Moira Shearer: Portrait of a Dancer
By Pigeon Crowle
Pittman Publishing Company, 1950
"The Red Shoes (1948) ruined my career in the ballet."
Moira Shearer was a contemporary of not-yet Dame Margot Fonteyn in the Sadler's Wells Ballet (now the Royal Ballet) from 1942 to 1952, While still a member of the company, she reluctantly accepted the starring role for which she is best remembered, Victoria Page, in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's classic, The Red Shoes.
Although most of us who've seen the film believe she made the right decision, Shearer regretted playing Vicky for the rest of her life, because it portrayed the life of a ballerina in such a negative light. Her appearance in the film also caused audiences and peers alike to take her less seriously as a dancer, the very concern she expressed when considering the role. But she was persuaded by the ballet company director that whatever fame she would get from the film would benefit the company, which turned out to be true. And we have the added benefit of getting to see Moira's Shearer's beautiful 22-year-old person and flaming red hair forever, whether she liked it or not.
Shearer left the ballet at the age of 27 and went on to make a handful of interesting films before retiring to raise the four children she had with Ludovic Kennedy, an investigative reporter and television journalist, whom she married in 1950, In the 1970s she was a member of various UK art councils (even hosting the 1972 wackathon that is The Eurovision Song Contest) and toured the United States giving lectures on the history of ballet.
In her spare time, she wrote Balletmaster: A Dancer's View of George Ballanchine (1986) and wrote a regular book review column for The Daily Telegraph.
I love ballet when I think of it, which means I'm not in any way a connoisseur, but what little I know of it and why it's important and why it makes me feel things, is because of Moira Shearer, Powell & Pressburger, and The Red Shoes. I saw the film when I was a little girl and it is probably the reason I didn't go kicking and screaming to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center to see the American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet when I was a tweeny brat. Thank god, because at the time, Gelsey Kirkland and Mikhail Baryshnikov were principals, and we didn't always just have lawn seats.
In addition to grace and beauty, Moira Shearer was a fine actress with subtle, sweet comic timing. I'm sorry she hated movies so much, because it would good to have a broader record of her talent.
Moira Shear died in January 2006, shortly after her 80th birthday with her husband of 56 years at her side.
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