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.


STC postpones its acquisition of Vodafone Egypt for second time

Updated 10 min 56 sec ago

STC postpones its acquisition of Vodafone Egypt for second time

  • Kingdom’s largest telecom company says it will need an additional two months to complete the deal

CAIRO: The Saudi Telecom Company (STC), the Kingdom’s largest telecom company, said that it will need an additional two months to complete a deal to purchase a 55 percent stake in Vodafone Egypt.

In January, STC was in agreement to buy the stake for $2.4 billion. In April, it extended the process for 90 days due to logistical challenges stemming from the spread of COVD-19. The company said in a statement that it would extend the period again to September for the same reason.

The Public Investment Fund, the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, owns a majority stake in STC. The ownership of Vodafone Egypt is divided between 55 percent for Vodafone International, which is the target percentage of the Saudi purchase offer, 44.8 percent for Telecom Egypt, and the remaining 0.2 percent for small shareholders.

Telecom Egypt is awaiting the results of Vodafone’s evaluation of the final share price to announce its position on the deal. A Telecom Egypt official stated that the company is still awaiting STC’s position regarding the purchase of the share. If the deal is not completed, it may be presented with its rights to acquire Vodafone’s share, which would allow it to take over 99.8 percent of the company’s shares, leaving 0.2 percent for small investors.

Ashraf El-Wardany, an Egyptian communications expert, pointed out the importance of waiting until the procedures between STC and the Vodafone Group are complete. The results will determine the next steps by Telecom Egypt.

El-Wardany said that the Saudi operator must, after completing the relevant studies, submit a final binding offer at the share price and any conditions for purchase. If approved by Vodafone, it must submit the offer with the same conditions and price to Telecom Egypt, provided that the latter responds within a maximum period of 45 days to determine its position regarding the use of the right of pre-emption and the purchase, or lack thereof, of Vodafone’s share.

According to El-Wardany, there are other possible scenarios. Vodafone International may not be convinced of the offer or the conditions presented by the Saudi side and the sale may be withdrawn, or the Vodafone group may be ready to sell and has prepared another buyer for its stake in Egypt in the event of rejecting the Saudi offer. It may also it back away from the deal and continue to operate in Egypt for a few more years.

El-Wardany said that if Telecom Egypt decides not to use the right of pre-emption to acquire the remaining Vodafone shares for any reason, it will continue with its 44.8 percent stake.
It may also resort to selling all of its shares or part of it to the Saudi side or to any company that wants to acquire its stake.

“This raises the question of whether STC can acquire all of Vodafone’s shares,” El-Wardany said, adding that the coming months “will make the answer clear.”