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Pointe Shoes by Sharon Wehner

Thursday, September 26, 2013

By Sharon Wehner, Colorado Ballet Principal Dancer

Pointe shoes.  They are to a ballerina what a bicycle is to a competitive cyclist, a pair of skates to a figure skater, a set of clubs to a golfer.  Both functional and aesthetic, they are an integral part of her artistry, indeed her life. There are dozens of brands of pointe shoes, and hundreds of sub-types within those brands.  They may all be pink and satin, but beyond the simple traditional exterior (which has maintained the same fundamental look since Marie Taglioni first donned a pair to appear as a weightless sylph in La Sylphide in 1832), they have evolved vastly in terms of materials and support.  Taglioni’s pointe shoes were little more than soft ballet slippers with extra darning on the tips and sides.  Modern pointe shoes, first worn by Anna Pavlova at the beginning of the last century, consist of two key structural components: a re-inforced box at the end to support the tips of the toes, and a firm shank along the sole to support the arch.  Materials used to construct them may include cardboard, paper, glue, fabric, and even fiberglass.  The various “models” of pointe shoes are meant to address a wide range of the ballerina’s needs and foot shape.  Imagine the variety of running shoes on the market today--pointe shoes are just as specialized.

Beyond this, a ballerina must prepare the shoe to her specific liking before she can dance in it.  A pointe shoe arrives without ribbons or elastic, because everyone likes to sew them differently depending on their needs.  They also must be broken-in to conform to each dancer’s foot.  Some people take a hammer to them, some bang them on concrete, some bend them in the crook of a door.  When I get a pair of shoes, I spend about 3 hours preparing them before I ever put them on my feet.  I darn the tips (a practice that some dancers prefer because it evens out the platform of the box, and also makes the shoe “quieter” and less slippery), I sew on ribbons and elastic, I cut the shanks on the inside so that it bends in the proper place of my arch, I cut the satin off the tips, I pour a teaspoon of good old-fashioned shellac on the inside and let it soak in overnight (this extends the life of the shoe), and lastly I place a small strip of Dr. Scholl’s foot and shoe padding on the inside to allow for the uneven length of my toes.  Throughout the lifespan of any one pair of shoes, I will continue to “doctor them up”--my lunch break is often spent re-darning the tips to get a few more “wearings” out of the pair. 

My first experience with pointe shoes harkens back to the age of 9.  I had just been accepted to the summer intensive program at San Francisco Ballet.  Nine is relatively young to start en pointe, but since the summer program required at least some pointework, my teachers started me early.  I had been dancing since the age of 3, so my feet, legs and core were strong enough to handle the shoes.  I remember going with my mother to get my first pair--it was like Christmas.  We purchased the smallest size possible.  The minute I got home, I disobeyed my teacher’s restrictions.  I put them on and danced around my bedroom, even took them out to the front yard and dirtied them up on the sidewalk.  It was magical. 

My first pointe class consisted of 15 minutes at the barre.  To some, it was a bit of torture--the painfully slow rises through the instep and toes, the quick jarring springs up over the arch, the burning repetition--releve, eleve, echappe, passe-- over and over again.  To me, it was heavenly.  Even my first blister, which left some of my friends sobbing after class, I cherished.  It was like a badge of courage, a rite of passage in the ballerina’s journey from childhood into adolescence.  Blisters, corns, bunions, bruised toenails, even losing toenails--they all came par for the course in the world of pointe.  They still do... Along with the first pointe class, a budding ballerina must learn to cope with all the ailments of the feet.  Tape, band-aids, corn pads, New Skin liquid bandage, Second Skin burn pads (for blisters), Ambesol numbing ointment, Neosporin, epsom salts, Betodine, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, Tiger Balm, Arnica--all friends to the ballerina’s foot.  And as a professional, nothing beats a bucket of ice in which to plunge the feet after a hard day’s work.  I have one set up under my dinner table. 

A common question I get about pointe shoes is: “how long do they last?”  There is no short answer, because different ballets require different levels of hardness, or what a ballerina refers to as “deadness”.  On a scale of 1-10, a brand new pair of shoes would be a 1 in terms of deadness.  For a ballet like Swan Lake, I use three different pairs for each act.  Act Two requires a shoe that is about 4 on the level of “deadness,” Act Three requires a harder 2 to withstand the 32 fouettes, Act Four can suffice with a softer 7 or 8.  Of course this will be different for every ballerina.  I have known some dancers who will change their shoes in the wings during their partner’s two minute variation, just so that she will have the perfect pair for her next dance. 

As you can see, pointe shoes are a very personal and specialized part of a ballerina’s career.  In her lifetime, she will spend more hours sewing and preparing shoes, caring for the aches and pains of the feet, and training her body to withstand the rigors of pointework-- than she actually will performing on stage.  It is a love-hate relationship that a ballerina has with her shoes.  But most ballerinas would agree that the sacrifices made to create the effect of being light on her feet are well worth it. Pointe shoes are part of what gives the ballerina her effervescence and mystical weightlessness.  Like Victoria Page in The Red Shoes, dancing en pointe is not just dancing, it is living.  And, to me at least, a life without pointe shoes would feel just a bit less magical.

Dancer Q&A: Maria Mosina

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

This is a Q&A with Colorado Ballet Principal Maria Mosina.

  1. Where are you from?
    Moscow, Russia
  2. Where did you train/dance before coming to Colorado Ballet?
    Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, danced at Bolshoi Ballet – Grigorovich Ballet Company
  3. What did you do with your summer break?
    I had a family vacation in Sarasota Florida, and then I taught in Chicago in Salt Creek Ballet School at the Summer Intensive Program.  I also taught at Colorado Ballet’s Summer Intensive.
  4. What age did you first start dancing? What do you remember from your first class?
    I knew I would be a professional dancer at 10 years old, I went to a professional Academy.  I remember in the 2nd grade, I performed La Fill Mal Garde on stage.  Only the students perform in that ballet and it was at the State Kremlin Palace.  I remember dancing with real makeup and costumes and when the curtain opened and I saw the audience, it took my breath away.  This was like a fairy tale.
  5. What was your first ballet you remember attending? What do you remember about it?
    I saw many of them on TV on national television, my first impression was of The Nutcracker.  The story is a little different story in Russia than here. It was closer to the original Hoffmann story.  The lead ballerina was Ekaterina Maximova. I saw a lot of performances; my mother took me to ballets like Cipollino with onions and tomatoes.  I also remember Giselle, Swan Lake and La Bayadère on television.
  6. Who are your ballet role models? Dancers that inspire you.
    Ekaterina Maximova is my favorite ballerina.  I like some ballerinas in some ballets and some in others.  I can get inspiration from other ballerinas, depending what I’m watching.
  7. Proudest moment in your ballet career?
    There is always something new, and in that moment you are proud, so it is continuous.
  8. Favorite choreographer(s) you’ve worked with?
    This is hard to choose just one because each choreographer is unique.  You always find something new for yourself, for your body, for your soul and movements.  Working with a choreographer is like when you open a new book and you experience something new.
  9. If you could get a lesson/class from anyone, it would be ________
    I admire my Russian teachers, but I would love to have taken a class with Mr. Balanchine.  Definitely with someone from the past.
  10. Best advice you’ve ever received from a teacher?
    You will become ballet dancer, ballet artist and the first part of your profession is to give happiness and joy to people.  This inspires me.
  11. Favorite ballets to dance? Which are favorite to watch?
    It is hard to choose. To watch, everything classical.  To dance, you are always growing as a classical ballet dancer and you get to work with new choreographers and contemporary dances.  I like story ballets, but I also like to dance ballets like Balanchine where you are dancing something other than the story, like the music.  You can always find something enjoyable and loveable.  I just love to be on stage.
  12. Dream role?
    Once again, it is hard to choose.  For example, when I dance Juliet in Romeo & Juliet, I really get into the character, but I also love dancing ballets like Balanchine’s Theme & Variations, where you are really thinking about how you move.  Like Martha Graham technique is different, your muscles work differently with different techniques; you understand yourself and your body even more after dancing these kind of roles.
  13. What do you like to do when you aren’t dancing (your free time)?
    I have a daughter and my first priority is to be a mother and I love spending time with her.  I love my family.  In this role of mother, it is very interesting and important to me.  It has helped me to rise to another level in my dance career.  You start to see the world in a different way when you become a parent.  You see the world differently.  It is my dream to someday dance with my daughter on stage.
  14. What are some of your indulgences?
    You have to treat yourself with healthy stuff because we have so many hours rehearsing.  Overall, I try to eat healthy and hydrate for high altitude and to take care of my muscles.  I take supplements to take care of my muscles, joints, and my body.
  15. Do you have any pre-performance routines/rituals?
    You have to come earlier if you are dancing principal part, get makeup, hair done properly, and it can take two hours sometimes to prepare for a performance.  Then you have to warm up.  When you are doing the makeup, crown, hair, you start to get into the role.  Go to the stage, get into your shoes.  For contemporary stuff, you have to go through the steps, listen to music on your headphones.
  16. What production(s) are you most excited about this year?
    I am happy and glad to dance everything this season.  I don’t know how many times I have danced The Nutcracker, but I always find something different.  It is never perfection; you can always improve yourself for every production every year.  And, it is always exciting to dance something new.
  17. What would you say to people who come to see the Colorado Ballet?
    Audiences are different, some of them know the performances and they naturally get this form of art.  But for people who are not as used to it, I think every type of audience can find a program that will match their thoughts and wishes.  Everyone should come to see us.  Ballet is deeper, it is something exciting, and when you come to the theater you see there is more to it, especially with Giselle.  In Giselle, you see the philosophy of forgiveness and that love can save your life.

Maria Mosina rehearses Act II of Giselle

Interview with Francisco Estevez about Giselle

Monday, September 23, 2013


This video has rehearsal clips featuring artists of Colorado Ballet rehearsing Giselle.

Interview with Maria Mosina about Colorado Ballet's Giselle

Thursday, September 19, 2013

This video includes clips from Colorado Ballet's 2006 production of "Giselle," featuring artists of Colorado Ballet.

Dancer Q&A: Chandra Kuykendall

Wednesday, September 11, 2013
This is a Q&A with Colorado Ballet Principal Chandra Kuykendall.
  1. Where are you from?
    Parker, CO
  2. Where did you train/dance before coming to Colorado Ballet?
    I trained at Colorado Ballet.
  3. What did you do with your summer break?
    I went to Paris, Amsterdam and London with my husband. We saw performances by Paris Opera Ballet and Royal Ballet School.
  4. What age did you first start dancing? What do you remember from your first class?
    Age 6. I don't remember my first class I just always remember dancing.
  5. What was your first ballet you remember attending? What do you remember about it?
    I think the first real ballet I attended I was in. A mouse in Colorado Ballet's The Nutcracker.
  6. Who are your ballet role models? Dancers that inspire you.
    My favorite ballerina is Altynai Asylmuratova from Kirov. Her technique and her artistry are so inspiring.
  7. Proudest moment in your ballet career?
    Being promoted to Principal.
  8. Favorite choreographer(s) you’ve worked with?
    Amy Seiwart, Jessica Lang, Edwaard Liang
  9. If you could get a lesson/class from anyone, it would be ________
    Asylmuratova
  10. Best advice you’ve ever received from a teacher?
    Don't give up.
  11. Favorite ballets to dance? Which are favorite to watch?
    To dance: Swan Lake, Giselle, Bruch Violin Concerto
    To watch: Swan Lake, Giselle, In the Middle Somewhat Elevated 
  12. Dream role?
    Odette/Odile - lucky to have danced
  13. If you could never dance again, what would you want your final role to be?
    I don't like this question but would probably be the Purple Girl in Bruch Violin Concerto
  14. What do you like to do when you aren’t dancing (your free time)?
    Spend time with my son and my husband.
  15. What are some of your indulgences?
    Vanilla ice cream.
  16. Do you have any pre-performance routines/rituals?
    Too many to list! I used to be worse, now most are out of habit and not superstition.
  17. What production(s) are you most excited about this year?
    Definitely Giselle. It was the first full length ballet I performed so it has a special place in my heart.
  18. What would you say to people who come to see the Colorado Ballet?
    Please come see us! We have a wonderful season ahead!

Chandra Kuykendall with her husband and son

Giselle Teaser - Colorado Ballet

Monday, September 09, 2013

 

Directed and edited by Sean Omandam. Filmed by Sean Omandam and Francisco Estévez.

Cast: Tracy Jones (Giselle), Francisco Estévez (Albrecht), Morgan Buchanan (Bathilde), and Lesley Allred (Myrta)

Music: Shelley Duvall - "He Needs Me"

Special thanks to Tom's Diner and Colorado Ballet Wardrobe, for respectively providing the set location and costumes.

Dancer Q&A: Domenico Luciano

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Colorado Ballet is starting a new dancer Q&A part of its blog.  The first Q&A is with our new Soloist, Domenico Luciano.

  1. Where are you from?
    Naples, Italy
  2. Where did you train/dance before coming to Colorado Ballet?
    I trained at the Real Teatro di San Carlo Ballet School in Naples, Italy.
    I danced throughout Europe and Italy before coming to the States in 2004 to join Tulsa Ballet and then Dominic Walsh Dance Theater in 2005.
  3. What did you do with your summer break?
    I usually guest with other companies, teach and go visit my family in Italy for a little vacation by the gulf of Napoli.
  4. What age did you first start dancing?
    Pretty late, I was 14 years old.
  5. What was your first ballet you remember attending? What do you remember about it?
    The first ballet I attended was GISELLE with Etoile Alessandra Ferri in the leading role, and Johann Cobborg from Royal Ballet as Albrecht.
    I was captivated and transported by the magic of the performance. I didn't want it to end. As student of the ballet school, I was able to go every night for more.
  6. Who are your ballet role models? Dancers that inspire you.
    I like dancers that are brave and courageous, want to be challenged and explore all the different style of dance out there. I love all the projects that Wendy Whelan is working on right now. It shows how, as an artist, you never stop learning and growing. After a long and successful career as a Principal Dancer with NYCB, she is diving into new territory, like modern and contemporary dance, with a joy and excitement. It is what Mikhail Baryshnikov and Sylvie Guillem have done as well.
    At this moment, my male ballet role model is David Hallberg. I think he has a very special presence on stage, besides an amazing technique and quality of movement.
  7. Proudest moment in your ballet career?
    Dancing the leading role in John Cranko's ONEGIN, feeling very connected to the role and getting emotional on stage.
  8. Favorite ballets to dance? Which are your favorite to watch?
    I never get tired of listening and watching Swan Lake.
  9. Dream role?
    I would love to dance Petit Mort by Jiri Kylian.
  10.  If you could never dance again, what would you want your final role to be?
    It is hard to pick one. I definitively would want to dance a role that could give me the chance to share with the audience something special that would be remembered.
  11. What do you like to do when you aren’t dancing (your free time)?
    I'm new to Colorado, so I have a lot to explore in Denver and around!
  12. What are some of your indulgences?
    I'm Italian…bread, pasta and pizza
  13. Do you have any pre-performance routines/rituals?
    Yes!
    Of course!
    Timing is key for me.
    I like to have everything planned ahead before curtain is up.
    Time of arrival to the theater
    Time for warm up
    Time for class
    Time for make up
    Time to get in costume
    Time to practice on stage
    Maybe I sound a bit OCD….
    LOL
    Oh well, if it all helps.
  14. What production(s) are you most excited about this year?
    This is my first year with Colorado Ballet, it is all exciting to me!!!
  15. What would you say to people who come to see the Colorado Ballet?
    Come and see Colorado Ballet, it is a Company that has a great combination of athleticism and classicism. Colorado Ballet maintains the beautiful and historical tradition of classical ballet delivered by powerful bodies that have a deep knowledge and respect for the craft.

Domenico Luciano as Albrecht in "Giselle"
Photo by Alessio Boccafusca

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