Given the popularity of ballet movies like “Black Swan” and dance reality shows, it’s no surprise that there is now a ballet reality series, “Breaking Pointe” (premiering this Thursday, May 31, at 8/7c on The CW).
What is a surprise is that the series is a high-brow, respectful look at an elite dance company in Salt Lake City. Though there are a few typical reality show staged scenes of characters going shopping and getting coffee, the show is closer to a documentary than “Dance Moms,” as it chronicles a season at Ballet West, one of America’s top 10 ballet companies.
The cameras capture the intense practice sessions, rivalries and friendships, as well as artistic director Adam Sklute‘s efforts to manage the company. Said Sklute, “The life is hard. It’s intense. Your body and your mind and your soul are part of your job… You don’t need to create phony drama. There’s enough drama in our lives: injuries, dealing with just your physicality.”
The premiere episode focuses on contract week, a tense time when dancers learn whether they will stay with the company for another year, or be let go. The cast of characters includes Ronnie, a macho male dancer who rides motorcycles and runs a trucking company in his off-season; Beckanne, a 19-year-old prodigy resented by the other dancers; prima ballerina Christiana; headcase Allison; and brothers Rex and Ronnie, both of whom are dating women who dance in the company. Or at least that’s how the show presents them. The dancers have yet to see a single episode of the show and have no idea what their reality personas will be.
“It’s a docudrama, so we know that it’s not going to be necessarily letter perfect to what our lives are every day,” says Sklute. “That doesn’t matter because ultimately, if we’re depicted as an interesting group of people that you want to get to know, that’s more important.”
The dancing sequences are not staged. “They were there during are rehearsal time, during our work time, so they worked with our schedule and that was why we ended up just sort of forgetting that we were there and it came very natural,” said Sklute.
In the premiere, the cameras catch catty remarks during class and a dancer’s devastation when she learns that she’s getting cut from the roster.
The dancers were happy to dive into the reality fishbowl. “It’s good for our business. It’s good for the art. We love ballet, so we want to bring that out,” says Ronnie, who admits people often thinks he’s kidding when he tells them what he does for a living. “I’ll be out and someone will ask me what I do and I say, ‘I’m a professional ballet dancer,’ and they look at me like I’m joking.”
The cast hopes to change the public perception of ballet dancers as delicate, cloistered artists. Says Beckanne, “I feel like people don’t understand that we are real people too. We have other lives. We do things. We’re not just strictly about ballet. We have friends. We’re normal.”
Indeed, the first episode shows the dancers partying at a bar, like any other twentysomethings. The women are also shown eating, contrary to the stereotypes of starving ballerinas.
The show also presents the dancers as serious athletes. “We do a lot of stuff that people don’t even realize we go through to make this happen,” says Ronnie. “As a ballet dancer, you gain an understanding of your body that nobody else can have because you articulate your toe, your finger has to be in the right place. You learn things about your body that nobody else ever taps into… The women in dance are extremely strong… You can go to the gym and lift weights and have huge biceps but a thousand little muscles are a lot stronger than one big muscle.”
Like other athletes, the dancers battle through injuries. The company employs a full time physical therapist who deals with wrecked feet, pulled muscles, and other dance-specific injuries. “I had a rib out just a little bit ago and you have to get your rib stuck back into place,” shares Ronnie.
The cast hopes that the reality show will not only enhance Ballet West’s reputation, but spur the public’s interest in the art form. “Those people that come to the ballet are passionate about it. They love it,” says Skulte. “I would just love to see more people get it and love it, not only as much as we do, but as much as our audiences do and make those audiences even bigger worldwide.”
“Breaking Pointe” premieres Thursday at 8/7c on The CW.