film, not a book

Not a Book: The Red Shoes

Let’s continue the overarching themes of this month again – with some ballet and some theatre in a classic film.

The Red Shoes is all about a ballerina’s dedication to her art being tested by an impresario forcing her to chose between her career and love. Moira Shearer’s Vicky Page is plucked from obscurity to be the lead role in a new ballet, based on the Hans Christian Andersen story of the Red Shoes. But at the same time she’s secretly falling in love with a composer who is working with the country. And so it begins. I’m not spoiling the rest of it.

Made in 1948, it’s frequently on lists of the best British films ever – it got a bunch of Oscar nominations at the time and its reputation has only increased since then. It’s one of the sequence of Powell and Pressburger films from that period – coming after the adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Black Narcissus which is one of the other really well known ones. It’s also packed full of real ballet dancers – so you can see Robert Helpmann in a role that’s not the Child Catcher!

For me, when I first saw it the opening ballet class and performance sequences showed me exactly what I had imagined Veronica’s life at the Wells to be like. The film is from just a couple of years before the first Sadlers Wells book was published – I think Moira Shearer even gets a mention in one of them – although obviously Veronica is a child and Vicky is already a trained dancer, and Veronica and Sebastian’s… situation has a positive resolution!

A couple of years back, Matthew Bourne turned the film into a ballet, using the amazing score. I saw it on it it’s first tour and it’s proper good. New Adventures rotate through their shows, and it was touring when Covid started and everything stopped, so it might be a while before it’s on stage again – but it’s worth seeing when it is. But in the meantime, you can just go an watch the original film, which was restored in 2009 and looks amazing. It’s on BritBox if you have that, or you can buy it on DVD. It also comes around on TV reasonably regularly – often around Christmas.

Happy Sunday everyone – if it’s a bank holiday where you are, I hope you’re enjoying it.

books, Children's books, Series I love

Children’s Bookshelf: The Drina books

Paperback books in the Drina series
It took 20 years – but I finally have a matching set

I know exactly when I got my first Drina book – because when my mum gives people books, she always writes a message in them.  She gave me Ballet for Drina in June 1991 – when I was seven – to read while she was in hospital for an operation.  In the front she wrote that it was one of her favourite books when she was little – and I loved it as well from the moment I first read it and wanted the rest of the books in the series.  Several of the others in the series have inscriptions in them marking them as being holiday books from various trips around the south coast.  I’ve had the whole set since I was about 14 – but a couple of them didn’t match (smaller size! Different cover style!) and thanks to the wonders of eBay I got the “missing” matching books last year and was finally able to put them in order without the fretting over the fact that they didn’t look right!  As you can see they’re all very well-loved  – except Drina, Ballerina, one of the new additions, but I can assure you that my old copy is practically falling apart further down the shelf.

The Drina books are responsible for my childhood dream of being a ballerina – a dream which lead eight-year-old me to try to sew my own pointe shoes from an old cotton shirt from the ragbag, some loo roll and some hair ribbons!  Drina is also responsible for some notable mispronunciations in my vocabulary – from the say-it-how-you-see-it school of reading – to this day I still struggle to pronounce Igor as Eegor rather than Eye-gor. Particularly because my stepgran had a beautiful Persian Blue called eegor that I used to feed when I went to visit and I always associate names with the first person/animal I knew with that name…

For those of you who haven’t read the series, it’s the story of Andrina Adamo – known as Drina – an orphan who is being brought up by her grandparents and who finds out when she starts ballet lessons in the first book that her mother was actually famous ballerina, who was killed in a plane crash along with her husband on a flight to New York where she was due to dance.  Drina is desperate to be a ballet dancer – but wants to succeed on her own without any help (or hindrance) from her famous mother’s name.  At the start of the second book the family move to London for her grandfather’s job and Drina starts at ballet school.  The rest of the series follows Drina’s trials and tribulations in her quest to succeed – including overcoming her grandmother’s reluctance to let her follow in her mother’s footsteps,  twisted ankles, school rivalries, her grandfather’s health problems which lead to her having to spend time away from her training and falling in love (at 14) with a glamourous New Yorker a couple of years older than her called Grant.

It’s hard to pick favourites – but I think mine are Drina Dances Again – where she plays Little Clara in The Nutcracker and Mr Dominick and Madame Volonaise find out Drina’s closely guarded secret about her mother’s identity; Drina Dances in Paris – where Drina goes to dance in The Nutcracker in Paris and Grant (the New Yorker) comes to visit her, Drina Dances on Tour – where her big secret finally comes out, she joins the company, experiences what it’s like to be in the corps de ballet and where Grant arrives in London and comes to find her and Drina, Ballerina which sees the series end with her dancing her mother’s most famous role and marrying Grant.

Looking back at what I’ve written, it sounds like a very far-fetched tale, but then how many children’s stories aren’t! I read them over and over when I was younger, and even as a teenager when I was poorly I’d get out my Drina books and start reading them all over again.  Even today, just flicking through them so that I could write this post I’ve come over with the urge to sit down with them and have another read.

Looking at Amazon, I don’t think they’re in print anymore – which is a real shame – because there are still as many ballet mad little girls out there as there always were.

But that does lead me to another thought that has crossed my mind more than once – I am part of the last generation who will read these sort of stories and be able to see my own life in them?  For all that Ballet for Drina was written in 1957, it was very similar to my own life – a world with no mobile phones or home computers and where most houses only had one TV – although flying wasn’t the big deal that it was in Drina and liners had stopped being a method of getting to New York by the early 90s.  The same applies to a lot of the school stories I used to read (many of which I’m sure I’ll post about in due course) – the only difference between my life and theirs was that their trains ran on coal and that they called maths arithmetic.  Will today’s children – who’ve grown up with smart phones, iPads, laptops, the internet and Playstations be able to buy into these stories the same way?  I hope so, because I know how much enjoyment and knowledge I got from them when I was little.