As a writer it’s important to feed your imagination. Things that do this for me are dance, art,  film, poetry and folk or fairy tales.  Anything that offers a combination of two or more of these is especially potent.  Last night I watched The Red Shoes, the film by Powell and Pressburger, made in 1948, that retells the Hans Christian Anderson story of a girl whose passion for a pair of red shoes leads to her destruction. 

The film is set in a ballet company ruled over by the autocratic Lermontov,  who forbids his dancers to have any personal life.  He is shown as a diabolic character, often living in the dark and only switching on lights when he hears a knock on the door.  The heroine, played by Moira Shearer, is a confident, aspiring dancer whose rich aunt contrives to introduce her to the famous director.  At their first meeting he asks her why she wants to dance and she counters with “Why do you want to live?” He demands total commitment and promises to make her a great artist.  The ballet within the film both fulfils the belief that only art matters and undermines it, as the heroine whirls through increasingly surreal and magical worlds to her death.  But art and life cannot be kept completely separate and ultimately, the heroine’s inability to choose between the two leads to her suicide.  While on one level the film’s message may be that human love and relationship is a necessity, it leaves us craving more of the magic and passion that Lermontov created.

It’s hard to think of any modern equivalent.  The film was a daring and ambitious collaboration with artists from many different fields and the credits include Robert Helpmann as choreographer of the ballet sequence, Leonid Massine, who danced with the Ballets Russe,  with Sir Thomas Beecham conducting the orchestra for the ballet.  

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