Red Shoes Messengers
As pre-teen girl in the 1950s, I saw and was deeply affected by the 1948 movie The Red Shoes, directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. It tells of a young and talented ballerina, Vicki; her possessive and tyrannical impressario Lermontov; and her lover, Julian, a composer whom Lermontov commissions to write the music for the new "The Red Shoes" ballet. In a very long and beautifully staged sequence, Vicki dances "The Red Shoes" and is on her way to becoming a star. When she and Julian marry, the jealous Lermontov fires them both. Time passes and Vicki pays a visit to her former ballet troupe in Monte Carol. Lermontov offers her the chance to dance "The Red Shoes" once again. In the meantime, Julian is scheduled to conduct the opening night of his latest composition in London. Just as Vicki has laced her red ballet shoes, preparing to go on stage, Julian appears and demands that she come with him. Unable to choose between her passion for dance (which fuels her career) and her marriage, she freezes. Then, her red ballet shoes take over: they carry her down the hall and out through the open French doors, onto the open balcony that overlooks the railroad tracks below. Vicki leaps over the balustrade onto the tracks while the oncoming train screeches to a halt. Her dying wish is that Julian remove her red shoes.
The final scene of this movie burned itself into my young mind along with its own cautionary message: a woman must choose between love and work, or rather in this case between two loves: love for her husband and love of dancing, of her art, her calling. 'You can't be a wife and an artist' is the message that I and many thousands of other women got. Being an artistic girl, I took that message as a challenge. I learned over the following years that some women were, in fact, able to combine their careers with their family life, even though it was not always easy. By the time I was in my late 20s I had become a feminist, determined to make it easier for women to do their creative work as well as be nurturing wives and mothers if they wished. Even today, among women of all ages, The Red Shoes movie remains unforgettable.
In my painting, the woman is free to fly barefoot through the sky. She is greeted by messengers who offer her many different kinds of red shoes to wear when she chooses to land on the ground. The skeleton is a reminder that life is risky; that one does not stay young forever. The skeleton is holding up a red, hand-sewn shoe as a reminder of the "self-made life" Pinkola-Estés discusses in Women Who Run with the Wolves. The flimsy shoe on the skeleton's foot represents the kind of shoes that make women physically vulnerable, prone to slipping and falling, unable to stand on their own two feet. Wearing them, the women are deemed 'sexy'. And, as we learn from many of the world's great stories, sexual power is not to be taken lightly.