The Red Shoes dances in to the Liverpool Empire
It’s almost 70 years since Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes hit UK cinema screens.
The story of love, obsession and its heroine Victoria Page’s dream of being the best dancer in the world, whatever the cost, has inspired generations of young dancers and choreographers, not least Matthew Bourne, whose own acclaimed version of the classic tale is set to arrive at the Liverpool Empire next week.
And its dancing star, Ashley Shaw, was also struck by the story, both as a young child growing up in Australia, and more recently when she revisited it again with Bourne.
She reveals: “I remember watching it when I was really quite little, and you have an image in your head, you can remember the pretty ballerina and the red shoes. But I didn’t really remember the storyline – I certainly didn’t remember the ending!
“It was about three years ago now actually when Matt started telling us that it was something he was thinking of in the future.
“There was a screening of it at the BFI (British Film Institute) and Matt took a handful of us to go and see it. That was the first time I properly watched it as a film and I was like, ‘oh wow, this could be a really interesting show’.
“And that was before any casting or anything, so we were watching it going, will I be in this? I’m not sure.”
It turned out Ashley wasn’t just in it, but was chosen, alongside fellow New Adventures dancer Cordelia Braithwaite, to play the title role of Vicky, the dancer who has to choose between love and her career, with ultimately devastating consequences.
Page is the latest role Liverpool audiences will have seen Ashley play – she’s also appeared as Princess Sugar in Nutcracker, Kim in Edward Scissorhands, and helped to create the role of Aurora in Bourne’s wonderfully gothic Sleeping Beauty.
And unlike Boris Lermontov, the dictatorial choreographer in the story, it appears Matthew Bourne’s approach to work is much more collaborative.
“Growing up and going through school, you’re told what to do, and you have to do it and there’s no other choice,” Ashley explains.
“With Matt, you can put your ideas forward and the movement and the steps you’re good at, and it brings out the best in everyone I think. It’s a really rewarding process to work with him, rather than just being dictated to.
“You feel really part of it as well. This role, this new show, it feels really special to me, and it feels a little bit like my baby as well.
“I’m the first one to do it and that’s definitely a highlight in my career.”
Ashley started dancing at the age of three at home in New South Wales, learning classical ballet, tap, jazz, modern and contemporary dance.
And The Red Shoes certainly sees her going back to her original passion – even if it did mean hard work getting used to dancing on pointe again.
“I wanted to be a ballerina in a classical company,” she says. “And actually, a lot of New Adventures dancers have a ballet background.
“When we found out we were doing the show we did have to work hard and get the strength in our toes. But it’s been really nice to go back to that.”
Ashley Shaw as Victoria Page. All photographs by Johan Persson
Following this latest tour, Bourne has already announced he’s returning to the Empire in 2018, with a revival of his fairytale favourite Cinderella.
The rags-to-riches tale of the girl who goes to the ball and falls in love with Prince Charming was Ashley’s first principal role with the company, but she won’t be drawn on whether she’s set to be in this latest production.
But she’s certainly not going anywhere else soon.
“I love the company and working with everyone,” she smiles. “The work is so varied and versatile that it is really fulfilling to do it.
“It was my dream when I was at school (to join New Adventures), so I’m very happy living that dream.”
The Red Shoes opens at the Empire on Tuesday. So why should people come and see it?
“Oh gosh,” Ashley laughs. “It’s a beautiful production, right from the set, the costumes, the dancing, the choreography, the story.
“It’s uplifting. It’s a magical show.”
The Red Shoes is at the Liverpool Empire from June 27 to July 1. Tickets from the website HERE.