Young college rush to get the best seats in the balcony as if they were going to see the Beatles in 1964. They clamber over chairs to gain the best position for the opportunity to hear the music of their professor in the new ballet “Heart of Fire” Most are there not for the purpose of hearing, but seeing: the great Boronskaya is dancing the lead role. Overshadowing them both is the great ballet impresario Lermontov.
A pretty young dancer—Vicky Page--who is currently an unknown but fortunate enough to have aristocratic relatives with influences manages to get invited to the party in a ruse designed to snag an audition for the brilliant but mercurial Boris Lermontov. Meanwhile, the rowdy students have realized that their esteemed Professor has apparently stolen his score for the ballet from one of his own pupils: Julian Craster.
Lermontov agrees to hire Vicky into his company after watching her dance in Swan Lake and hires Julian to compose the score for his next ballet after a confrontation convinces him that he is the true creator of the “Heart of Fire” music.
When Boronskaya abandons Lermontov to get married, he begins the process of molding Vicky into his next great protégé. Meanwhile, Julian’s experience has been less that of the big break he was hoping for as a composer and more that of a hired hand with a baton in it coaching the orchestra. Part of the plan to transform Vicky into the next Boronskaya will be to make her the featured player of his next production, The Red Shoes. Craster is approached with a new job that is better than coaching the orchestra if not quite the same as creating an all-new composition. The score for The Red Shoes has already been written by Felipe Bertran and was performed on the company’s South American tour the year before. Lermontov has not revived the show because the score is quite bad and he turns the job of improving it to Julian
When Julian turns in his edited version, he is chastised for not recognizing that even parts not already blue-penciled for editing should be open to editing when recognized as not working. From this chastisement comes an entirely new addition to the ballet that Julian performs. When “The Dance of the Red Shoes” concludes, he is handed the task of creating an entirely new score from scratch that builds upon what he has just played.
By the time the premier of the new version of The Red Shoes arrives, every creative head in the company has complained about something and the nervous energy that drives the last minute rehearsals is crackling like electricity. The unparalleled success of the show makes Vicky and Julian overnight superstars. Lermontov tells Vicky he wants her to dance all the great roles and Julian to compose new ones.
Lermontov’s growing romantic attraction to Vicky threatens the success, however, when he makes the uncharacteristic mistake of allowing his emotions to cloud his artistic judgment. When Julian comes to him with his latest composition, Lermontov rejects it as aesthetically unworthy even though it is obviously one of the best things Julian has created. When Lermontov fires Julian, Vicky goes with him, abandoning him just like Boronskaya by marrying the composer.
In London, Julian begins work on an opera, but Vicky is not allowed to dance because she is still under exclusive contract to Lermontov. Lermontov shows up with an offer to release her from that binding and allow her to dance wherever she would like, but on one condition.
She can never dance The Red Shoes again as he retains all the rights, including Julian’s music.
Later, Vicky is visiting her influential relative in Monte Carlo when she is confronted by Lermontov aboard a train. He manages to convince her to return to the company for a revival of The Red Shoes. Julian show up in her dressing room straight from the premiereof his opera about Cupid and Psyche. He was to conduct the orchestra himself, but as excuse is announced about his health and another conductor is his substitute as he races to reclaim Vicky and take her home. Lermontov shows up and suggest that Vicky won’t be going back with Julian because she has left him. When she start to argue, Lermontov explains that the struggle within Vicky has always been between art and love and her art has clearly won by virtue of her dancing on the night her husband’s opera premiered.
Conflicted, confused and clearly manipulated by Lermontov, Vicky is at a loss for what is the right decision to make. Julian makes it for her by leaving along for the train station while Lermontov’s consolation is merely more manipulation to get her to dance.
Vicky is being led to the stage, wearing the red shoes, when suddenly an impulse grips her and she runs full-speed from the theater and toward Julian who waiting on the train platform. When he spots, he runs toward her. Vicky suddenly leaps from the balcony only to fall straight right onto the track as a train swift approaches.
Lermontov takes the stage before an expectant audience and announces that Vicky will be unable to perform her role in The Red Shoes tonight. Indeed, she will never be able to dance any role in any ballet ever again. Covered in blood and close to death, Vicky whispers to Julian to remove the red shoes from her feet.