For ballet shoes, one Russian company is on pointe

Dancer Alexandra Kirshina rehearses on pointes made especially for her in the Grishko workshops in Moscow. (AFP)
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Updated 02 March 2020

For ballet shoes, one Russian company is on pointe

  • Nearly 80% of Grishko’s production is exported around the world

MOSCOW: Craftsman Sergei Murza runs his fingers over the pink satin of a pointe shoe he has just finished making. Then he gives it the final test: the ballet slipper balances perfectly on its tip.
Murza produces the shoes in the Moscow workshop of Grishko, a company born in the chaos of the collapse of the Soviet Union and now one of the world’s top makers of ballet pointe shoes.
In a country better known for exporting oil and arms, Grishko is a rare success story for Russian craftmanship, its shoes sold around the globe and gracing the stages of the world’s top ballet venues.
It’s hardly surprising, founder Nikolay Grishko says, given the aura that surrounds Russia’s storied ballet tradition.
“It is in Russia that classical ballet has reached its highest level,” says the 71-year-old, who founded the company more than 30 years ago and continues to run it.
Grishko has diversified into clothing and other types of dance shoes, but the ballet line is the company’s heart and soul.
Nearly 80 percent of its production is for export, with the United States — where the shoes sell under the brand name Nikolay — and Japan the top buyers.
Inspired by the liberalization of the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev, Grishko set up the company in 1988.
A former diplomat posted in Laos and economics professor, he found inspiration close to home.
“My wife was a dancer... I already knew what pointes were,” he says in his office at the factory, dapper in a dark suit and black-rimmed glasses.
When he launched the business, Russia’s big theaters like the Bolshoi had their own in-house workshops making pointes. That tradition is now gone, but the expertise built up over centuries lives on in his company.
“I took the best of the tradition of Russian pointes, which have been made since the end of the 19th century. This tradition was passed on in the theater workshops but practically disappeared after the fall of the Soviet Union” in 1991, says the Ukrainian-born Grishko.
Today he employs more than 500 people at workshops in Moscow, the Czech Republic and Macedonia. In Russia, a pair of Grishko pointes sells for the equivalent of 30 euros, in western Europe about twice that.
The Moscow workshop is housed on the grounds of the historic Hammer & Sickle Factory, a Soviet-era institution that once housed a steel plant.
Grishko’s master shoemakers work in silence as they produce 32,000 to 37,000 pairs of pointes per month, using only natural materials.
Cats roam around the work tables as artisans cut cloth, make their own glue, assemble the shoes and dry them in ovens, before a meticulous check for quality.
Among them are some 70 people who are deaf or hard of hearing, says Irina Sobakina, the 53-year-old deputy head of production, praising “the higher sensitivity of their hands.”
In the sewing workshop, Olga Monakhova, who is 56 years old and has worked at the factory for 27 years, recalls orders from famous dancers like Anastasia Volochkova and Nikolay Tsiskaridze.
Across the capital in her studio, dancer Alexandra Kirshina completes a rehearsal on pointes made especially for her.
“We wear them constantly, so it’s important that they fit perfectly,” says the 28-year-old soloist for the Moscow Ballet.
“I used to dance in plastic pointes and I had big problems with my feet.”
Star dancers can go through up to 30 pairs of pointes a month, but professionals account for only 10 percent of Grishko’s buyers. Most sales go to ballet schools.
Grishko says he is even seeing a new kind of client: women who, tired of “boring aerobic exercises” and treadmills, are taking up ballet to keep fit.


Make or break days for global oil ahead of OPEC crunch meeting

Updated 08 April 2020

Make or break days for global oil ahead of OPEC crunch meeting

  • OPEC, led by Saudi Arabia, were on Thursday scheduled to take part in virtual discussions with non-OPEC members, led by Russia, about a possible deal to revive the OPEC+ alliance
  • On Friday, energy ministers from the G20 nations, under the presidency of Saudi Arabia, will convene in another digital forum that will bring in the third part of the global oil equation – the US

DUBAI: The global energy world, in the midst of crisis as demand slumps to unprecedented levels due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, faces two days that could make – or break – the oil industry for months to come.
Leading producers from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), led by Saudi Arabia, were on Thursday scheduled to take part in virtual discussions with non-OPEC members, led by Russia, about a possible deal to revive the OPEC+ alliance that fell apart in Vienna at the beginning of last month.
Then, on Friday, energy ministers from the G20 nations, under the presidency of Saudi Arabia, will convene in another digital forum that will bring in the third important part of the global oil equation – the US, currently the biggest oil producer in the world.
If no deal is reached from the two days of oil summits, the immediate prospect looms of a further fall in crude prices and, with global storage facilities already filling rapidly, the possibility of major exporters “shutting in” oil fields, jeopardizing future production.
Energy experts say the purpose of the meetings is two-fold: To reach agreement on how to limit the vast quantities of oil that are still being produced even as demand collapses; and to present some kind of united front in geopolitical terms in the face of the biggest economic recession since the 1930s.
The most visible immediate sign of any success from the meetings will be an increase in the price of crude oil on global markets. Brent crude, the Middle East benchmark, has lost nearly half its value in the past month.
The first aim – to try to balance oil supply and demand – is the more difficult. Global demand has fallen by at least 20 per cent from the usual daily consumption of around 100 million barrels, oil economists have calculated.
But, following the collapse of the OPEC+ deal that was putting a lid on supply, all producers have been pumping more crude. Saudi Arabia is producing more than 12 million barrels per day (bpd), a bigger volume than at any time in its history. All OPEC members, as well as Russia, have said they will increase output.
In this stand-off, US President Donald Trump intervened last week to say that he had spoken to Saudi and Russian leaders and that he “expected” a cut of 10 million, possibly even 15 million, bpd.
That looks like wishful thinking. For one thing, it would not rebalance markets. Anas Al-Hajji, managing partner of US-based Energy Outlook Advisers, said: “The amount of the cut is relatively small given the major drop in demand.”
There are also some difficult relationships to smooth over in the OPEC+ alliance. Saudi Arabia and Russia exchanged angry statements last weekend, each accusing the other of starting the oil price war. Iran, with big reserves but hampered by US sanctions from exporting in large quantities, said that it might not take part in the conference.
The choreography of the two meetings also presents hurdles. The US will not be present at the OPEC+ meeting, but American Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette said he would take part in the G20 event.
Because it is a free-market industry, America cannot order its oil producers to reduce output, but most analysts are agreed any attempt to rebalance global supply would be impossible without a US contribution.
By going first, Saudi Arabia and Russia are “playing blind” without knowing what the Americans are thinking. Neither would want to agree big price-restoring cuts only for US producers – under big financial pressure at current levels – to swoop back into the market.
This week there have been some signs that the Americans are considering their own versions of cutbacks. The biggest US company, Exxon Mobil, said it would reduce capital expenditure on future projects by 30 percent; the US Energy Information Administration said oil production would fall by nearly 1 million bpd this year, in response to falling demand and financial pressures.
But even if the Saudis and Russians cut substantially alongside other big OPEC producers such as the UAE, and the Americans enter a long-term pattern of falling demand, it is still hard to see how cuts could reach the 10 million barrels Trump “expects,” let alone 15 million.
J. P. Morgan, the big US investment bank, said that it expects OPEC+ to come up with combined cuts of about 4.3 million barrels, most of that coming from Saudi Arabia, Russia and the UAE. “If it’s 4.3 million it only puts off the day when global storage gets filled completely,” said Robin Mills, CEO of Qamar Energy consultancy.
Storage facilities are nearly at the brim. Malek Azizeh, director of the premium facilities at the Fujairah Oil Terminal in the UAE, joked that he was going to hang a sign on the terminal gates: “Thanks, but no tanks.”