The Sunday New York Times had a great tribute in honor of the 60th anniversary of one of the most lyrically lovely movies ever made, The Red Shoes. As the title indicates, it is inspired by the classic fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen about the enchanted shoes that cannot stop dancing even after the person who wears them becomes exhausted, even if it kills her. It is the story of Victoria (played by the exquisite ballerina Moira Shearer), a dancer who is torn between her love of dance and the longing for a life outside of the demands of this most demanding of professions and obsessions. She is cast in the lead of a ballet called “The Red Shoes” and its story and its exhausting steps echo and underscore the conflicts she feels. Despite this bleak portrayal of the life of a ballet dancer, the movie inspired a generation of girls, including future prima ballerinas and other professionals, to study dance. And despite its melodrama, the movie transcends its storyline to become a poetic meditation on all of our conflicting desires, thanks to the skill of writer-directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.
And I am so pleased to find that one of my favorite books, Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild, has been filmed in a fine BBC production, starring “Harry Potter’s” Emma Watson. I love all of Streatfeild’s books (remember Meg Ryan talking about them in “You’ve Got Mail?”) but my favorite is Skating Shoes. I am hoping the BBC decides to film that one and go on to do them all.
My other favorite ballet movies include Robert Altman’s The Company, a neglected gem starring Neve Campbell, who also produced the film, and of course The Turning Point, with Shirley MacLaine, Anne Bancroft, and real-life dancers Mikhail Baryshnikov and Leslie Browne. As with “The Red Shoes,” ballet is a powerful symbol of the demands of love.