The wonderful world of ballet shoes during The Nutcracker

Written by Cassandra Houghton
Images by David Kelly

The wonderful world of ballet shoes during The Nutcracker

Each year, as Christmas sets are unpacked and Tchaikovsky’s familiar festive music floats down the halls during rehearsals of The Nutcracker, Queensland Ballet’s shoe room becomes a hive of activity. After confirming multiple cast lists, dancers drop into the Shoe Room to be fitted for character shoes and stock up on pointes and flats to prepare for the season.

Shoe Coordinator Amanda Newman has worked in the role for eight years, ensuring we have enough pointes and flats to cover the dancers for all their shoe needs for class, rehearsal and performance seasons, as well as liaising with the Costume Department for performance character shoe requirements. She also hand paints the men’s specialty shoes to match the tights; dyes the ladies’ pointes; and sources character shoes from across the globe. We sat down with Mandy in the middle of our beloved holiday ballet Season to explore the wonderful world of Nutcracker shoes!

The dancers typically perform multiple roles in multiple casts during our mammoth seasons of The Nutcracker. What’s the average number of pairs of pointes a dancer may go through?

It varies, but the dancers say on average about 10 to 15 pairs of pointes per season, depending on the characters they’re playing.

With so many characters and dancers - including children and Queensland Ballet Academy dancers, how many styles of shoe do you ensure we have for this Season?

29 types for the men, 19 for the ladies (mostly pointe shoes), and two for the children (boys and girls). Each character has a different shoe type. The ladies prepare their own pointes as each dancer has their own preferred way. My job is to ensure every character for every cast has the shoes they require; for example, if there are five dancers initially cast for each role, that could work out to be 145 pairs just for the men.

Are there any special shoe-related tasks that need doing to prepare for The Nutcracker each year?

Each year I check that all the character shoes are ready for the stage, including maintenance jobs on them as required. This can be things like painting shoes that are worn with tights, as well as painting elastics for shoes that are one colour. I also use dye to paint specialist shoes – like the crimson pointes for Mother Ginger.

Any personal favourite shoes or shoe colours from The Nutcracker Season?

Mother Ginger’s crimson pointes.

What happens to the shoes after the season ends?

Some shoes are used by the Company as gifts, and some are used in displays, such as the Christmas Shoe Tree we displayed in theatre foyer during The Nutcracker season a few years ago. Some are too worn to be used for creative purposes or presents; however plans are afoot (no pun intended!) to find ways to recycle as much of these old shoes as possible. Most of the character shoes can be worn again for future Nutcracker seasons and other shows. Currently, the dancers already reuse their ribbons and elastics as far as is reasonable.

What do you love about your job?

There is always something interesting to work on and to look forward to! I love the excitement that comes with pulling all the elements together to see a performance like The Nutcracker go onstage. Working within a highly skilled and passionate team of artists and dancers is a joy and a wonderful privilege.

Our Pointe Shoe Appeal raises valuable funds for pointe shoes and flats, enabling Queensland Ballet dancers to continue making magic.

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We acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we work and perform. Long before we performed on this land, it played host to the dance expression of our First Peoples. We pay our respects to their Elders — past, present and emerging — and acknowledge the valuable contribution they have made and continue to make to the cultural landscape of this country.

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