After watching The Ballet Lermontov perform the Countess Tamara’s Dilemma, Lady Neston arranges a soirée with the intention of showcasing her niece, Vicky Page, to Boris Lermontov. Despite delighting the crowd with her solo, Lermontov, ignoring Vicky, offers a job to the pianist Julian Craster. Later, Vicky attends an audition with the company’s ballet master, Grischa Ljubov, and is eventually picked by Lermontov to join the company as a member of the corps-de-ballet.
Whilst working alone in the theatre, Julian is swept up in a dream of one day conducting his own work with a full orchestra. Lermontov watches on from the side-lines and recognises Julian’s passion, talent and potential.
A month later, during a rehearsal of Les Sylphides, as the Artistic Team and Principal Dancers bicker, Vicky slips into a day dream, imagining herself dancing the principal role, and catches the attention of Lermontov. Irina Boronskaja, the company’s prima-ballerina, cries out with pain as she falls to the floor injured and is carried off, unable to continue the rehearsal.
Lermontov and his ballet company arrive on tour in Monte Carlo where the impresario and his creative team begin brainstorming ideas for the next production. Vicky is summoned to Lermontov’s mansion and, on arrival, is handed a pair of red pointe shoes and consequently, the lead role in Ballet Lermontov’s newest creation, The Red Shoes. Vicky and Lermontov dance a duet, with the latter manipulating and moulding Vicky into his muse and the star she wants to become, ending with Lermontov literally placing Vicky into the spotlight.
The Red Shoes Ballet (within the production)
The Girl (Vicky) and The Boy (Ivan), her free-spirited fiancé, travel from the suburbs to the city. Suddenly, a sinister Pimp (Grischa) appears. Intrigued by her beauty, he lures The Girl away with the promise of fame and fortune, enticing her with a pair of red shoes. The Pimp seemingly hypnotises the girl until the power of the red shoes overwhelms her. The shoes take over, dragging her around independently and forcing her to dance and never stop moving. As she dances, she journeys to a vibrant, busy Dance Hall, through a wild forest and eventually gets lost in a storm.
Time passes and exhausted, The Girl slips into a dreamlike, euphoric state and drifts through the stars. She arrives at her own funeral, as a procession mourns her passing, and sees The Boy who has become a priest. He “senses” her presence around him as she desperately reaches for him and tries to reconnect. Eventually, The Boy releases her from the shoes and she collapses and dies.
The ballet is received with rapturous applause. Backstage, after the curtain calls, Vicky and Julian congratulate each other, resulting in a passionate embrace. This is noticed by Lermontov, who storms off in a rage to the thunderous and ominous sound of the clapping audience.