Breaking Pointe: Opening Night Jitters

 In Dance on Screen

For the dancers of Ballet West, the ‘moment of truth’ arrives in episode 5 of the melodramatic CW reality series Breaking Pointe. After weeks of rehearsing Paquita—ballet in its purest classical form—Balanchine’s effervescent Emeralds, and Kylian’s sensual Petite Mort, it is time for the tempo tantrums and relationship drama to be transformed into the magical moments that only happen in performance.

The anticipation of opening night stirs up a lot of anxiety for the dancers and Artistic Director Adam Skulte. Some handle the pressure gracefully; talented Beckanne Sisk keeps her cool during theater week and Soloist Ronnie Underwood stays focused and positive to ensure a solid performance. Both revel in their own stage moments and dance well as a result. However, others seem to unravel at every seam. Demi-Soloist Allison DeBona, who appears to get more camera time than any of the other dancers, is delivered a difficult task by Adam–she is cast in featured roles in all three ballets, dancing a solo in Paquita for first cast, as well as Petite Mort and the lead in Emeralds for second cast. Allison falls into obsessive, self-destructive patterns. She forgets the reason she dances, for the love of it; a sentiment Beckanne expresses well. As a result, her opening night run of Paquita is shaky. Fortunately, she is able to approach her shows on the following day with a fresh perspective and finds herself again in her debut as the lead in Emeralds.

Apparently, on opening night, the conductor gives Allison an impossible tempo. But, because of the extensive editing, we don’t hear much of the music. Actually, we don’t get to hear much of the music or see much of the dancing throughout the entire episode. The editing during the performances is choppy and the music is phased out with dialogue of the dancers. I’m not going to sugar coat this; it’s annoying as hell. Just show me one variation, please!

There is more discussion on Allison’s confusing relationship with Soloist Rex Tilton. We discover that Allison is still dealing with heartbreak from her previous relationship. Honestly, I wish the show would focus on this storyline less. There is too much we don’t know about Allison’s past relationship. These holes in the plot slant the story against her.

One storyline I am curious about is that of Katie Martin’s. Auditioning is such a large, scary, and taxing part of the profession. It’s unfortunate the series isn’t showing more of her journey with finding new employment.

The episode also highlights performance-day rituals. Principal Dancer Christiana Bennett has many; this seems neurotic, but is not uncommon. Many dancers conduct themselves in a particular way on show day. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t fall into this trap (if I told you mine, you’d laugh). But there is a danger in this emotional reliance. You can loose a good luck charm or be on tour and not able to maintain your pre-performance diet. As we saw with Allison, obsessive behavior can be the dancer’s demise.

Overall, the episode has its moments, but leaves me asking the same question I ask every week. “Where’s the dancing?”

I’ve struggled with being a team player for this series; I want to like it, but find myself, more often than not, frustrated with how heavily scripted the scenarios are. While Ballet West’s intentions are clear and honorable–to bring more exposure to an art form unfamiliar to many–the production team’s goals are not as cut and dry. Is the CW simply hoping to create entertaining television for ratings sake or is the network actually trying to bring Americans into an insular, exotic world? After 5 episodes of clipped dance footage, tearful interviews, and stilted interactions between the dancers, I feel fairly confident that it’s the first. Then why highlight a ballet company versus creating another teen drama?

The arts in this country are struggling and many ballet companies are unsure how to push forward. Dance needs more exposure. An alarming number of under 35-ers have never been to a live dance performance. Therefore, Breaking Pointe creates an easily accessible and affordable avenue for ballet to reach a more diverse audience. But at what cost? And what will this translate to?

Towards the beginning of the episode, Adam mentions that Ballet West is heavily reliant on ticket revenue, once again stressing the importance of bringing more individuals into the theater. First of all, this type of financial dependence is dangerous. A dance company needs to have multiple revenue streams like proactive fundraising, community outreach, and educational programs in order to survive current economic times. However, his comment makes me wonder if he hopes letting cameras into the dance studio will translate to increased ticket sales. But will it?

The other day, I read an article in Dance MagazineThe piece focused on this whole concept and questions the benefits of mainstreaming dance, highlighting points brought up in a recent panel discussion led by the Dance Critics Association cleverly called “So You Think You Can Ignore Dance on TV.” The article didn’t go as deep as I would have liked, but it touched on dance’s pop culture image and brought up an interesting point about critiquing dance on television. One of the panelist, So You Think You Can Dance finalist Vitolio Jeune, commented on the importance for individuals in the dance profession to be critical on these shows. He confessed that much of the shows are scripted, but believes that if dance experts write about these shows “the actual dancing might get more attention.”

I leave you with these thoughts then…it is my impression that many expect me to simply applaud these networks for putting dance on television, thanking them for ‘generously’ exposing the art form I’ve devoted the majority of my life to. While I appreciate the interest, I think it’s unfair to assume dancers won’t–or should not–have strong and unfavorable opinions about these shows. Vitolio is correct; if we begin to look at these mainstreaming efforts critically then maybe we can get outsiders interested in the dancing and not just the offstage drama.

Tune in next week for the series finale.

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Showing 2 comments
  • Niki Sekandari
    Reply

    You are fair in your synopsis and correct in your analysis. The commercials and intro to each episode advertise a show where the athleticisms and hard work of ballet will be highlighted, instead we see dancers having martinis as they complain that their schedules are so demanding. Where is the grueling beauty of ballet that I know and love? It is not anywhere in Breaking Point. I too have continued watching each episode with a ever-dimming hope that at some point we will see how intense this sport can actually be. Instead, we see choppy clips, as you said, nothing in its entirety and no corrections! You hear the dancers talk about perfection continuously, but the show never reveals the hundreds of things a dancer has to think about for each step. It is as you say, annoying, as well as false. Thank you.

  • stephanie
    Reply

    Nikki,

    I really appreciate you contributing your thoughts to the discussion. The whole dance on television concept has certainly peaked my interest, but I think it’s incredibly important that the dancers voice their opinions openly. I don’t think we’re asking too much in wanting to show America why we do what we do.

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