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The birth of "pointe shoes"


The "spikes" are generally considered one of the most significant expressions of romantic ballet for that image hovering between reality and dream that they managed to attribute to female figures. However, if the spikes find the most intense and suggestive expression in the romantic ballet of fantastic subject, their origin must be traced back to the period of the great reforms of the late eighteenth century, when the costume and footwear of the ballet adapt to the Greek style "In vogue during the French Revolution, and when the technique, style and choreography of the French ballet undergo radical aesthetic changes and profound contaminations from various areas, including the acrobatic techniques of the Italian" grotesque "dancers.


The dancers of the Paris Opera, heavily conditioned, in costume and hairstyle, with an aristocratic fashion, quickly took possession of this new clothing, freeing themselves from the long layered skirts and traditional heels. The result was innovative freedom of movement of the legs and a new possibility of articulating the foot, which allowed the female dance that amplification (vertical and horizontal) towards which numerous dancers (Camargo, Heinel, already from the thirties of the eighteenth century) Clotilde, etc.) were investing their resources.ar to the strings of Greek sandals: real anticipation of the nineteenth-century shoe.


The dancers of the Paris Opera, heavily conditioned, in costume and hairstyle, with an aristocratic fashion, quickly took possession of this new clothing, freeing themselves from the long layered skirts and traditional heels. The result was an innovative freedom of movement of the legs and a new possibility of articulating the foot, which allowed the female dance that amplification (vertical and horizontal) towards which numerous dancers (Camargo, Heinel, already from the thirties of the eighteenth century) Clotilde, etc.) were investing their resources.


In the revolutionary decade, academic dance, like many other artistic expressions, experienced a phase of disorientation, in which norms and preconceptions were questioned and the critical attitude towards the "lower genres" gave way to careful and constructive observation. The Italian "grotesque" (acrobatic) genre, in the past the subject of ruthless condemnation or, in any case, marginalized, was considered by the new generations an experience to study and an area from which to draw techniques. Therefore, as for the pirouettes, the tours en l'air and the pas de deux holds, the climb on the tip of the toes practised by the Italian acrobats became a tool to renew the vocabulary of French academic dance, but also a means to evoke with "illusionistic" effects the magic of the Herculaneum Menadas suspended in space or the lightness of the Canovian Dancers grazing the earth or, again, the flight of the zephyrs praised by classical poetry. So it should not be surprising if in 1813 on the stage of the Opéra it was a dancer, Geneviève Gosselin, who left the audience stunned with an unprecedented and reckless climb sur l'extremité des pointes. And a few years later the Russian Avdotija Istomina and other charming dancers materialized in poetic ballets of ancient subject mythological creatures animating them with expressive vibrations of already romantic taste.


The whole body participated in this upward projection: the thorax, rising vertically; the knees, relaxing to the maximum; the heel of the foot on the ground, detaching itself from the ground until releasing the weight only on the plantar part of the toes (today defined as three quarters of the toe). From this to the climb to the end of the fingers, the step was very short.



In the revolutionary decade, academic dance, like many other artistic expressions, experienced a phase of disorientation, in which norms and preconceptions were questioned and the critical attitude towards the "lower genres" gave way to careful and constructive observation. The Italian "grotesque" (acrobatic) genre, in the past the subject of ruthless condemnation or, in any case, marginalized, was considered by the new generations an experience to study and an area from which to draw techniques. Therefore, as for the pirouettes, the tours en l'air and the pas de deux holds, the climb on the tip of the toes practised by the Italian acrobats became a tool to renew the vocabulary of French academic dance, but also a means to evoke with "illusionistic" effects the magic of the Herculaneum Menadas suspended in space or the lightness of the Canovian Dancers grazing the earth or, again, the flight of the zephyrs praised by classical poetry. So it should not be surprising if in 1813 on the stage of the Opéra it was a dancer, Geneviève Gosselin, who left the audience stunned with an unprecedented and reckless climb sur l'extremité des pointes. And a few years later the Russian Avdotija Istomina and other charming dancers materialized in poetic ballets of ancient subject mythological creatures animating them with expressive vibrations of already romantic taste.


From the notes of the 1920s by Michel St.-Léon, father of the famous Arthur Saint-Léon, and from the English text EAThéleur, Letters on Dancing (London, 1831), it is confirmed that at the end of the years In the thirties of the nineteenth century the technique of ascending the tip was now codified, although the shoes still had no reinforcement except a small embroidery on the front to prevent the friction on the stage boards from wearing (peeling) the precious satin fabric.


But what was this technique in which between 1822-1823 and 1827 Amalia Brugnoli and Maria Taglioni ventured between Vienna and Paris to climb sur les orteils (on their fingers)? As Arthur Saint-Léon testifies in his text La Sténochorégraphie (Paris, 1852), there were two different modalities. In fast steps, where a sudden climb was required, the heel was raised to "jump" directly on the "toes" of the feet. In the adage, on the other hand, to rise calmly with a straight leg, you would go up "through the foot", that is, gradually passing from the support on the whole plant to the half-tip up to the tip.


These two modalities continued to coexist although the technique of snappy climbing was the most valued. The Italian dancers pushed it with their technical prodigies acclaimed by audiences from all over Europe, including the fouettés with which in the eighties of the nineteenth century the Italian school imposed its superiority throughout the western world.

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