image of feet in ballet slippers during  practice image of ballet performance

On Pointe:
The Rise of the Ballet Shoe

On Pointe signature image of ballet shoes

On Pointe captures the exacting and exquisite art of ballet through one of its most essential elements, 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 pointe shoe has transformed the very discipline of ballet itself.

The exhibition will feature approximately 50 artifacts drawn from the Museum's private collection as well as historical and contemporary examples on loan from The Shoe Room, the principal supplier of pointe shoes in Canada.

Highlights include:

  • Video footage illustrating gruelling practice and glittering perfomance
  • Beautiful contemporary and historical imagery
  • Ballet shoes worn by famous dancers, including Karen Kain, Margot Fonteyn, Carla Fracci and Rudolf Nureyev.

Image of exhibition Curator Elizabeth Semmelhack Watch this video of Curator Elizabeth Semmelhack speaking about the On Pointe exhibition.
(.mov file, 20.6 MB, approx. 4-5 minutes)


Announcing the Winner of the Cinderella contest!

image of case with ballet shoes guessing contest

Our Cinderella contest attracted thousands of guesses to win tickets to the National Ballet of Canada's production of Cinderella, starring principal dancer Sonia Rodriguez. Five of you correctly guessed the number of ballet shoes in the case—167 pairs! The five names were put in a lottery and Amy Pan of Toronto was our big winner; congratulations Amy and hope you enjoyed the show! Thank you to all of you for participating.

Ballet shoes courtesy of the National Ballet of Canada.


What you'll see

Here's just a sampling of the ballet shoes on display in On Pointe.

image of ballet shoe worn by Karen Kain

Karen Kain
Karen Kain is perhaps Canada's most famous ballerina. She began studying ballet at the National Ballet School of Canada at the age of 11 and by 1971 was the principal dancer for the National Ballet of Canada. Today she is the company's Artistic Director. Ms. Kain donated this pair of well-worn Freed pointe shoes to the Museum in 1993.
Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto
Image credit: (c) Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto. Photo: Ron Wood

image of ballet shoe worn by Mikhail Baryshnikov

Mikhail Nikolaevitch Baryshnikov
Mikhail Baryshnikov was one of the most accomplished and admired ballet dancers in the 20th century. Born in 1948 in what was then Soviet Russia, Baryshnikov studied ballet at the Vaganova Academy and his extraordinary talents led to his fame as a dancer in the Kirov Ballet. While on tour with the Kirov in 1974, Baryshnikov defected in Toronto. The next time the world saw him dance it was with the National Ballet of Canada. This pair of blue ballet slippers was worn by Baryshnikov in his last performance of Giselle.
Collection of The Shoe Room at Canada's National Ballet School
Image credit: (c) Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto. Photo: Ron Wood

image of ballet shoe worn by Dame Margot Fonteyn de Arias

Dame Margot Fonteyn de Arias
Considered by many to be the greatest British ballerina of all time, Dame Margot Fonteyn de Arias 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 which skyrocketed both to incredible international fame. This pair of pointe shoes were made for her by Freed's of London.
Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto
Image credit: (c) Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto. Photo: Ron Wood

image of ballet shoe worn by Evelyn Hart

Evelyn Hart
Evelyn Hart made her debut with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in 1976. She was promoted to soloist in 1978 and to principal dancer in 1980. She received a gold medal award from the international ballet competition in Varna, Bulgaria in 1980, amassing the highest point total ever by a female dancer.
Collection of The Shoe Room at Canada's National Ballet School
Image credit: (c) Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto. Photo: Ron Wood

image of ballet shoe worn by Rudolf Nureyev

Rudolf Khametovich Nureyev
This pair of black leather ballet slippers was owned by Rudolf Nureyev. They were made by Capezio and have the phrase 'Russian Ballet' printed in the insole. Along with Mikhail Baryshnikov, Russian-trained Nureyev is considered to be one of the most important male ballet dancers of the 20th century. He rose to fame in his homeland under Soviet rule and 'leapt to freedom' in 1961 in Paris. His career took off in the West but it was his partnership with Dame Margot Fonteyn that became legendary.
Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto
Image credit: (c) Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto. Photo: Ron Wood

image of ballet shoe worn by Carla Fracci

Carla Fracci
Italian prima ballerina Carla Fracci 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 has 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, Toronto
Image credit: (c) Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto. Photo: Ron Wood

image of ballet shoe worn by Veronica Tennant

Veronica Tennant
Veronica Tennant, one of Canada's most famous ballerinas, was renowned for her precise pointe work and dramatic flair. 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 in 1985. She signed them Act I, Act II and Act III. She removed the back part of the insole to help 'break' her pointe shoes, thereby customizing their fit and flexibility. Many dancers will wear out a a pair of pointe shoes in a single, demanding performance.
Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto
Image credit: (c) Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto. Photo: Ron Wood

image of ballet shoe worn by Alicia Markova

Alicia Markova
This well-worn pointe shoe features a fairly narrow point. It was worn by prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Markova in the 1930s.
Collection of The Shoe Room at Canada's National Ballet School
Image credit: (c) Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto. Photo: Ron Wood


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Exhibition partner

Lending partner

Media partner

logo - National Ballet School logo - The Shoe Room logo - NOW Magazine
Canada's National Ballet School
The Shoe Room
NOW Magazine

Media Information

Further information about this exhibition is available in the MEDIA ROOM.

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