Geddes celebrates 50 years at National Ballet

On stage, a ballerina’s feet are visions of beauty and grace, clad in pretty pink satin shoes with ribbons and supporting dazzling moves.

TORONTO — On stage, a ballerina’s feet are visions of beauty and grace, clad in pretty pink satin shoes with ribbons and supporting dazzling moves.

Once you take off the slippers, however, the sight is often “pretty devastating,” says Lorna Geddes, pointe shoe manager for the National Ballet of Canada.

“If you have one toe that’s a lot longer, they tend to have bunion problems,” Geddes, who is celebrating her 50th year with the dance company, said in a recent interview.

“They get blisters. I’ve seen them lose toenails and … they get really bad corns and even sometimes infections, and then you have to stop because your foot’s all swollen.”

“When you think your whole career is balanced on that little toe, you can see why it is a very serious thing to get the right shoe,” she said.

Geddes has been taking care of the dancers’ footwear needs since 1998, measuring their size, ordering their shoes from overseas and teaching them how to mould the hard material to suit their comfort.

But she got her start with the National Ballet as a ballerina in 1959.

Born in Waterloo, Ont., Geddes had been dancing since she was three and joined the troupe at age 16 following study with company co-founder Betty Oliphant.

In 1983, she was appointed assistant ballet mistress — a coach for the dancers — and a principal character artist, roles she still fills out on top of her shoe managing.

Her next on-stage appearance will be as the countess in Rudolf Nureyev’s The Sleeping Beauty.

Artistic director Karen Kain is staging the piece, which opens the company’s 2009/10 season at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on Nov. 13.

“I never dreamed that I’d still be here 50 years later,” said Geddes, standing in the National Ballet’s pointe room where the pink toes of hundreds of shoes poke out of floor-to-ceiling cubbyholes.

“I love it and it’s been my whole life.”

The dance company is also where Geddes met the love of her life, Hazaros Surmeyan, who joined the troupe in 1966. The two are married and have a 33-year-old son.

Surmeyan is also still character artist there and will dance with Geddes in the role of Catalabutte in “Sleeping Beauty,” she said.

“It’s never dull,” the 66-year-old Geddes said of her career, which has included such roles in recent years as the fairy godmother in Cinderella and the nurse in Onegin and Romeo and Juliet.

Geddes has been with the company through seven directors and three different versions of The Nutcracker, and suffered one sprained ankle.

To mark her 50th anniversary, Geddes plans to keep things low-key with a simple update to her scrapbook that she will pass down to her son one day.

Other ballet memorabilia in her home are her old pointe shoes.

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