dramatic, it’s passionate,” ballerina Ashley Shaw told WTOP. “We’ve been doing it for a while now, so it’s exciting to be over here in the states. [The Kennedy Center] is one of the biggest, most amazing theaters I’ve ever seen. I’m so excited to bring ‘The Red Shoes’ because this show in particular in a house like that is just going to look magical.”

Based on the 1845 fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen and the 1948 film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, “The Red Shoes” follows Victoria Page (Ashley Shaw), who dreams of being the best dancer in the world. Lacing up a magical pair of shoes, she becomes obsessed with stardom and caught in a love triangle between impresario Boris and composer Julian.

“It becomes a struggle between what you can give your whole soul to, whether it’s dance or her love for Julian the composer,” Shaw said. “That’s her struggle and her inner turmoil and it eventually drives her mad. It mimics the wildness of the red shoes and how they take over.”

The stage show is the brainchild of director/choreographer Matthew Bourne, who’s the only British director to have won the Tony for both choreographer and director (“Swan Lake”).

“He is just incredible and has such a great eye for theater, for dance, for everything,” Shaw said. “He’s just one of the best storytellers, which is why he’s so good at being both a director and choreographer. He very much is directing everything and getting that story on stage.”

Bourne’s choreography includes a blend of multiple dance styles.

“There’s loads of dance styles in this piece,” Shaw said. “That’s what’s so wonderful about our company; you can’t pigeonhole us. We don’t just do ballet or contemporary or jazz, it’s a mix of everything. The dance company is so versatile. So there’s all the styles I just mentioned, and we do a lot of swing. When you’re telling a story, it’s hard to restrict it to just one style.”

As for the visuals, Bourne teams with designer Lez Brotherston to create a lavish feast.

“You walk in and you feel like you’ve gone back in time,” Shaw said. “The costumes and set [are] unbelievable. It’s grand, vibrant, beautiful. Then the actual ‘Red Shoes’ ballet within the show is really interesting and modern. We’ve done our own version of that. In the film, she dances over cliffs, she’s flying, all these things; that was hard to transfer to stage, but we’ve done lots of projections, black-and-white with just the red shoes, that’ll really stand out.”

Still, the biggest treat might be the music, as composer Terry Davies pulls from film composer Bernard Herrmann’s most famous themes, from “Vertigo” to “Taxi Driver” to “Citizen Kane.”

“It’s so amazing what Terry did by putting it all together, because they’re all old pieces that existed,” Shaw said. “We initially tried to look at the film and the music they used, but it was not as dancy as you’d imagine for a two-hour production. That’s when Matt started looking into Bernard Herrmann and got together with Terry and created something that really fits.”

Herrmann is a perfect fit for simultaneous themes of artistic beauty and obsessive madness.

“It parallels my own life,” Shaw said. “She’s a dancer who wants to be an amazing dancer and everyone in this art and profession has experienced sacrifice. We sacrifice our time, we’re away from our families, we travel, I’m sure there’s plenty of relationships that have fallen because of time-consuming dance. It’s really nice to have a character you can relate to.”

Click here for more on “The Red Shoes. Hear our full chat with ballerina Ashley Shaw below:

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Ashley Shaw (Full Interview) (Jason Fraley)


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