Thank you, CW. “Breaking Pointe” is a tremendous showcase for the excellence of the underappreciated Ballet West.
The reality show, which premiered on May 31, also does a stand-out job portraying the hard work, dedication and all-consuming lifestyle of the endlessly fascinating world of ballet. It also documents that “there is a beauty to ballet that is unlike anything else,” as one dancer aptly describes it.
Where the producers of “Breaking Pointe” trip and fall, with the admirable intent but comic effect of the Hippo Ballet dancers in Disney’s “Fantasia,” is with their decision to combine the real-life portrayal and educational aspect of a documentary with the forced-to-the-point-of-being-manufactured drama of MTV’s “The Real World.”
The show’s grand jete leap away from thrilling viewing is apparent from the opening scenes. The intro has the air of the U.S. Army's “Be all you can be” recruiting promotions. And we are told that the company “allowed cameras inside, for the first time.” Are the Ballet West rehearsal rooms akin to the Kremlin?
But then this first episode of six produced turns more promising when it reveals the dancers at their most vulnerable, on the day of contract-renewal notifications. Almost without exception, dancers are employed through one-year contracts and they dance “on borrowed time.” At the 20-minute mark of the hour-long episode, the most experienced of the handful of dancers profiled, Christina Bennett, explains the progression from first-year apprentice, to corps de ballet members, to demi-soloist and soloist ranks and then to principal.
Little heat is generated and there is none of the amped tension we’ve come to expect from “reality” programming. The dancers nonchalantly open individual envelopes to learn their fates and producers separate the dancers into casual pairs to read the news.
Brothers Ronald and Rex Tilton from a family of ballet dancers are both in. Beckanne Sisk, the new phenom, gets a leapfrog promotion. Ronnie Underwood shows minor frustration and barely a hint of arrogance. While dancing as a principal in previous companies, his promotion is from soloist to first soloist, a not untypical but surprising development. And Katie Martin, Ronald’s girlfriend, is cut.
Katie’s tears are real in artistic director Adam Sklute’s office when she is told the news. But Sklute is an extremely nice person. There’s none of the tempestuous terror that some dance observers expect from genius directors. Sklute tells Katie that she has “gotten stronger” and she has “wonderful presence onstage with wonderful, wonderful theatricality,” but he “doesn’t think there’s a spot in the company” for her.
Sklute’s roughest observation is that Rex “lets his personal life interfere with his professional work.”
The dancers are just as cordial. Principal dancer Christiana hints at her concern that rising star ingÉnue Beckanne will be in competition with her for lead roles but never says anything remotely mean. Christiana’s best friend Katie says, “You almost wish someone that talented was a brat.”
The creative team behind “Breaking Pointe” is revealing. It is produced by BBC Worldwide Productions, with Kate Shepherd ("Big Brother," "Wife Swap") as executive producer and Izzie Pick Ashcroft ("Dancing with the Stars") and Jane Tranter ("Top Gear," "Dancing with the Stars") are executive producers.
In advance material, the network breathlessly promised more grit and intrigue: “Viewers will also see the dark side of this seemingly perfect world; the jealousy, competition and intensity that exist behind the scenes at a professional ballet company. For under the tights and tutus lie warriors, who battle in a gritty world of extreme athleticism, focus and dedication, while hunting for the unattainable ... perfection.”
From this opening episode, “Breaking Pointe” appears to be more of a mild, ordinary relationship saga. Unlike the Kardashians, these people have real skills. It’d be far more interesting to see performances and rehearsals as they strive for perfection, correcting nuances of each finger movement. Can we see more dancing, please?