Breaking Pointe: Special or Expendable?

 In Archive, Dance on Screen

Last night marked the premiere of a whole new type of reality dance television series. We’ve grown accustom to competition shows like So You Think You Can Dance, but the CW Network’s new program Breaking Pointe is supposed to provide a introspective look into the lives of 7 dancers with Salt Lake City’s Ballet West.

My hopes were high, perhaps too high. I thought, “Here’s a chance for America to see that dancers may have unique career paths, but are relatable people, with other interests, hobbies, and an unrivaled work ethic.” But Breaking Pointe shows very little of the actual dancing or creative process and, instead, focuses on the romantic entanglements amongst these 7 dancers and their obsession with being perfect and the best.

Of course there is some truth in these stereotypes. It’s difficult to say whether ballet breeds perfectionism or individuals with meticulous tendencies are innately drawn to it, but the constant battle for perfection is always present. Yet, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard the word used so much within the span of an hour. At one point, Principal Dancer Christiana Bennett professes her reason for dancing is to achieve perfection. Really? The reason for enduring aches and pains, injuries, constant rejection and heartache is to be perfect. Personally, I view my nagging perfectionism as an obstacle in life I am constantly trying to overcome. It’s certainly not the reason I dance. The indescribable high I have onstage, when the bright lights warm my face and I feel a breeze from the rising curtain, that’s what drives me to return to the ballet barre each passing day.

But the neuroses don’t stop there.

The first episode highlights one of the most stressful times of a dancer’s season, contract renewals. Ballet West II dancer Kathleen Martin‘s anxiety eats away at her focus and concentration, making her obsess. “I just want to know either way,” she says repeatedly. For most of the dancers, the news is good. But we are left ‘guessing’ about the fates of Katie and Beckanne Sisk. Both ladies have meetings with the Artistic Director, Adam Sklute. The network tries to keep us guessing, but the outcome is obvious. Beckanne, who Sklute says he doesn’t want to push too quickly, receives a demi-soloist contract after one year in the company–so much for a gradual climb to the top. Poor Katie has to hear she will not receive a contract for the following season on national television (for dramatic effect, I’m sure). I felt awful for her. Contract meetings always made me sick to my stomach. To the point in which it didn’t matter if my director had good or bad things to say to me, I was bound to cry regardless from nerves alone. Now, Katie is faced with auditioning for other companies and her relationship with Ronald Tilton is placed in jeopardy.

Then there’s the director, Adam Sklute. He’s made out to be a decent guy, but I couldn’t get past one line he said, “dancers are special, but expendable.” Ouch! Of course this footage is shown in anticipation of him not renewing Katie’s contract, but his words contradict each other greatly.

Other characters emerge: Demi-Soloist Allison DeBona and her bizarre friends-with-benefits relationship with Demi-Soloist Rex Tilton (looks like we have an villainess for the season), Soloist Ronnie Underwood (who, with a money-matters-attitude and out spoken nature, I hope to see more of this season), and Beckanne Sisk (whose sick legs and feet and remarkable amount of potential draws hostility from more senior dancers).

In conclusion, I’m underwhelmed. There is very little dancing and the series relies heavily on the seemingly scripted personal drama.  My fellow tweeters were all over the board last night, from “love it” and “my new summer obsession” to one dancer’s sigh of relief “better them than us,” and my personal favorite, “more like breaking wind.” I caught snippets of Jiri Kylian’s Petite Mort in the previews for next week’s episode, which rejuvenates a bit of my optimism for the series.

Join me next week! #BreakingPointe

 

 

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Showing 8 comments
  • Mike Mathews
    Reply

    Agreed. Confusing premiere show: way too much relationship drama about people we are not invested in; far too little dance. The character portraits are crudely, a necessity in a six-episode reality show, but it makes the people feel a bit cartoon-y.

    Also, the storyline jumped from place to place with little focus. It is difficult to tell what the show directors/producers were trying to say because it mostly came out as a jumble (which is kind of what real life is, a jumble, but that is not satisfying storytelling).

    On the other hand, the situations were true to life, as you and your dance cohorts can attest. Watching Katie get the no contract decision was tough, even though the situation was telegraphed early in the show, but as a Ballet West II dancer she knew that very few would move up to full company members. The daily competition is real, but the competition is truly within oneself, which Katie lost in the company class we saw in the show.

    Beckanne Sisk. Yep, she has the whole package, but she is really young and one never knows how things turn out over time. We saw her dance (SPOILER ALERT) as Kitri in the BW production of Don Q–she was absolutely perfect, in character and technical performance.

    Also, Beckanne is as nice as they are making her out to be, she and our daughter became friends at PNB SI in 2009 (2008?). Beckanne left there for Ballet West School and our daughter left for Miami City Ballet School, then they met again this winter at Ballet West when Beckanne danced the lead and our daughter appeared in the Gypsy dance as part of her U of Utah/BW trainee opportunity. Once again, that shows the life of dancers, continually dealing with the scale of ups and downs.

    One hopes the show, Breaking Pointe, will find a clearer focus and become a standout piece of TV. Right now the show hovers above dreck and barely meets watchable.

  • stephanie
    Reply

    Mike,

    Thank you for such an insightful comment. Maybe I’m asking too much of the show, but I really want to see the dancing! And I want America to see the dancing. While all of the competition, drama, and intrigue does exist, a ballet career is too short to focus on these elements. I’d love to see choreographers and coaches working with the dancers. I’d love to see what Christianna does when she finishes rehearsals. Maybe she goes home and obsesses about ballet; this is fine and potential reality, but we only get to see her do a few chaine turns and go on about trying to always be perfect. I too worry Beckanne may burn out early. If she gets all of these roles and recognitions so early on in her career than what does she have to look forward to?
    Having a bit of a true insider perspective, I’d love to hear more of your thoughts as the series continues.

    Best,

    Steph

  • Jessica
    Reply

    I agree with all of this and thank you for posting about the show! Though I love the movement of making ballet viral on company sites, bloggers, youtube, twitter, and facebook, I am so weary towards this show and I don’t believe for one second the drama is reality- it is edited for ratings otherwise a real ballet dancer’s life would be too boring, mundane, and simple for viewers obsessed with theatrical relationship dramas. I wish the editing favored ballet as the healthy and supportive art which is evolving rather than the intense and feverish sport it has been portrayed as in ‘Black Swan’, ‘SYTYCD’, ‘Save the Last Dance’, etc. Perfection has grown into a disgusting word for me as it is being used by ballet dancers in the most extreme terms. And company life in more and more American companies do favor companionship and friendships, it is not as lonely and bitter as they are obviously editing it to be. And on a last note for me- I have the right to be critical and protective of ballet because it is the life I am devoting myself to and I can not stand by and be a passive viewer simply because the network is waving around pointe shoes and tutus and some bad indie music soundtrack. I love this art and I believe strongly in my opinions of each ballet aspect 🙂

  • Chelsea Wayant
    Reply

    I tried to leave a comment earlier this week and did not go through! I was too annoyed to try again at the time, but here is another attempt.

    I thought this show, as with all of these types of reality shows, was extremely contrived. To begin with I don’t think it mattered at all that it took place within a ballet company. It just happened that at the time this particular production company was preparing to pitch a show ballet was on everyone’s mind (obviously due to Black Swan, which clearly inspired the approach this show is taking): if designer shoe factories were popular at the time then the show would be about that and would have the EXACT same storyline. Clearly, people were chosen and coached to fulfill certain storylines and stereotypes. The deliveries of the dancers do not feel honest, more like they are told what to say. From the point of view of someone who has been shooting rehearsals for the past year I don’t even think those were real working rehearsals.

    In a way I am relieved because it is so completely different from my documentary that my film won’t feel as though I am copying the show. But, at the same time it is sad that certain stereotypes are only being applied here and I have to keep watching it even though I would rather not (so that I can defend my work against it, which will more than likely happen when my film is screened).

  • candice
    Reply

    It is hard to peel your eyes away from what appears to be a mild–and by mild I mean rather boring–train wreck. I imagine the dancers are being genuine, it is just unfortunate the script writing is so trite. And Jessica, the terribly generic music masquerading as indie pop was killing me!

  • Matthew Donnell
    Reply

    I actually really enjoyed the show. I don’t find it that far off from my personal experience in my ballet career. As Jessica stated above, it has to be embellished for ratings, but I’ve seen some pretty crazy stuff in my day in my company as I’m sure many people have. Just as I defended the show “Smash” to fellow actor/dancers, I will apply the same argument. There’s no need to get upset at how our field is being conveyed on network television. They’re not showing it inaccurately for the most part, and people who never would have asked questions about what we do are now doing so. It’s a win-win. The dancers on the show get some larger public attention which is great for their careers and for Ballet West, and new audiences who only thought ballet was for untouchable waif-like women and men who are a bit “light in their loafers” can gain new perspective.

  • stephanie
    Reply

    Here’s what it boils down to for me. As I am quickly learning from my experience in other professional fields, relationship drama and “crazy stuff” exists everywhere; it is not predisposed specifically to ballet dancers. The show does not reflect my personal experiences in ballet companies. Was there drama, relationship woes, and hostility within my experiences? Yes, of course! However, when a non dancer asks me, “what it’s like to be a dancer?,” I believe he or she is getting at the essence of the career. Often, what non dancers don’t understand and are curious about is the day to day grind. They are baffled why we take class everyday, countering our daily ritual with, “don’t you know what you are doing by know?” They want to know what happens in rehearsal. They are trying to grasp the concept that this is our livelihood.

    Yesterday, I was interviewed by WPIX Channel 11 for my upcoming shows with Ballets with a Twist. The anchorwoman did ask me about my opinion on such shows and I kept it rather PC, but she also wanted to delve into the artistic process of creating a ballet. The director of BWAT gave her description of why she choreographs with passion and zeal. It was an engaging moment and reminded me why I put my mind and body through hell. This is my beef with the series. The network calls it an inside look into the lives of dancers, but its merely a superficial grazing of the profession. I would like to give American viewers some credit and imagine they’d be interested in seeing these dancers and the director involved in the creative process, which occurs on a daily basis. Personally, I find it the most rewarding part of this profession. Showing a principal chaine across the floor is not my idea of displaying the artistry of these individuals.

    Without this element, the show can be interchangeable with any other CW soap opera. As I told a few friends recently, they just added tutus. Despite all of my balletic woes, I would love a representation of why we all pursue this profession. We aren’t all crazy and obssesive. These are stereotypes for a reason, but why can’t networks show a broader view of dance. I’m sure these dancers are much more stable than they are being portrayed. Are there benefits to this series? I think so. The growing mainstream interest in dance is astounding, but, ultimately, how is ‘airing out our dirty laundry’ helping the profession prosper artistically?

    Actually, Matthew, I am rather surprised about your take on this show seeing as you were not a fan at all of Black Swan.

    I’ll be watching and blogging tonight. Hope to engage in conversation with all of you again.

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  • […] marks another evening staying in to catch another reality dance show. DIYdancer has been following the CW series Breaking Pointe since its premiere at the end of May. Heavy on the drama, light on the dancing, the series is supposed to be an introspective look into […]

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