Courtesy Dayton Ballet

A few months ago, Dayton Ballet's artistic director, Karen Russo Burke, approached Miranda Dafoe with an unorthodox idea: She wanted to cast a woman in the role of the Nutcracker in the company's holiday production, and she was tapping Dafoe.

"I honestly was pretty shocked," says the Dayton Ballet dancer. "But the more I thought about it, I thought, You know what? Clara's dreaming the whole thing from the battle into the Land of the Sweets. So why can't she dream of a woman saving her from the rats and taking her on this journey?"

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Ballet Stars
Chelsy Meiss in rehearsal for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Spring Morris, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada.

When Christopher Wheeldon's celebrated Alice's Adventures in Wonderland returns to National Ballet of Canada's stage this week, there will be one big change. First soloist Chelsy Meiss will dance the role of the quirky, tapping Mad Hatter, the first time ever that a female dancer has stepped into the part. "Chelsy is one the most versatile dancers in the company," says artistic director Karen Kain. "The Mad Hatter role is the perfect vehicle to showcase her acting ability, enthusiasm and tap dancing technique." For Wheeldon, this decision came at just the right time. "In the current climate, where the boundaries of gender in ballet are being explored, the option to have Chelsy as The Mad Hatter became a relevant discussion," he says.

We caught up with Meiss to hear all about what it feels like to take on this groundbreaking role.

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State Ballet of Siberia dancer Yuri Kudriavstev. Courtesy Siberian Swan.

As ballet's gender roles grow increasingly blurred, more men than ever are reaching new heights: the tips of their toes.

It's no longer just Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo and the few pointe-clad male character parts, like in Cinderella or Alexei Ratmansky's The Bright Stream. Some male dancers are starting to experiment with pointe shoes to strengthen their feet or expand their artistry. Michelle Dorrance even challenged the men in her cast at American Ballet Theatre to perform on pointe last season (although only Tyler Maloney ended up actually doing it onstage).

The one problem? Pointe shoes have traditionally only been designed for women. Until now.

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