Learn and Explore

The Red Shoes

An Introduction to Matthew Bourne’s production of The Red Shoes

Bourne watched Powell and Pressburger’s iconic film The Red Shoes as a teenager and, at this point, had never seen a ballet live on stage. As a young adult with a love for performance and theatre, The Red Shoes provided a glimpse into an elitist, glamorous and intriguing world that was unknown to Bourne. The film’s classic love story is set within the working lives of a world-renowned touring ballet company, the Ballet Lermontov. Bourne identifies parallels between Ballet Lermontov and his own company, New Adventures, despite not being a ballet company themselves. Bourne’s ability to identify with the Ballet Lermontov helped create his vision for reinventing the film’s well-loved characters for his own company. Bourne explains, “The film’s genius is to make that theatrical world at times surreal, larger than life and highly cinematic. My challenge was to capture some of that surreal, sensuous quality within the more natural theatre setting”. 

A common feature between Ballet Lermontov and New Adventures is that they both share a love of touring, both domestically and internationally, under the creative vision of their respective artistic directors. The film’s characters are depicted very much as individual dancers within the company, yet are bound by a familial sense of collaboration, loyalty and ambition towards success. When embodying these personas on stage, Bourne believes the New Adventures cast can empathise with the personal struggles behind each character. Whilst character research plays a large role in the creative process, each dancer experiences or understands the sacrifices and dilemmas behind the desire to be a professional dancer, performer or artist. 

Inspired by the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen and the original film directed and produced by Powell and Pressburger, The Red Shoes is Matthew Bourne’s love letter to the world of theatre.

Plot Synopsis

Dive deep into the story of Matthew Bourne's production of The Red Shoes through our scene breakdown in our Plot Synopsis. With descriptions of the plot and scenes illustrated with production photos, you should be able to get a thorough overview of the production. 

Please note: This section contains spoilers! 

The Creative Process

If you would like to learn more about the creative process and what happens before you see a production live on stage, head to our Creative Process section. Here you can find interviews with our creative and artistic teams, including interviews from Artistic Director Matthew Bourne, Associate Artistic Director Etta Murfitt, Composer & Orchestrator Terry Davies, Conductor Brett Morris, and Resident Director Neil Westmoreland. 


The Red Shoes is filled with lots of colourful characters with conflicting motivations. 

The importance of character is a key stylistic feature in Matthew Bourne’s productions. During the choreographic process, dancers are directed to conduct specific research tasks to help them understand and take ownership of their character.

In our Characters section you can discover the process the New Adventures company go through to create and embody the roles, as well as find out more about the leading characters of the production.

Meet the Dancers

Meet the dancers who embody the characters in The Red Shoes. In these interviews hear from Ashley Shaw who plays Vicky Page, Adam Cooper playing Boris Lermontov, Dominic North playing Julian Craster and Michela Meazza playing Irina Boronskaya. 

Each of the dancers details the creative process and getting into their respective characters. 

Key Themes

The Red Shoes is the love story of two young artists (one a dancer, one a composer) and the fight between that love and the lure of the highest artistic achievement as represented by Boris Lermontov. 

The production also explores the fairy tale world of a ballet company and the stories it tells that blend into the real life tale of love, ambition and artistic and personal fulfilment, until the two are barely distinguishable.

Find out more about the themes in Matthew Bourne's production of The Red Shoes.

The Original Film

Matthew Bourne’s production of The Red Shoes is heavily based on the award-winning film, however, there are some differences evident in the New Adventures production, which Bourne has made for artistic and narrative reasons.

Find out more about the plot of The Red Shoes film and how it differs to Matthew Bourne's production.

Exercises & Resources

If you are a teacher, student, or just can't get enough of The Red Shoes, you can find detailed exercises and resources below. Our exercises are adapted for GCSE, A Level & BTEC students and those with a general level of dance experience, however anyone can try them at home!

Explore our other productions

Take Me Back