Blowing A Kiss
Matthew Bourne’s production of “The Red Shoes” tells the Hans Christian Anderson story in an extended ballet. A wordless series of movements set to the music of film composer Bernard Herrmann. The story being told is that of a young ballerina who joins a first-class dance company, and due to the star being indisposed, takes the lead. A romantic triangle between her, a composer and the company director evolves and leads to the dancer and composer being exiled from the troupe.
Anderson’s fairy tale contribution to those well-worn plot tropes is the idea of the shoes themselves. Magical in that once put on, they transform the dancer into a brilliant dancer. The catch is that once the begin dancing, they can’t stop. –Or they do when the dancer is so exhausted she cannot go on. And if/when the shoes come off, the dancer dies.
So, what does something like that look like? Is it really a ballet? A fantasia? Is it more a drama with dance? In Bourne’s hands, a seamless “all of the above.” His stunning and surprising re-invention of “Swan Lake” some years back, made those who weren’t already aware of his talent take notice. There’s plenty to notice here.
What’s the secret? How is it that some directors mount shows that rise so far above others? Story. Understanding it, knowing how each of the characters needs and motivations contribute to it, and keeping it in focus.
Bourne goes beyond simply choreographing dances that indicate the plot, as seen in much of ballet. The character’s postures, the way they walk, handle props, and behave breathe life into shopworn plot points. The dancer/actors become more than representative types: heroine, hero, villain, etc. The characterizations become focused in individual intent and energy in a way that the dance seems a complimentary bonus.
Bourne also understands the telling detail. Once exiled, the dancer and her lover are reduced to joining a low-rent company, more burlesque than classical. We’re introduced to it with two men dancing a tacky Egyptian-themed act—sort of ‘walking like an Egyptian’ (a tip of the hat to the Bangles?) When they finish, it’s our heroine’s turn to perform with another two second rate dancers, while trying to retain her dignity. During this, one of the Egyptian guys, watching from the wings, catches the heroine’s eye and blows her a kiss. A moment that denotes the tawdriness and lack of respect into which she has fallen. We know she’s in a bad place, and that small moment capitalizes on her dignity crushed.
Despite no dialogue, no doubt Bourne is working from a scenario describing the action from scene to scene. Unlikely the ‘blowing a kiss’ moment was scripted. Likely just smart directing.