Perhaps the creators of “The Red Shoes” did not propose for the film to have the profound meaning that it would have with women, especially with women artists, in years to come. Still beautiful to look at (despite the frightful melodrama of the acting), and a brilliant score by Brian Easdale, it strikes a chord.
Ms. Edna's favorite image from the movie
After a screening of the movie yesterday, followed a heated discussion with women artists who were pointing out the conflicts between dedication to their art and the relationships with the people they love. This was not an analysis of the film but an examination of the issues it raised for women and art.
Women and sacrifice abound in art... Anna Karenina, La Traviata, Jane Eyre, The House of Mirth, The Portrait of a Lady... These stories have enormous power. However, far fewer stories exist about one's dedication to and sacrifice for one's art.
In the film, Victoria 'Vicky' Page is an unknown dancer who aspires to dance with the prestigious Lermontov Ballet. She meets Boris Lermontov, the charismatic impresario of the Ballet Lermontov, who tauntingly questions her about her devotion to ballet before he sees her dance:
Lermontov: Why do you want to dance?
Vicky: Why do you want to live?
Lermontov: Well, I don't know exactly why, but...I must.
Vicky: That's my answer too.
Vicky is as compelled to dance as we are compelled to write, to paint, to sing, to act, to create, to live.
Intrigued by her saucy answer, Lermontov takes her on as a student. He sees her dance in a performance of Swan Lake in a small, modest venue and realizes her potential. Vicky is then invited to go with the company to Paris and Monte Carlo and when Lermontov loses his Russian prima ballerina (she wishes to marry - apparently it is impossible to think that she could possibly do both), he begins to see Vicky as a possible successor.
Lermontov pronounces, "A dancer who relies upon the doubtful comforts of human love will never be a great dancer. Never." When someone notes that you cannot change human nature, Lermontov snaps, "I think you can do even better than that - you can ignore it."
Lermontov creates a starring role for Vicky in the new ballet, The Red Shoes, written by a new young composer based on an old folk tale by Hans Christian Anderson. In the ballet, a young girl becomes enchanted with (and enchanted by) a magic pair of red shoes which permit her to dance and dance but the trick is that she is unable to stop dancing even when she wants to. In desperation, she even tries to cut the slippers off her feet but to no avail. The only way that she can stop dancing is by dying, with the slippers on.
These were/are our choices then, and now?
Rejecting one's art = death? Love = stop pursuing one's passion in life?
Despite the tragic ending, the film resonates. Are we in love with the fantasy of giving up everything (art, independence, freedom) for love? Yes, masochistically, sometimes we are.