After enchanting audiences across the country, we caught up with principal dancer Ashley Shaw, the leading lady of Sir Matthew Bourne’s renowned production of The Red Shoes
Having flown half way across the world from Australia at the age of 15 to undergo intense training at Birmingham’s Elmhurst Ballet School, Ashley Shaw’s infectious passion for dance shines through as we speak to her.
This July, she’s set to return to the place that she already knows and loves to stun the city’s audiences, playing the role of Victoria Page in Sir Matthew Bourne’s Olivier Award-winning reinvention of the iconic film The Red Shoes.
Due to phenomenal demand, The Red Shoes is returning to Birmingham Hippodrome following the success of its first sell-out run back in February. “It’s absolutely incredible, we get standing ovations every night,” Ashley beams. “It’s quite surreal, we’re really lucky to get that.”
Capturing the essence of the original film was something that both the cast and crew of Bourne’s dance company, New Adventures, felt was fundamental to the recreation of the film, as Ashley points out. “It’s a story that’s so well-loved, but there was a lot of pressure to do it justice when I first started performing it.”
This pressure, Ashley tells us, is something that she has felt throughout the whole run, but it hasn’t tarnished her experience of playing Victoria. To her it’s a risk that has clearly paid off, given the success of the production.
Ashley makes it clear that the anticipation of performing to audiences across the UK has simply added to the excitement, “It’s the most incredible role I’ve ever played. I think this is definitely a highlight of my career.”
But this doesn’t come without its challenges. “It’s physically one of the hardest roles I’ve ever done,” she continues.
It’s incredibly satisfying to give it my everything on stage. It’s an amazing feeling.
“It completely wears me out every night and emotionally it’s really tough. But, it’s incredibly satisfying to give it my everything on stage. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Living up to Moira Shearer’s role in the original film has only added to the pressure, as the Academy Award-winning movie is an obvious comparison to this new, contemporary dance adaption. A story of heartache and obsession, The Red Shoes explores young Victoria’s struggle between her two passions; dance and her composer, Julian.
“It’s heavily based on the original screenplay, but there are some things that are hard to portray without dialogue, so we’ve put our own spin on it,” Ashley explains. “It’s quite an intense, dramatic story but beautifully set in the backdrop of a ballet company in 1948. The costumes and set are just phenomenal.”
Having toured with Sir Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures for the past eight years, Ashley has adapted to life on the road. However, logistically the constantly changing performance spaces can be difficult to adjust to. With each new venue comes new surroundings and different audiences. “In some theatres the audience is further away and that really changes how you perform the show. Some are more intimate and others you have to project more,” Ashley says.
As we continue to talk to Ashley, she speaks openly and confidently about a production that she has been heavily involved in from the very beginning. “Being part of a creation is so exciting,” she tells us. “The whole rehearsal period means you really get to have your say and that’s really special as opposed to just being told to do choreography.”
No stranger to the city, Ashley holds both Birmingham and Elmhurst Ballet School close to her heart to this day. “I absolutely love performing in Birmingham,” Ashley says. “It’s amazing to go back to the Hippodrome, it feels a bit like home. It’s really nice to have my teachers from Elmhurst come and watch the show too, I feel very proud to be on that stage. I watched so many companies perform there over the years and it was always everyone’s goal to be up there dancing.”
Now living her dream, Ashley looks back to a time when she herself was sat in the audience at Birmingham Hippodrome as a teenager with fond memories. It was actually there that her interest in Sir Matthew Bourne initially sparked. “In my second year at Elmhurst they took us to see his production of
“In my second year at Elmhurst they took us to see his production of The Car Man, it was the first show I’d seen of the company, and I was just blown away by their work. I hadn’t even heard of New Adventures before then but after seeing the show I did loads of research, applied to audition and got accepted for Swan Lake.”
Keen to give back to a city that she calls a “second home”, Ashley hopes to visit her old school and offer her expertise to aspiring dancers. She acknowledges her success, but speaks highly of the support she received here.
“I quite often go back and teach workshops. The last time I was in the city, myself and another dancer went to Birmingham Children’s Hospital to see the children, and we took along the red ballet shoes from the show with us which was really lovely.”
“I’m always so excited to return to Birmingham. The Hippodrome is so lovely and the audiences are very cultured. We actually feel a pressure coming to Birmingham, they’re a very knowing audience.”