BM’s Cinderellas talk about shoes: Abigail Oliveiro on breaking in her beloved pointes

BM’s Cinderellas talk about shoes: Abigail Oliveiro on breaking in her beloved pointes

With every performance, Abi settles into a spot by the stage where she can stay focused and also wear and change pointe shoes as needed. Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag

Shoes are at the core of the magical tale that is Cinderella. For when the soot-stained girl – transformed for a night into a princess by her fairy godmother – flees the grand ball before the stroke of midnight, she unexpectedly leaves behind one of her glass slippers.

Thus begins an exhaustive search for its rightful owner throughout the kingdom. When it fits perfectly on Cinderella's foot, no matter how unlikely a candidate she may be, it confirms to the prince that he has at last found his beloved.

Ballet Manila's latest interpretation of the popular story uses pointe shoes instead of glass slippers, but all the classic elements remain in this pre-holiday spectacle. Lisa Macuja-Elizalde's first full-length choreography, which premiered in 2016, makes a comeback with principal dancers Abigail Oliveiro and Joan Emery Sia sharing the lead role.

As the curtains rise on this restaging of Cinderella, we talk with the two ballerinas in separate interviews about a most fitting topic – what else but shoes!

Other than pointe shoes, what other footwear do you own?

Heels, heels, heels! Boots with heels. Two pairs of runners and trainers. And a pair of slippers.  

What’s your latest shoe purchase?

My latest shoe purchase is actually – surprise! – a pair of pointe shoes. I've been trying a few different brands of late as I'm noticing my feet have slightly different needs than before. Unfortunately you don't know how the shoe will work for you unless you buy and try them in class/rehearsals because first fittings are almost often never an indication of how they will feel and break when dancing. It's an expensive experiment finding the right shoes!

Have you ever given away an autographed pointe shoe?

Abigail Oliveiro steps into Cinderella’s shoes once more, still with boyfriend Mark Sumaylo as her Prince Charming. Photo by Jojit Lorenzo

Yeah! It was when Cinderella first premiered and this gorgeous girl, Bianca, loved the performance so much, she came back a second day to also gift me this beautiful long card, a T-shirt and a pair of my favorite Cinderella socks! I was so honored and touched, I just had to give her something! The only thing I had really was the pointe shoes that I used for the show! So, Mark (Sumaylo) and I both signed that pair (with the #MarBi because that was beginning to catch on at the time). She was so excited, she even tried it on when she got home and sent a picture! It was the sweetest!

Have you ever asked for an autographed pointe shoe?

No, I’ve never asked for a pair of signed pointe shoes but I rarely went to the ballet before my 20s. It was too expensive, but I knew of the current stars at the time. I would have loved to have had signed pointe shoes, so being able to give mine away or being asked for them is a gift and a joy for me! I even got asked once if I could sign a pair and post it to the girl for her birthday, I think.

How do you break in your pointe shoes?

Well, first I step on the box to flatten it to fit my feet better. Then I try on the shoes to feel which is more for the right foot and which is left. Then I darn the top part of the shoe for more stability and so I don't slip when I do push my arches. Then I sew elastics in a criss-cross fashion so the shoe really hugs my foot. Then I sew the ribbons on. My ribbons also have elastics in them so they always remain taut. I don't like loose ribbons.

And lastly, I sew across the vamp to keep the front taut as it slowly breaks down. The top of my foot is rather "thin" as in flat-like pancakes so I need the top to be tight as my feet doesn't fill out the front. I don't wear any protection inside, aside from some masking tape on some toes. Oh yes, I do hammer it out as well just so I can use it straight away for rehearsals. If I forgot my hammer, the stairs will do.

What’s the downside of wearing pointes?

I have awful-looking feet. My dad told me when I was younger to look after them and soak them because pointe shoes will cause havoc in the long run. Well, I should have listened more! Some of my toenails don't grow straight or in normal fashion. I have calluses on my feet. Bruised toenails are the worst!

The process to ease the pain is something I don't think I can describe here, but there's a way to ease the pain quickly. (You cut your toenail or probably hardened skin in a place short enough where the blood is trapped and release the blood from there. Cause the pain you feel is basically trapped blood from the bruising). Usually bruised toenails lead to them falling off. While they are all downsides to wearing pointe shoes, there's a story to each callus and toenail flaw! I love it!

If you could ask a fairy godmother for a perfect pair of pointe shoes, how might that look and feel like?

What I have right now is pretty close! I'd ask her if she could just make it a tiny bit lighter and if they could just stay the way I like when it's broken in forever! I think I spend more time sewing than wearing them! He he! I love pointe shoes! It's a never-ending journey with them!

This Month in BM History: November 2000

This Month in BM History: November 2000

Why Cinderella is close to Joan Emery Sia’s heart

Why Cinderella is close to Joan Emery Sia’s heart