‘The Red Shoes’ steps into Tampa Theatre

On Sunday, Tampa Theatre continued its Summer Classics series with a screening of the 1948 ballet drama classic “The Red Shoes.”

The screening also served as a fall semester kick-off for USF dance students. Michael Foley, an associate professor of dance at USF, spoke to the audience both before and after the film about its continuing influence on the world of dance.

The film has long been considered a highly innovative masterpiece – both a breathtaking Technicolor spectacle and an operatic melodrama intertwined with unparalleled dance sequences.

Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger – both known collectively as “The Archers” – the film tells the story of a prima ballerina (the luminous Moira Shearer) who is torn between an obsessive ballet impresario and a young composer during a production of a ballet adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, “The Red Shoes.”

The film links together the fairy tale and the love triangle between the three artists as a metaphor for artistic obsession and the desperate lengths it will drive some to in their quest for perfection.

Foley said the characters’ passion for their art is what allows the film to continue to resonate with audiences, especially aspiring dancers, today.

“So many young artists want passion in their life and want something that feels real, to the point that they’d do anything for it,” he said to the audience after the film. “Do we have that devotion for art today? I don’t know. I think this film crystallizes a really golden time for the arts.”

The recent success of the film “Black Swan” ignited a renewed public interest in ballet and had many critics drawing parallels between the 2010 psychological thriller and “The Red Shoes.”

Acknowledging the influence of “The Red Shoe” on “Black Swan,” Foley said both films ended on similarly tragic notes, sharing the image of a bloodied tutu.

“The conversation about ‘The Red Shoes’ kept coming back as ‘Black Swan’ was mounting its Oscar campaign,” Foley said. “When you look at something like ‘Black Swan,’ it’s this heightened, hyper-sexualized look at ballet and its own bloody sexualized self and there is a bit of that at the end (of ‘The Red Shoes’).”

The version screened was the recent 2009 digital restoration of the film that was spearheaded by director Martin Scorsese. The restoration gives the film a fresh new coat of paint, making the titular red ballet slippers pop off the screen without the aid of 3-D glasses.

The clarity of the restoration shines brightest during the film’s famous 15-minute dance sequence that plays out like a fairy tale illustration brought to life.

The dialogue-free scene shows the film’s lead, Shearer – both an actress and a trained ballerina – dancing through an array of mesmerizing visual effects and lush, dreamlike Technicolor camerawork. One could hear the packed audience’s collective gasp during the extended sequence.

“The Red Shoes” is now available on Criterion Collection Blu-ray and DVD.

The Tampa Theatre Summer Classics series concludes on Sunday with a presentation of the 1924 silent film adaptation of “Peter Pan.”

For more information on the theater and its upcoming schedule, visit tampatheatre.org.