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'Red Shoes' Ballerina Moira Shearer


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'Red Shoes' Ballerina Moira Shearer

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Moira Shearer

LONDON, England - Moira Shearer, the ballerina and actress whose debut film, "The Red Shoes," created an international sensation in 1948, died Tuesday, January 31, at the John Radcliffe Hospital, in Oxford, according to her husband, Ludovic Kennedy. She was 80. He said she had become weak since her birthday last month, but did not reveal the cause of death.

Shearer, born in Dunfermline, Scotland, became principal dancer at London's famous Sadler's Wells in 1942 and won her first major role in 1946, playing Sleeping Beauty at London's Royal Opera House.

A stunning redhead, she won her the role as the doomed dancer Victoria in "The Red Shoes," directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. It was a huge international hit and was nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture. It won Oscars for Best Art Direction and Best Music.

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Moira Shearer

The film, loosely based on a Hans Christian Andersen story, is celebrated for its rich use of color and the intimate view of backstage life in the world of ballet. Shearer's character becomes a great star but is torn between her love for a young composer and her career, which is guided by a jealous impresario. The film contained a complete ballet danced by Shearer and others.

Though she took roles in later films -- including Powell and Pressburger's "The Tales of Hoffmann" in 1951 and Powell's 1960 thriller, "Peeping Tom" -- Shearer remained ambivalent toward films, preferring to focus her efforts on dance. "The ballet was the thing to which she was really committed -- the film industry was a bit of a distraction," Kennedy said.

Alistair Spalding, artistic director of Sadler's Wells, said members of the company were saddened by news of her death. "She was deeply connected with the history of Sadler's Wells. She started her career here and danced and toured with the Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet," said Spalding.

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'Red Shoes' Ballerina Moira Shearer

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Moira Shearer

LONDON, England - Moira Shearer enjoyed three successful careers. She was a ballerina, an actress and, later on in life, a spirited newspaper columnist. Married to the broadcaster Ludovic Kennedy, she also starred in the ballet film, "The Red Shoes."

In 1946, Moira Shearer was just beginning to do the big classics at Covent Garden, in her words, "every classical ballerina's dream." To concentrate on her stage career, Shearer initially refused the lead role in film director Michael Powell's new movie, "The Red Shoes."

After a whole year of resistance, she finally succumbed to Powell's overtures when Ninette de Valois, the founder and head of the Sadlers Wells Ballet, advised her to take the part. Shearer would not regret her decision. The film, by far the most popular ballet film ever made, made Shearer one of the best known ballerinas in the world.

De Valois' Influence

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Moira Shearer

Born in Dunfermline in 1926, Moira Shearer began to dance at the age of six. She made her debut with the International Ballet in 1941, and joined the Sadlers Wells Ballet School the following year.

In 1946, she not only danced the leads in "Sleeping Beauty," "Swan Lake" and "Coppelia" for the first time, but also created one of the roles in Frederick Ashton's masterpiece, "Symphonic Variations."

In advising Shearer to take part in her first film, Ninette de Valois was not acting entirely unselfishly. She hoped the movie would be great publicity for her ballet company, which was planning a coast-to-coast tour of the United States.

Acting Career

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Moira Shearer

And so it proved. Shearer was already famous in the States, when she toured the country with the Sadlers Wells Ballet, first in 1949, and then again in 1950. Moira Shearer married journalist and broadcaster Kennedy in 1950, and they had four children. She stayed with the Sadlers Wells Ballet until 1953, when she hung up her ballet shoes, but continued to act.

She was Titania in the Old Vic's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Edinburgh Festival in 1954, and toured as Sally Bowles in "I Am a Camera" in 1955. Other films included "The Man Who Loved Redheads" and "The Tales of Hoffmann." Then, after a 20-year gap, she was in "The Cherry Orchard" at Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum Theatre in 1977.

Multi-Skilled

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Moira Shearer

She hosted the 1972 "Eurovision Song Contest," which was held in Edinburgh. In 1987, she returned to ballet in "A Simple Man," playing L S Lowry's mother in a BBC production marking the centenary of the artist's birth.

Shearer lectured on ballet and gave poetry and prose recitals around the world. She worked briefly as a radio announcer in the early 1980s, and wrote for the Daily Telegraph, expressing often fearless views.

Moira Shearer's lasting fame, however, was mostly for her performance in the film, "The Red Shoes." The critics agreed on her charm and beauty in the role. The New York Star described the best sequences of the film as those in which the leading lady appears, "a delicate, red-haired sprite full of modesty and grace, whose dancing is light, flame and spirit."

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