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‘Red Shoes’ actress Shearer dies at 80

The ballerina-actress created an international sensation in the 1948 film
/ Source: The Associated Press

Moira Shearer, the ballerina and actress whose debut film, “The Red Shoes,” created an international sensation in 1948, has died, her husband said Wednesday. She was 80.

Shearer died Tuesday at the John Radcliffe Hospital, in Oxford, said her husband, Ludovic Kennedy. 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.

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.