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Tuesday 24 April 2018, 14:46 pm.
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Back stage

'The greatest ballet film ever'
By Sasa Majuma (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Back stage








The Red Shoes (1948) is showing today at the Gaborone Film Society at 7 pm in the A/V Centre at Maru a Pula School. To wrap up on the works of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger the fourth and final movie being screened is their most famous creation Red Shoes.

The total reconstruction of this classic film on dance was recently made by a variety of people including experts at the University of California at Los Angels Film and Television Archive, the British Film Institute in London, the Film Foundation and with the full support of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker. The damaged and scratched masters that were found had to be rebuilt, the original Technicolour and quality of images improved. What makes this film exceptional compared to most dance films is that it shows a full 17-minute dance sequence with the accompanying original music.

The story of The Red Shoes is an old favourite. The original fairy tale is by Hans Christian Andersen. In 1933 the idea of first making a film about the fairy tale was first floated. Emeric Pressburger wrote a script for a movie of Red Shoes in 1937. But the Depression (1933) and World War Two (1939-1945) intervened. Then coming out of the war people wanted films that were no longer about the war—one about art, about living for art, dying for art, death through art might be accepted.

Powell and Pressburger decided to recruit a real dancer for the part (not an actress for the dramatic sequence and a professional for the ballet parts). They chose Moira Shearer (1926-2006), who with her flagrant red hair was ideal for the part. She was 22 then, a committed and beautiful dancer at the Sadler's Wells Ballet. She may have regretted her decision, because she only made five more films in the next 15 years and became committed to her family over both acting and dancing.

The Red Shoes wasn't appreciated by J Arthur Rank and associates, and was not released for distribution in the United Kingdom (UK)â perhaps they did not like a tragic fairy tale? It did, though, run for two years at the Bijou Theatre in New York City. Americans came to know and love The Red Shoes, as did audiences elsewhere in the world.

This is the wonderful dance film about a young ballerina, Victoria Page (danced and acted by Moira Shearer) who takes the wrong step when facing a choice between a career as a dancer and the man whom she loves. In London, through the connivance of her aunt, Lady Neston (played by Irene Browne) Vicky meets Boris Lermontov (acted by Anton Walbrook at his controlling best). He demands a total devotion to ballet and absolute loyalty to him. He is constantly seeking and nursing new talent. At first Victoria Page is taken on with a number of other young dancers in training.

Lermontov's prima ballerina, Irina Boronskaja (played by Ludmilla TchÃ(c)rina) is returning to live in Paris. He has a

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vacancy to fill. He also has ideas for a new ballet and wants new music for it.  He takes on a young composer, Julian Craster (played by Marius Goring) as a rehearsal pianist, but soon discovers that Julian has much more to offer.   Lermontov runs a tight ship, overseeing everything, including a team of dedicated designers of sets and costumes, musicians, conductors and choreographers. Watch for the wonderful Sergei Ratov (acted by Albert Basserman). Lermontov also has two male leads to keep happy: Grischa Ljubov (danced and acted by the great LÃ(c)onide Massine, a former member of the Diaghilev Company) and Robert Helpmann (Ivan Boleslawsky).

This is also a very thoughtful film. The triangle is treated with sophistication and Lermontov even challenges male supremacy when he asks Victoria "If she would ever ask Julian to give up his tier, if she would ever want him to abandon music for her". She says she wouldn't; he then asks, "Why would she permit Julian to ask it of her"?
This rudimentary plot has been executed in an extraordinary manner. The result is an exciting movie, both when viewing music and dance on stage and when it penetrates into the world of the backstage. Now 65 years old, it remains the premier dance film ever made. Powell and Pressburger created a whole new fantasy tale on the tension between the desires of the heart and the needs of the feet to dance. Moira Shearer is a magnificent Victoria Page, a woman torn between her two loves. It becomes a magical film as it explores both a passion to create and the love of art. Fairy stories are morality tales that impose a choice, test a dichotomy, and have dire consequences when things go wrong. Is Lermontov in love with her or her art?

The locations outside the Pinewood Studios, Buckinghamshire, UK, were many, including actual train stations in Paris and Monte Carlo, the Royal Opera House, Convent Garden and also in London's Mercury Theatre, Notting Hill Gate, and in Paris the Opra National de Paris, Palais Garnier, 8 rue Scribe in Paris and the Hotel de Paris, plus for Lermontov's sanctuary Villa Leopolda, Avenue Leopold II, Villefranche-sur-Mer in France. This was a big shift for the Archers, out of studios into the real world. The tragic scenes in Monte Carlo at the end are accompanied by the music of Julian's new opera opening in London that Lermontov was listening to in his office on the BBC.

The Red Shoes is two hours and 16 minutes long. It is rated Universal. The directors are Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (known as The Archers) who also wrote the script with Keith Winter. It is based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen.  The cinematographer is Jack Cardiff. The editor is Reginald Mills. The music is by Brian Easdale and the London Royal Philharmonic orchestra performs the music. The choreography is by Robert Helpmann. The amazing fantasy sequences were created by Hein Heckroth. sasa_majuma@yahoo.co.uk

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