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On Pointe: The Rise Of The Ballet Shoe - If you like ballet, you'll love this exhibit

by Judith Fein, Paul Ross
September 22, 2008
An elegant middle-aged woman, standing with her feet in third position, leaned over the museum case and sighed. Nothing but glass separated her from the pair of blue ballet slippers worn by Mikhail Baryshnilov in his last performance of Giselle. She glided, as in a dream, to the next case, where she beheld the Freed pointe shoes Italian prima ballerina Carla Fracci wore when she danced La Sylphide in 1968. The visitor was ecstatic as she gazed at the black leather ballet slippers, made by Capezio, which Rudolf Nureyev owned; on the insole, the words "Russian Ballet" were printed. "I was a dancer," she whispered. "These shoes were made by the masters for the masters."

The Bata Shoe Museum, in Toronto, in partnership with Canada's National Ballet School, is dazzling dance lovers with its current exhibit (through February 15, 2009) called On Pointe: The Rise of the Ballet Shoe. It showcases the footwear of some of the greatest names in ballet — Canada's own Karin Kain, Veronica Tennant and Evelyn Hart and British luminaries Dame Margot Fonteyn and Alicia Markova.

One end of the exhibition room features a barre and mirror, where young girls, hoping they will one day be pirhouetting for an adoring public, can practice their plies and perfect their positions and posture. On the other end of the room is a faux stage filled with a large video screen where footage of legendary ballets and ballet dancers runs continuously.

Informative panels trace the history of the ballet shoe. Most ballet lovers haven't stopped to reflect on the story of the pointe shoe and how it evolved from a primitive reinforced slipper to the beautiful contemporary footwear that allows ballerinas to perform great feats of grace and athleticism. Dancers have their preferred shoe-makers and sometimes customize shoes themselves.

After visiting the exhibit, enjoy the rest of the museum which has a draw-dropping display of footwear through the ages. Peoples' feet look the same all over the world, but what we put on our feet distinguishes us. Shoes tell you about culture, religion, status, customs, wealth and aesthetics. From late l9th century Manchu stilt shoes to footwear in the shape of the sacred hintha bird to cast metal mules to millennia-old bronze boots, this unique museum has it all. And, in the museum's central atrium, don't forget to look up: a mobile made of ballet slippers cascades down from the ceiling.

IF YOU GO TO TORONTO:
The Bata Shoe Museum is located at 327 Bloor Street West at St. George. www.batashoemuseum.ca

For more about on pointe dancing, see http://www.exploredance.com/article.htm?id=2405



bio note: Judith Fein is an award-winning travel journalist and speaker. She teaches travel writing and takes people on cultural immersion trips in exotic destinations. Her website is: www.globaladventure.us
The exhibit space is dressed to create the feeling of classical ballet. Posters of famous dancers adorn the walls. A screen on a simulated stage projects video clips and display cases exhibit the history and craft of the ballet shoe.

The exhibit space is dressed to create the feeling of classical ballet. Posters of famous dancers adorn the walls. A screen on a simulated stage projects video clips and display cases exhibit the history and craft of the ballet shoe.

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Ross


Imprinted into the floor is the logo of Toronto's Bata Shoe Museum.

Imprinted into the floor is the logo of Toronto's Bata Shoe Museum.

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Ross


A mobile of ballet slippers are suspended by their satin ribbon ties in the atrium of the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada.

A mobile of ballet slippers are suspended by their satin ribbon ties in the atrium of the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada.

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Ross

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