Culture Life People

En Pointe

Paul Bateman
Written by Paul Bateman

Old shoes. New life.

When Adelie Gahan-Hannibal discovered that the Australian Ballet goes through almost 7,500 pairs of custom-made ballet shoes every year, the Melbourne-based fashion design student hatched “a summer project”.

Drawn to issues of sector sustainability and seeking to “upcycle” discarded footwear, Adelie wrote to the Australian Ballet requesting any surplus shoes. To her delight, the Ballet wrote back, offering her 50 pairs at a total value of $6,000.

“There’s a box here waiting for you,” they replied. “You’re more than welcome to collect it.”

For all its poise and grace, ballet is brutal on footwear. Pointe work – in which a ballet dancer supports their entire body weight on the tips of their feet – is performed while wearing pointe shoes. Though structurally reinforced, these shoes take a beating and rarely last long.

The shoes in Adelie’s box neither smelt too bad nor looked too rough. Adelie took the shoes from the box and spread them throughout her Fitzroy North studio. There they remained for quite some time, while Adelie considered her next creative steps.

Like a watchmaker who disassembles a clock to better comprehend and calibrate the clock’s component parts, Adelie took a pair of ballet shoes and broke them into pieces.

She rearranged each element and made sketches of each fragment. She found that no two pairs of shoes were exactly the same. This offered her, she says, “a different experience every time.”

New ideas began to form and soon she found herself preoccupied by “endless possibilities.”

Her aim is to repurpose the shoes into other garments, accessories and forms – into things like jewellery, jacket pockets, sleeves and bags – and perhaps compile an art show of new and novel objects.

Ultimately, she hopes to “start a conversation” about the sustainability of costume design and the environmental footprint of the design and fashion sectors.

“It’s a big issue,” she believes. “And whether you are in the industry or simply a consumer of everyday clothing, it’s something we all need to think about and start making changes.”

Follow Adelie, and her ‘En Pointe’ project, via Instagram @sweetdeisus
Images of Adelie’s work by Mike Hannibal
This article was first published by Creative Victoria, 5 June 2020, at Creative Community

About the author

Paul Bateman

Paul Bateman

I'm a writer from Melbourne, Australia. I write about life as I find it. In doing so, I hope to offer something real. I write, too, about wine at adrinkinthought.com.au

8 Comments

  • beautiful! great idea. as a ballet dancer myself (no longer on pointes though) I really liked the idea of recycling ballet shoes, they are beautiful even though used and will evoke the grace and beauty of the dance where ever and however they appear. i would definitely buy something that was made of or was graced by ballet shoes……so would most Australian Ballet subscribers i imagine…..potential market segment…..thank you for this Paul.

    • Bronte! I had no idea that you’re a former dancer. Respect! Strikes me as a hard, hard artform. Thanks for your lovely feedback. x Paul

  • Good story, Paul. And good to see you writing gentle journalism again. A while ago I turned off Kororoit Creek Road in Altona North to take a drive through an industrial estate. Just a whim. There, amongst the trucks and the warehouses and the wide, wide roads, amongst the shipping containers and the packing places and the engineering businesses – all things that are mysterious to me – was the Australian Ballet’s storage premises. Art and industry.

    • Thanks so much, Vin! Had no idea about the Altona North facility; will take a look. And, yes, writing this story was good for me in so many ways…

  • Fascinating tale & so well told Paul! Thank you xxx Last year I visited the Australian Ballet School with some friends & we toured their workrooms. The pointe shoes were stacked in a purpose-built shoe room & were quite a site; there were so many! My mind went racing back there when I saw that dismembered ballet shoe pic (above) & read about Adelie’s desires to repurpose these shoes. An ambitious, artistic project, deserving of such encouragement that your piece afforded it! Creative Victorians.

    • I can only imagine that purpose-built room; 7,500 pairs of shoes a year! Amazing. Thanks for your generous feedback. xx

  • Although elegant & graceful, I have always thought of pointe shoes as tools of torture. But thanks to your article Paul, and Adelie’s amazing imagination & creativity, I can now envisage them transformed in a myriad of beautiful objects. Very interesting & informative article. Thank you Paul.

    • Thank you, Paula! And I agree: ballet is as tough as it gets; grace under sustained duress. Thanks for your feedback! x Paul

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