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The Rise of the Ballet Shoe

Photo of On Pointe Exhibit, 2008 On Pointe: The Rise of the Ballet Shoe With little more than their own strength and stamina, ballerinas rise on pointe and thrill their audiences with their skill and grace. The ability to rise on pointe is facilitated by the one tool used by dancers, the pointe shoe. However, the pointe shoe was not always an integral part of ballet. Over the past two centuries, it has evolved allowing dancers to perform ever greater feats of athleticism and inspiring choreographers to push the boundaries of dance. Indeed, the evolution of the pointe shoe has transformed the very discipline of ballet itself.
Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova in The Swan by Mikhail Fokine, 1908-1909, Berlin.
The great Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova (1881-1931) is credited with dancing in the first modern pointe shoes. At the turn of the 20th century, pointe shoes where often quite tapered at the tip, but Pavlova preferred to dance on wider ‘platforms’, as the tips of pointe shoes are called. She made the alterations to her pointe shoes herself by adding a thick piece of sole leather inside the pointe, widening it to her liking. While on tour in the United States, she approached Salvatore Capezio (1871-1940) and asked him to make her a custom pair of pointe shoes. He fulfilled her requirements perfectly and went on to be her exclusive shoemaker. Although she was derided for wearing pointe shoes with wider platforms, which some saw as cheating, her design went on to become the standard throughout the ballet world. Next
The great Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova (1881-1931) is credited with dancing in the first modern pointe shoes. At the turn of the 20th century, pointe shoes where often quite tapered at the tip, but Pavlova preferred to dance on wider ‘platforms’, as the tips of pointe shoes are called. She made the alterations to her pointe shoes herself by adding a thick piece of sole leather inside the pointe, widening it to her liking. While on tour in the United States, she approached Salvatore Capezio (1871-1940) and asked him to make her a custom pair of pointe shoes. He fulfilled her requirements perfectly and went on to be her exclusive shoemaker. Although she was derided for wearing pointe shoes with wider platforms, which some saw as cheating, her design went on to become the standard throughout the ballet world.

Ballet_BG_2 The Fashion for Ballet In the 17th and 18th centuries, ballet dancers wore the fashionable footwear of their day even if it was a hindrance, rather than a help, to their movements. In the early part of the 19th century this changed. High heels went out of fashion and thin satin flats with ties became the style. Dancers, like other women, began to wear this style of footwear and found the new fashion to be conducive to dancing. In fact, these slippers worked so well that dancers kept on wearing flat-soled slippers even after the style went out of mainstream fashion. Male ballet dancers also adopted a leather version of this footwear and continue to wear it today. Most examples of women’s footwear in both the 18th and early 19th centuries are straights, meaning that the shoes do not have lefts or rights. The symmetry of line created by straights continues to be of aesthetic importance in the making of ballet shoes. Fashion Plate. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, P81.171 La Barbarina, Barbara Campanini c.1745. De Luan / Alamy Stock Photo. Back Next

Ballet_BG_2 This silk brocade shoe would have been worn by an upper-class woman around the turn of the 18th century. English, c.1700. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, P88.107 Back Next P88.107

Ballet_BG_2 Leather footwear such as this pink shoe was worn by fashionable women for daywear in the early part of the 19th century. They were made as straights. English, 1820-30. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, P87.84 Back Next P87.84

Ballet_BG_2 This white silk evening shoe was owned by American, Lucy B. Lowell. Made in France and sold in England, c. 1855. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, P86.215 Back Next P86.215

Ballet_BG_3 Ballet in the Romantic Age: The Origin of the Pointe Shoe By the end of the 18th century, ballet had transformed from an elegant court art to a discipline that required greater athleticism. Included among the new feats of ballet d’action was the ability to rise en pointe, which meant all of the dancer’s weight was supported on the tips of their toes. The earliest reference to going up en pointe dates to 1721/1722 ballet season at Lincoln’s Inn Fields when a Mr. Sandham thrilled audiences by going up on his toes. Later in the century, another male dancer named Pitrot also stunned audiences with his athletic prowess and ability to rise en pointe. Both of these dancers, however, performed their feats without the aid of specialized footwear. It wasn’t until the 19th century that dancing en pointe would become a standard part of ballet, performed specifically by ballerinas. Marie Taglioni (1804-1884) is often credited with being the first ballerina to dance en pointe in 1832 in the ballet La Sylphide, choreographed by her father Flippo Taglioni (1777 -1871). In order to do the demanding pointe work that her father’s choreography required, Marie darned the sides of her slippers so that her feet were better supported. These simple stitches mark the beginning of the pointe shoe. Marie Taglioni (fac. sig.) La sylphide: [Lithograph] A. E. Chalon, R. A. R. J. Lane, A. R. A. Printed by Graf & Soret. Back Next It wasn’t until the 19th century that dancing en pointe would become a standard part of ballet, performed specifically by ballerinas. Marie Taglioni (1804-1884) is often credited with being the first ballerina to dance en pointe in 1832 in the ballet La Sylphide, choreographed by her father Flippo Taglioni (1777 -1871). In order to do the demanding pointe work that her father’s choreography required, Marie darned the sides of her slippers so that her feet were better supported. These simple stitches mark the beginning of the pointe shoe. Marie Taglioni (fac. sig.) La sylphide: [Lithograph] A. E. Chalon, R. A. R. J. Lane, A. R. A. Printed by Graf & Soret

Ballet_BG_3 This green shoe was made by the same shoemaker who made ballerina Marie Taglioni’s shoes, Janssen of Paris. French, 1830s. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, P84.115 Back Next P84.115

Ballet_BG_1 From Slipper to Pointe Shoe As the 19th century progressed, innovations were made in the development of the pointe shoe. In many ways, the fashionable flat footwear of the early 19th century proved to be perfect for dance. It was lightweight, often made in luxurious satin and laced to the leg, securing the shoe to the foot. Unfortunately, simply darning the sides of fashionable footwear did not offer enough support. Over time, the toe of the ballet slipper was stiffened, or ‘blocked’, to allow dancers to stay on pointe for longer. However, it was not until the famous Italian ballerina Pierina Legnani (1863-1923) did an unprecedented 32 fouettes en pointe, which are highly technical quick turns, during a performance of Cinderella in 1893, that the sturdy pointe shoe was debuted, revolutionizing both ballet technique and choreography. The Dance Class by Edgar Degas, 1874. Back Next

Ballet_BG_1 The colour pink was a popular colour in the late 1820s and 1830s, as this silk shoe attests. Every detail of this shoe, from its straight shape, fashionable colour, luxurious silk, delicate ribbons and famous maker would have made it the height of fashion in the 1830s. Made by Parisian shoemaker Melnotte and sold in England, c. 1830s. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, P83.27 Back Next P83-0027

Ballet_BG_1 This contemporary pointe shoe from the Paris Opera ballet still shares many stylistic similarities with the footwear that originally inspired its design over 150 years ago, such as a pink silk upper, flat sole, straight last and squared throatline. This pointe shoe was worn by Janine Stanlowa, prima ballerina of the Paris Opera Ballet and donated to the Bata Shoe Museum in 1997. French, c.1997.
Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, P97.107 Back Next
P97.107

Ballet_BG_2 Tool of the Trade: The Indispensable Pointe Shoe The ability to rise on pointe requires the support of a well designed and well fitted pointe shoe. The toe box and shank allow a dancer’s weight to be comfortably transferred to the platform. A snugly fitting shoe with a strong, yet short shank and sturdy side wings also assists in keeping the foot in position while on pointe. In order to increase comfort, some ballet dancers pad the toe box of their pointe shoes or wear protective pads on their toes. Lamb’s wool is the most traditional; pads of foam or gel are newer inventions. Although pointe shoes look very similar to one another, each maker creates pointe shoes with subtle differences. The most famous pointe shoemakers today include Freed and Gamba in England, Capezio and Gaynor Minden in the United States, Repetto in France, and Proselli in Italy. In Canada, Chan Hon Goh, former principal dancer with The National Ballet of Canada has launched a company making pointe shoes. The Shoe Room at Canada’s National Ballet School is the country’s largest pointe shoe retailer. Work station at Freed London. Jack Carey /Alamy Stock Photo. Back Next the hand making of ballet shoes at the Freed factory London Although pointe shoes look very similar to one another, each maker creates pointe shoes with subtle differences. The most famous pointe shoemakers today include Freed and Gamba in England, Capezio and Gaynor Minden in the United States, Repetto in France, and Proselli in Italy. In Canada, Chan Hon Goh, former principal dancer with The National Ballet of Canada has launched a company making pointe shoes. The Shoe Room at Canada’s National Ballet School is the country’s largest pointe shoe retailer. Work station at Freed London. Jack Carey /Alamy Stock Photo the hand making of ballet shoes at the Freed factory London

Ballet_BG_2 How a Pointe Shoe is Made Unlike many other forms of footwear today, pointe shoes still require the time-honoured skills of a traditional shoemaker. Pointe shoes are made using turnshoe construction. While inside out, the blocks are constructed by applying multiple layers of burlap, paper and glue to the toe box. Then the block satin is pleated, the upper is stitched to the sole, and the entire shoe is turned right side in. The shoes are put in an oven to cure overnight and once cured, the shoe’s upper is cut down and receives its topline binding and drawstring. After receiving a new pair of pointe shoes, ballerinas will often customize them in a variety of ways including ‘breaking’ the shank, removing the satin from the platform or changing the colors of the shoes. Back Next

Ballet_BG_3 The "Nude" Shoe In ballet, the foot is considered an extension of the leg. This means that a dancer’s slippers have to match their skin tone to create a nude, almost invisible line from leg to toe. Historically, ‘nude’ ballet slippers have been either pink or peach, excluding individuals with darker skin tones from achieving this look. Even as professional dance companies began to diversify from the 1960s onwards, ballet slippers have remained pink forcing dancers with darker skin tones to dye or ‘pancake’ their ready-made shoes with cosmetics and paints. In the fashion industry, there is currently a push for a critical reassessment of what is considered ‘nude’ and who is excluded from clothing and footwear made in this shade. In 2018, the dance company Ballet Black, which celebrates Black and Asian representation in ballet, collaborated with Freed London, one of the largest producers of ballet slippers in the world, to release shade-inclusive ballet slippers in order to address these exclusionary practices. Cultura Creative Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo. Back Next In the fashion industry, there is currently a push for a critical reassessment of what is considered ‘nude’ and who is excluded from clothing and footwear made in this shade. In 2018, the dance company Ballet Black, which celebrates Black and Asian representation in ballet, collaborated with Freed London, one of the largest producers of ballet slippers in the world, to release shade-inclusive ballet slippers in order to address these exclusionary practices. Cultura Creative Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

Ballet_BG_3 One of two new shade-inclusive ballet slippers from Freed London and Ballet Black. English, 2018-19
Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, 2019.8 Back Next
2019-0008

Ballet_BG_3 One of two new shade-inclusive ballet slippers from Freed London and Ballet Black. English, 2018-19
Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, 2019.9 Back Next
2019-0009

Ballet_BG_2 First Steps One of the most important figures in the history of ballet was the French King Louis XIV (1638-1715) who patronized the art and even danced himself. Indeed, it was Louis XIV’s ballet master and choreographer, Pierre Beauchamps, who first codified the five positions that dancers still use to today. The reason that the five positions require such a pronounced turn out of the legs also relates to the court of Louis XIV. This turnout was originally implemented so that the extravagant buckles worn by Louis XIV and the other dancers in his court could be more clearly displayed. Although dancers no longer wear elaborately embellished footwear or limit their performances to royalty, when they practice the five positions, the sophistication and physical comportment established over 350 years ago continues to be echoed in their graceful moments. Apollo costume worn by Louis XIV in the Ballet of the Night (1653). Back Next Apollo costume worn by Louis XIV in the Ballet of the Night (1653) Apollo costume worn by Louis XIV in the Ballet of the Night (1653)

Ballet_BG_2 The Top Five One of the very first things a young ballet dancer is taught is how to do the five ballet positions. These positions are at the very core of ballet. They discipline the body and continually bring it back into correct alignment, ensuring its graceful movements. In fact, the five positions grew out of the elegance of courtly movement. Back Next

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Ballet_BG_1 Mementos The dream of many dancers,after years of training and hard work, is that they will rise to the level of principal dancer in an acclaimed ballet company. Very few, however, are able to achieve this goal. The Bata Shoe Museum is privileged to have the performance-worn ballet shoes of many of the world’s most famous ballet dancers. These pointe shoes were worn by Veronica Tennant, one of Canada’s most famous ballerinas. She was renowned for her precise pointe work and dramatic flair and like all ballerinas, she wore through innumerable pointe shoes over the course of her illustrious career. The three pairs here were worn by the ballerina during a performance of Onegin on March 16, 1985. She signed them, Act I, Act II and Act III. Because of the extensive pointe work required by the role, a new pair was needed for each act. Photograph by Ron Wood. Back Next

Ballet_BG_3 Carla Fracci Italian prima ballerina Carla Fracci (b.1936) wore these Freed pointe shoes in a performance of the ballet La Sylphide in 1968. Fracci began studying ballet at La Scala in Milan in 1946 and by 1958 had become the prima ballerina assoluta of the company. She became renowned for her emotive interpretations of the Romantic ballets such as Giselle and La Sylphide, as well as her portrayal of Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. During her illustrious career she partnered with the greatest stars of the ballet world and danced with many of the world’s most famous ballet companies. Today, she is the director of Balletto dell'Opera di Roma. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, S84.151 Carla Fracci with her future husband Beppe Menegatti. Archivo GBB/ Alamy Stock Photo. Back Next Carla-Focci S84.151

Ballet_BG_3 Rudolf Khametovich Nureyev Rudolf Nureyev (1938-1993) was seventeen when he entered the Soviet Vagaonva Academy, but his extraordinary talent and drive made up for his late start. Upon graduation, he joined the Kirov and quickly became one of the company’s star performers allowed to travel beyond the confines of the Iron block to perform. In 1961, his dramatic defection to France, electrifying performances and flawless technique made him an international celebrity. His famed partnership with prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn brought him even greater renown. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, P02.140 Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn. Trinity Mirrir / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo. Back Next Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn seen here during the press call for the Royal Ballets latest production Marguerite and Armand P02.140

Ballet_BG_3 Dame Margot Fonteyn de Arias Considered by many to be the greatest British ballerina of all time, Dame Margot Fonteyn de Arias (1919-1991) was the prima ballerina assoluta of the Royal Ballet in London for decades. The famed choreographer Frederick Ashton created many roles just for her, including Apparitions (1936), Symphonic Variations (1946), and Ondine (1958). In the 1960s, she began a celebrated performing partnership with Rudolf Nureyev that sky-rocketed both to incredible international fame. This pointe shoe was made for her by Freed’s of London. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, P85.114 Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev c. 1962. Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo. Back Next Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn P85.114

Ballet_BG_3 SONIA RODRIGUEZ Sonia Rodriguez studied dance in Madrid with Pedro de la Cruz and at the Princess Grace Academy in Monaco. She joined The National Ballet of Canada in 1990 and was promoted to Principal Dancer in 2000. Her repertoire with the National Ballet of Canada includes Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, The Sleeping Beauty, and Giselle. Sonia wore these pointe shoes in the title role of The National Ballet’s production of James Kudelka’s Cinderella in May 2008. The numerous sparkly rhinestones that adorn this shoe suggests that it may have functioned as the famous ‘glass slipper' that Cinderella wears to the Prince’s Ball. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, P08.13 Back Next SONIA RODRIGUEZ p08-0013

Ballet_BG_3 Mikhail Nikolaevitch Baryshnikov Mikhail Baryshnikov (b. 1948) was one of the most accomplished and admired ballet dancers in the 20th century. Born in 1948 in what was Soviet Russia, Baryshnikov studied ballet at the Vaganova Academy and his extraordinary talents led to his fame in the Kirov Ballet. While on tour with the Kirov in 1974, Baryshnikov defected in Toronto, while wearing this boot. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, P.96.95 Mikhail Baryshnikov and Marianna Tcherkassky. Everett Collection Inc/ Alamy Stock Photo. Back Next Performance at Wolf Trap, from left, Baryshnikov, Tcherkassky, in 'Le Spectre de la Rose,' Aired Drecember 6 p96-005

Ballet_BG_3 The Ballet Flat Fashionable footwear and ballet shoes have a long and intertwined history. The origins of the ballet slipper and the pointe shoe can be traced back to the fashionable footwear of the early 19th century. Today, it is ballet footwear that influenced one of the most popular footwear trends of the early 21st century: the ‘ballet flat.’ The ballet flat first became an icon of style in the 1950s when Audrey Hepburn wore a pair of flat Ferragamos, and came back into style in the early 2000s. Today, the ballet flat elegantly signifies relaxed ease. Chanel, 2007. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, P08.08. This pair was generously donated by CHANEL. Audrey Hepburn. ScreenProd / Photononstop / Alamy Stock Photo. Back Next Audrey Hepburn / Sabrina 1954 directed by Billy Wilder (Paramount Pictures) p08.08

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Toronto: Bata Shoe Museum Foundation, 2021
Research Assistance:The National Ballet of Canada
Original exhibition designed by: Tom McAneney
All items from the collection of Bata Shoe Museum.
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