Star ballerina ‘was quite otherworldly’

Moira Shearer, a British ballerina who rose to worldwide prominence with the lead role in the 1948 film The Red Shoes, has died, her husband said on Wednesday. She was 80.

Shearer died on Tuesday at the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford, southern England, said her husband, the journalist and broadcaster Ludovic Kennedy. He said she had been weak since her birthday last month, but did not reveal the cause of her death.

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

But it was as the young ballerina Victoria Page in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s film The Red Shoes that the dancer caught the world’s attention.

”She was full of spirit and also she was very beautiful. She moved wonderfully, gracefully as you would expect of a ballet dancer,” Kennedy told reporters.

The film, loosely based on a Hans Christian Andersen story, is celebrated for offering an 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.

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.

Though she took roles in later films — including Pressburger’s The Tales of Hoffmann in 1951 and Powell’s 1960 thriller Peeping Tom — Shearer remained ambivalent toward the medium, preferring to focus on dance.

”The ballet was the thing to which she was really committed. The film industry was a bit of a distraction,” Kennedy said. ”She was quite otherworldly. She didn’t have a commitment, if you look, in herself to making films, but she had a total commitment to ballet.”

Alistair Spalding, artistic director of Sadler’s Wells, said the company — from which Shearer retired in 1953 — was 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,” he said. ”Moira had also become such an icon of the ballet world.”

Shearer is also survived by her four children with Kennedy.

Funeral arrangements and the memorial service were still being arranged. — Sapa-AP

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