For ballet shoes, one Russian company is on pointe

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

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.


Oil prices rise as market awaits deal output deal

Updated 03 December 2020

Oil prices rise as market awaits deal output deal

Oil prices rise as market awaits deal output deal
  • OPEC and its allies create uncertainty with two-day delay to meeting to decide whether to increase production

LONDON: Oil prices rose on Wednesday as the market awaited a pact from producers on output, which many traders expect will continue to be reined in, and Britain’s approval of a COVID-19 vaccine gave hopes for a demand recovery a boost.

Prices were hit earlier by a surprise build in oil inventories in the US and as OPEC and its allies created uncertainty with a two-day delay to a formal meeting to decide whether to increase production in January.

Brent crude oil futures were up 1.9 percent at $48.31 in late afternoon trade in London, while West Texas Intermediate crude was also up about 2 percent to $45.46.

Industry data from the American Petroleum Institute showed US crude inventories rose by 4.1 million barrels last week, compared with analysts’ expectations in a Reuters poll for a draw of 2.4 million barrels.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Russia and other allies, a group known as OPEC+, postponed talks on next year’s oil output policy to Thursday from Tuesday, according to sources.

The group this year imposed production cuts of 7.7 million barrels per day (bpd) as the coronavirus pandemic hit fuel demand.

It had been widely expected to roll those reductions over into January-March 2021 amid spikes in COVID-19 cases.

But the UAE said this week that even though it could support a rollover, it would struggle to continue with the same deep output reductions into 2021.

“Energy markets will remain on edge until OPEC+ gets past tomorrow’s meeting. Oil prices should continue to have underlying support as vaccine makers announce start dates for beginning immunizations,” he added.

Britain on Wednesday became the first western country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine, jumping ahead of the US and the EU in what may be a first step toward a return to normal life and boost to oil consumption.