Review: An American in Paris ★★★★★ – A glorious evocation of the City of Light illuminates the stage

A lone figure limps into the light on a bare stage. Wounded in action, GI Adam Hochberg, confides his life, loves, hopes and fears and takes the audience back to newly-liberated Paris, 1945. David Seadon Young’s sardonic, worldly-wise American Jew in Paris is the first surprise in a show that adds depth to the light-as-air story of the much-loved film – without losing any of its charm and vitality.

Director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and book writer Craig Lucas collaborated to develop the story – Hochberg is one of three young men who become comrades – the ’Three Musketeers’ – all sharing one beloved object, gifted ballerina Lise Dassin (equally gifted ballerina, Royal Ballet principal Leanne Cope, proving she can sing and act, with all the delicate vulnerability of the film’s Leslie Caron). She too is Jewish, surviving the war hidden by the cultured family of her second admirer Henri Baurel (Haydn Oakley, all Parisian charm), though she hides her personal tragedy: her parents are missing after the Holocaust. Aficionados of the film will guess the third admirer is the American of the title, ebullient demob-happy GI Jerry Mulligan – breath-taking triple threat Robert Fairchild doing rather more than making the Gene Kelly role his own.

The creative team build on the film’s glorious ballet and lush Gershwin brothers’ score, with daring extended dance sequences performed by this multi-talented 18-strong ensemble, peopling a hopeful Paris striving for normality after the traumas of occupation. Alongside the joyful expression of freedom, there’s a telling moment, the shaming of a woman accused of sleeping with the enemy, all without a word of dialogue. Lucas’s book is wonderfully witty, though, and his rounded characters are a gift to actors such as Jane Asher, who is superb as bossy matriarch Madam Baurel, and Zoë Rainey, a revelation as the irresistible force that is Milo Davenport, socialite arts patroness extraordinaire (based on real-life inspirational Jewish art collector Peggy Guggenheim).

The numbers are subtly staged to reveal plot and character. Take the complementary numbers, one in each act, featuring that trio of musketeers yearning after Lise. They get to sing first '‘S Wonderful' and then 'They Can’t Take That Away from Me' and for each the lyrics mean something different and personal. Just 15 versatile musicians realise Bill Elliott’s expansive orchestrations.

The performers inhabit the extraordinary evocation of Paris conjured by designer Bob Crowley’s 3D streets, buildings and landmarks (realised by 59 Productions Projection Design), the City of Light living up to its name thanks to lighting designer Natasha Katz’s palate of complementary glowing colour. Crowley dresses everyone with lovely period detail, especially the ensemble – gorgeous glamour for those essential Parisian showgirls and sophistication for Asher and Rainey. A ravishing, life-affirming joy.

By Judi Herman

Photos by Johan Persson

An American in Paris is currently booking until Monday 30 October. 7.30pm (Mon- Sat), 2pm (Sat, Wed). £17.50-£125. Dominion Theatre, W1T 7AQ. 0845 200 7982.

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JR OutLoud: Bulgarian-born Dora Reisser tells her life story, from child refugee to prima ballerina and beyond

It’s Dora Reisser’s ability to reinvent herself – from child refugee to prima ballerina, actor, screen star and fashion designer – and in such nail-biting circumstances, that makes her memoir, Dora’s Story, so gripping.  Judi Herman visited Reisser at her remarkable London home (it used to be a railway station) to hear more of the stories behind her book, which begins with the little-known history of how Bulgaria’s Jews survived the Holocaust; and about her life in the UK and Israel, including an eye-opening account of how she started her Reisser fashion house – just one of the many new stories Reisser has that could fill a sequel.

Dora's Story by Dora Reisser is out on Troubador. £9.99.

Click here to listen to more from JR OutLoud.

Review: The Red Shoes ★★★★★ - Bourne’s transcendent storytelling ravishes the senses

theatre-the-red-shoes-ashley-shaw-victoria-page-and-sam-archer-boris-lermontov-photo-by-johan-persson To Powell and Pressburger go the plaudits for moulding Hans Andersen's fairy tale with its hard magic into an allegory of art versus life. To Bernard Herrman the plaudits for writing film music that brilliantly conjures mood and emotion, atmosphere and character. And to Matthew Bourne with his creative team, led by designer Lez Brotherston and composer/orchestrator Terry Davies and with his close-knit family of dancers, goes the glory for taking all this magic and distilling it into two hours of transcendent storytelling that ravishes the senses.

Filmmakers Michael Powell and Hungarian-Jewish refugee Emeric Pressburger met in 1939, at the London studios of Jewish movie mogul Alexander Korda. They formed a partnership that would produce lushly visual films with wonderfully-crafted stories, The Red Shoes, the magic realist A Matter of Life and Death, starring a dashing David Niven, the religious drama Black Narcissus, a vehicle for Deborah Kerr; and the time-travelling heroics of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (also starring Kerr, alongside Roger Livesey).

Bernard Herrmann was a giant among film composers, the go-to music man for Alfred Hitchcock, for whom he wrote scores including North by North West, Vertigo and Psycho. For Orson Wells he composed the music for Citizen Kane and for Truffaut for the dystopic sci-fi movie Fahrenheit 451. Now Herrmann is the go-to man for Bourne and Davies, who use music from Fahrenheit 451 and Citizen Kane and Herrmann's Oscar-winning The Ghost and Mrs Muir, as well as lesser-known, equally vivid Herrmann compositions. Davies' genius is in scoring the music for a small orchestra dominated by strings and keyboards, complemented by percussion, a glorious plangent sound that enhances mood and emotion, a gorgeous take on this period music that takes you into the world of men and women who live for their art.

A love triangle stands for the struggle between art and life. Aspiring ballerina Victoria Page succeeds in attracting the attention of ballet impresario supreme Boris Lermontov and becomes his protégée and his star – and the object of his affections. But she falls in love with his other protégé, gifted young composer Julian Craster – hence the pianos onstage as well as in the orchestra. Lermontov creates The Red Shoes ballet for Page, but its dark story of the shoes that force their wearer to dance to their tune proves dangerously prophetic as Craster and Lermontov face each other and Page struggles to balance her life in art with her desire for a real life.

The precarious balance between art and life is brilliantly realised by Brotherston's set – a grand pair of lush red velvet curtains, a proscenium arch framing the dancers in Lermontov's ballets, instantly conjuring period and cunningly conceived to swivel 90 degrees to reveal life backstage (complete with an audience mirroring us in our auditorium). Bourne and Brotherston brilliantly evoke mid 20th century dance companies, the tulle-clad prima ballerinas with their exotic 'Russian' names, the strutting male stars in tiny tunics atop tight white tights. Michele Meazza's Irina  Boronskaja is a terrific star turn supported (literally) by Liam Mower channelling the likes of Michael Somes, Margot Fonteyn's partner before Nureyev leapt into her life. It's a clever, affectionate pastiche.


Into this effete world pirouettes Ashley Shaw's Victoria Page, a youthful whirlwind of ambition and talent.  No wonder Dominic North's ardent Craster and Sam Archer's lordly Lermontov, so used to getting his own way, clash over her and what she comes to represent. This is such total theatre, that you almost think you have heard every word that passes between them, so vivid is the storytelling, so clear the allegory.

Bourne's recreation of the Red Shoes ballet is scarily exciting, graphically sucking in its heroine - and Page dancing the role. Brotherston's set is monochrome, a stunning homage to the avant garde of the period. The unsettling music from Fahrenheit 451 enhances the mood. We first see the red shoes framed by those proscenium curtains as the evening begins, lit so that Shaw wearing them is obscured. Now they seem to take on a terrifying life of their own, so that a tragic outcome to Page's story to mirror the ballet seems inevitable.

But meanwhile there are delicious delights to be had. Page's triumphant progress in the Ballet Lermontov takes her to continental France and the fun of dancers in bathing costumes playing beach ball. Her turn in a run-down East End music hall is preceded by a perfect - and perfectly hilarious - recreation of the Egyptian sand dance, complete with the eccentrics who created it, Wilson and Kepple (though not Betty, the girl who used to dance between them). And for us aficionados of music hall, the orchestra jauntily plays music hall standard Wot Cher!

Every member of the company clearly relishes creating multiple roles. And Brotherston's genius of course also extends to fabulous costumes that perfectly enhance the dance and play their part in the drama - the whole lit with a deep feel for every dramatic mood and moment by long-term collaborator Paule Constable. No wonder Bourne records his love and thanks to "the entire New Adventures family" in the programme. Their closeness and shared creativity achieve a total triumph.

By Judi Herman

Photos by Johan Persson

The Red Shoes runs until Sunday 29 January. 7.30pm (Tue-Sat), 7pm (15 & 26 Dec only), 2.30pm (Sat), 2pm & 7pm (Sun, except 25 Dec & 1 Jan). Sold Out (phone for returns). Sadler’s Wells, Rosebery Av, EC1R 4TN. 020 7863 8000.

Then touring: New Victoria Theatre, Woking, 31 Jan-4 Feb; Birmingham Hippodrome 7 - 11 Feb; Milton Keynes Theatre, 14-18 Feb; Theatre Royal, Norwich, 21-25 Feb; Theatre Royal Nottingham, 7-11 Mar; Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, 14-18 Mar; The Mayflower, Southampton, 21-25 Mar; The Alhambra, Bradford, 28 Mar-1 Apr; Bristol Hippodrome, 4-9 Apr; New Wimbledon Theatre, 11-15 Apr; The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, 25-29 Apr; Theatre Royal Newcastle, 2-6 May; Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, 9-14 May; Curve Leicester, 16-20 May; Wycombe Swan, 13-17 Jun.

For further details and to book visit

Two consecutive evenings, two talented young Israeli performing artists, both with so much to offer



I rounded off October by spending two consecutive evenings being excited and challenged by the work of two talented young Israeli performing artists, both with so much to offer. Niv Petel is heartbreaking in Knock Knock, his beautifully nuanced account of a devastating situation faced by too many Israeli families, and Hagit Yakira attracted full houses for her exciting new work Free Falling.

Petel is an extraordinary physical actor, wonderfully convincing as a devoted mother whose son is the centre of her life. An engaging and important contribution to our understanding of life in Israel. And at Sadler’s Wells last week, dancer/choreographer Yakira presented four talented performers falling and recovering again as they take what life throws at them. Supporting each other, their eyes and faces as important as the rest of their bodies as they look out for each other. In a beguiling add on, three more dance artists responded to Free Falling – including full audience participation on the studio floor, everyone linked in a joyful dance – a sort of Hora at Sadler’s Wells, which makes Israeli dance so welcome. Niv Petel and Hagit Yakira are certainly names to watch.

Continue through the blog to read our reviews of Knock Knock and Free Falling, as well as an interview with Niv Petel, or click the names to go straight to each one.

by Judi Herman

A Report on Free Falling, the new show from Israeli dancer/choreographer Hagit Yakira at Sadler’s Wells



Hagit Yakira attracted full houses for her exciting new work, four talented performers falling, recovering and supporting each other, as they take what life throws at them. Their eyes and faces are as important as the rest of their bodies as they look out for each other. Yakira says she invites her audience “to experience the unravelling of real life experiences”. What I loved, though, was the synthesis – the building up of the elements that make up this seemingly simple but actually complex work performed on a vast bare stage.

One eloquent male dancer repeatedly falls and rights himself, while uttering the words "fall" and "recover". He’s joined by a second male dancer, full of solicitude for his partner, whom he repeatedly lifts and allows to slip away. A female dancer joins them and composer and multi-instrumentalist Sabio Janiak adds his serenely plangent music to the mix. A second female dancer makes a quartet and all four display the same solicitude for whichever of them is falling – clearly making recovery possible, not just by supporting them physically, but with the empathy in their expressions. I thought of the motto of the Three Musketeers (with D’Artagnan also four of course): “All for one and one for all”. The space is vast but they crisscross through it all. Janiak adds percussion too – and sometimes takes away his music leaving just the dancers in their loose, pastel clothes. It's moving, telling, soothing, startling and always engaging. The dancers are Sophie Arstall, Fernando Belsara, Stephen Moynihan and Verena Schneider.



In a beguiling addition, three dance artists respond to Free Falling – a different trio each night. The night I went there was a considered response from Dr Emma Dowling on video and an immediate response from Rosemary Lee, a choreographer and creator of extraordinary large-cast community pieces for dancers of all ages. It was fascinating to compare Dr Dowling’s conscientious onscreen response with Rosemary’s joyful movement through the space, retracing the footsteps of the dancers and throwing down pages from her notebook in response to what she had seen and experienced in each spot.

Between these two came the response from dancer Rachel Krische, drawing on the movement quality choreographed by Yakira for the quartet, but relating to members of the audience – using them as her dance partners, first touching, then asking for more – for support and the intertwining of limbs. And finally, gloriously climaxing in full audience participation on the studio floor – everyone linked in a joyful dance – a sort of Hora at Sadler’s Wells, which makes Israeli dance so welcome. Hagit Yakira is a name to watch – and JR will be watching out for more Israeli dance at Sadler’s Wells.

By Judi Herman

Photos by Loy Olsen and Kiraly Saint Claire

Free Falling was presented as part of Wild Card, a series of specially curated evenings at Sadler's Wells Theatre from a new generation of dance makers, bringing fresh perspectives to the stage.

To read more about Hagit Yakira and Free Falling, click here