There is much to be said about the relationship between a dancer and her shoes. Many an hour is spent scraping, crushing, ripping, sewing, burning and even shellacking footwear that will only last for one – maybe two – performances. These videos documenting the process will have you completely spellbound.
Released by the Australian Ballet, it shows the many ways in which prima ballerinas tailor their shoes to their individual needs. All the customisation results in a sole that looks almost identical to the light-pink originals she started out with. And yet we the audience know that they’re perfectly bespoke and the dancer moves better as a result.
Dancer Jessica Fyfe explains how she has six to eight pairs of pointe shoes going at once, including "really soft, broken-in pair, a pair that's good for jumping in, a pair that's stage-perfect ..." She has spent years going through trial shoes in the search for the perfect one, tailored to her feet and made for leaping frenetically, gliding elegantly and dancing to the steps of her own beat.
Her colleague Natasha Kusen, who was once told to soak her feet in mentholated spirits to harden the skin, pulls her shoes apart before sewing them back together, lacquers them with shellac to extend their life and cushions her toes with ouch-pouches.
It makes you ask yourself why the shoes aren’t prepared beforehand, sold already altered and hardened to go on pointe. Yet then you realise that each dancer likes hers slightly different – and it’s taken years of experience for her to get that formula just right.
Principal dancer Amber Scott, for example, describes the “meditative process” of how she covers her feet in tape to limit joint movement and sews on big elastics — a lesson learned from past injuries and years of wear and tear. "It's time consuming, but what would be more annoying is being unable to dance because of the pain," she says.
All reinforces the image we hold of ballerinas. That they’re the ultimate perfectionists who channel hours of work and self-sacrifice into their craft – and that’s just the costuming we’re talking about. “Once you got your pointe shoes, you were headed on the road to becoming a real ballerina,” says Scott.
Watch this mesmerising video and prepare to fall down a rabbit hole. There’s something completely soothing and ritualistic about it.