It seems the simplest and most logical of alterations - a pointe shoe that doesn't really come to a point that much, but squares off at the toe, forming a platform into which the ballerina's toes can expand.
That's the type of toe shoe that generations of directors and dancers have consistently resisted, and that's the type of shoe Nadine Revene is making and marketing. She was in Salt Lake City recently, at the School of Ballet West, to demonstrate and take orders for her new pointe shoes, marketed by Soloist & Company; and she hopes that ballet dancers by the hundreds will soon be using her sensibly constructed shoes."Dancers are by nature a little masochistic; they are the last of the arts professionals to do what they love for nothing," said Revene, whose dancer's body and instinctive grace confirm a life spent on stage and in the studio. "That's one reason why they have put up with the same type of antiquated toe shoe for centuries.
"Does it make sense? We've changed all other types of athletic shoes - for running, hiking, all kinds of sports - using the most scientific principles of fine fit and support, and the newest fabrics. But ballet dancers still cling to the idea that slippers must be made by a little old man at a cobbler's bench."
Revene pointed out the variableness of sizes among pointe shoes on the market, resulting from the vagaries of hand construction. "Suppose you wear a 5C slipper, the most common size; you go to the shop, and you have to try on half a dozen pair before you find the ones that fit," she said.
Manufacture of Soloist slippers began at a factory in Pennsylvania at the end of July. Representatives have been actively selling since August, and business has been increasing steadily. "So far we are selling direct," she said, "going to schools and companies. We like to give personal service."
The advantages of the Soloist slipper are many, said Revene. First of course is the squared off flat box, which allows the toes and metatarsal muscles under the foot to work comfortably.
There are no nails or staples in the shoes, which are put together with moisture-resistant adhesives, hence no danger of puncture wounds. The side seams fall a little farther back than in most slippers. Shanks are also moisture-resistant and mold to the arch. They come in three grades of firmness -basic, extra-strong and super-strong - but the thickness has not been increased.
"The outside of the slipper is finest leather, and we are careful that there are no tucks and bumps inside," said Revene. "The box is slightly lapped around under the shank, so that they work together. Our shoe lasts about a third longer than most, and costs less. We also supply free ribbons and elastic, and a side benefit is that the toes are quieter than most on stage."
Revene said she comes by her inquisitive, inventive nature naturally. "My family has several artists, and my mother was an expert seamstress," she said. "You have to have an eye for the lines and details."
She began improving dance gear more than 10 years ago. "I designed my own line of leotards, and had my own shoes made," she said. "In my shop, Pavlova's Pointe, I sold both wholesale and retail."
One of her early designs was a stretch ballet slipper, and the idea was bought by Aris Isotoner, maker of Isotoner gloves, which turned it into their comfort slipper. "They made me an offer I couldn't refuse," Revene smiled. (She still markets a stretch ballet slipper of a different fabric, 99 percent cotton.)
So it was back to square one, looking for a new product, which turned out to be the pointe shoe. Designing it was a painstaking process.
"You have to try, fail and go back to the drawing board," she said. "We tried making them in the old way, almost wholly by hand, but it was just too labor intensive and antiquated. Our slippers are hand-crafted and finished, however.
"I wanted to achieve a shoe in which the foot would be unconstrained," she explained. "Too often the foot and ankle are tense, and for plies the toes need to spread, but in the usual toe shoe they can't do so."
She finds young dancers most open to her shoes, because "professionals are picky, they don't like to change what they are used to," she said. "Children are just glad that their feet don't hurt."
However, Joy Ludlow, who teaches at the University of Utah and the School of Ballet West, said that almost every female dancer in the Utah Ballet had bought the new shoes, and many are already wearing and enjoying them.
Revene tried out her new shoe in her own classes in New York, where she has taught since 1976. Her extensive background as a dancer includes Broadway musicals and light operas at the New York City Center. She's also been a member of the American Ballet Theatre, New York City Center Ballet, First Chamber Dance Quartet and Pennsylvania Ballet, and she spent a season (1963-64) as ballerina at the Bremen Opera House. A broken knee put an end to her dancing career in 1973.
Revene developed the shoe partly because "I wanted to leave something lasting to my profession," she said.
"When the foot serves as a proper platform, the energy flow is right, and you feel as if you are standing in midair, all by yourself," she said. "You like to jump, and you feel comfortable."