The full-evening work blends elements of the Hans Christian
Anderson tale "The Red Shoes" and the 1948 Michael Powell and
Emeric Pressurger film of the same name with a portrayal of the
short and dramatic life of Danish ballerina Elna Lassen. Lassen
was one of the most talented dancers of the 1920s in Europe and a
beloved principal of the Royal Danish Ballet until she took her own
life at the age of twenty-nine.
The central character of the story is Ella, a beautiful young girl who
is introduced to the world of ballet by her manic mother who at one
time dreamed of being a dancer herself. Ella excels in class where
all her teachers vie for her talent. After graduating, Ella goes off to
look for work and meets the charming, flirtatiously seductive Dr.
Mann who introduces her to the world of fashion and glamour and
presents her with her first pair of red shoes. Ellaís career,
stage-managed by Dr. Mann, soars and she becomes the darling of
the press and public. Her relationship with Dr. Mann, however, is
less certain. He is a faithless lover and Ella is no match for her rival,
the cold and elegant Lady W. When Ella has an unsettling
performance at a local music hall, her spirits tumble. She finds
herself on the verge of collapse, physically and mentally. Dr. Mann
persuades her to make a comeback tour but he places her in a
venue that ill-suits her classical talents. After a second disastrous
performance experience, Ella retreats to Dr. Mannís apartment.
She dresses in his clothes, lies down on the bed and shoots herself
with a small revolver. The final scene of the ballet takes place at her
funeral. Ellaís mourners include the press, her fans, grieving ballet
artists, and a young girl who plays at gathering red rose petals to
decorate her little white ballet shoes.
Scene 1: The School Playground
The young schoolgirl Ella makes a flying entry into the playground,
where she is welcomed enthusiastically by her friends. She is a natural
focus in both work and games, but she also likes to seek out dreaming
solitude. After school she is fetched by her parents.
Scene 2: Ella's Home
At home with Mother and Father, Ella loves to express herself in her
own imaginative natural dance. Ellaís mother wants her to take
lessons in the fine art of ballet.
Scene 3: The Dancing School and Different Forms of Artistic Expression
On the first day in the training studio, Ella experiences show
dancing, ballet and ragtime.
The singing teacher, schoolmaster and ballet teacher all vie for
Ellaís talent. In the end Ella chooses ballet.
Scene 4: Ella meets Dr. Mann
After graduating, Ella goes off to look for work and meets the
experienced, affluent Dr. Mann, who offers his assistance.
Scene 5: The Fashion Show
Ella is at a fashion show with Dr. Mann and can choose whatever she wants.
She is delighted by the beautiful pair of red shoes that Dr. Mann
brings her. Before the eyes of the audience, Ella turns into a
captivating ballet and show dancer. The press is wild about the new star.
From the audience, the burning eyes of Lady W. are fixed on Dr. Mann.
Scene 6: The Train Station
Ella is on her way to the opera house, pursued enthusiastically by
paparazzi and fans. She is asked to demonstrate a few dance movements and pose for photographs.
As she exits the train station Lady W. again meets Dr. Mann, who invites her to sit in his box during Ella's performance.
Scene 7: The Opera House
Ella receives ovations and acclaim for her performance in the opera house.
Scene 8: The Music Hall
Dr. Mann has arranged for Ella to sing and dance at a music hall.
Apart from the ballet, in which Ella is supreme, she is on thin ice.
She can only sing a little, and surrounded by superficial circus and
variety numbers, her art cannot capture the attention of the jaded audience.
Dr. Mann arrives with Lady W. during Ellaís performance. After her
unsuccessful performance, and seeing Dr. Mannís indifference to
her, Ella leaves the stage, and the audience resumes their dancing.
In the end only Dr. Mann and Lady W. remain, dancing and embracing.
Ella, who is on the verge of collapse, sees the couple leave in the
distance, and throws the red shoes away. Suddenly, the flaming
Legs of Fire stands before her, and invites her to dance. With her
authority and charm she manipulates the terrified Ella, who flees,
leaving the stage to the showgirls, headed by Legs of Fire.
Scene 9: Ellaís and Dr. Mannís Bedroom
Ella is alone in the home she shares with Dr. Mann. Anxious and
depressed, she falls into a deep sleep and dreams of her parents, her
old room and her early childhood. The flaming-red Legs of Fire appears,
too, as a disturbing figure in her dream. Dr. Mann comes home late at
night and sneaks into their bedroom. There he finds a
pair of red ballet shoes which he puts on the feet of the sleeping Ella.
The despairing young woman wakes up and to her horror sees the red shoes
on her feet. She tears them off and throws them after him.
One more Dr. Mann persuades he that she can make a comeback--and out
come the fine clothes. Ella is to dance again; perhaps not at the best
places, but dance she must and dance she will.
Scene 10: A Tavern -- The Big Comeback
A makeshift dance ensemble has been put together as a setting for Ellaís
comeback to the stage. A crowd of notabilities welcomes the group, and
Dr. Mannís impresario introduces Ella.
Ella does her most beautiful and original dance, but the setting and the
audience are far from appropriate. Misunderstood, Ella has to give up
and leave the city, ill and broken-down. Dr. Mann and Lady W. only
arrive after the dance ensemble has left, but are welcomed
enthusiastically by the public. It is a festival day in the city, and
the join in the celebration.
Scene 11: Dr. Mannís Bedroom
Ella visits Dr. Mannís apartment. In his bedroom she dresses up in
his clothes, remembering the good times they had together. Broken
down in body and mind, she has strange visions. Dr. Mann, Lady W.
and the Legs of Fire capture her. Death is her last resort. She lies
down on the bed with a pistol and shoots herself.
Scene 12: Ellaís Funeral
Ellaís audience gathers around her bier. Dr. Mann and Lady W. are
frozen out and have to leave the church. All that remain are the grieving
ballet artists, while the smiling Legs of Fire appears to a little girl
who plays at gathering red rose petals to color her little ballet shoes.