The Ballet World Exposed Through Reality TV: Breaking Pointe

Posted by on 06.08.2012

In the age of reality TV, producers and networks are on a constant lookout for the next big hit.  America is hooked on this form of entertainment; be it a show documenting the events of a house full of  strangers who love to party or cameras following the lives of the extremely wealthy.  Last week the CW welcomed a show that is offering viewers a behind the scenes view of something that is actually compelling, the world of ballet.

Breaking Pointe is a new reality show that chronicles the lives of seven Ballet West dancers.  Based out of Salt Lake City, Ballet West is directed by Adam Sklute, a former dancer and former Associate Director of the Joffrey Ballet.  We follow the romance of two couples, the relationship between two brothers, a dancer who is unhappy with his career, a young dancer being quickly shot up through the ranks, and the company’s prima ballerina.  They sure do have all their “character” bases covered.

I want my readers to be aware that I refuse to discuss any of the events on the show that could be interpreted by viewers as portraying the dancers in a poor light.  After experiencing a little bit of reality show filming myself, I am fully aware of the way producers can twist situations and modify statements in order to facilitate drama and entertainment.  I am not accusing the producers of doing this, I am just realistic about the way they function.  I want to give each dancer the benefit of the doubt: what they said on the show probably came out a little different than intended.   I hope that, if you are watching the show, you will do the same.

The premier episode dealt with “contract week,” where the Artistic Director, Mr. Sklute, decides who will receive a year-long contract for the following season.  We are shown segments of rehearsal footage that are strung together to look like an audition for the handsomely dressed Artistic Director, clad in a suit.  (I suspect Mr. Sklute’s attire was something the producers requested of him, in order to make him seem more intimidating.)  This “audition” is quite unrealistic, as as Artistic Director spends an entire season evaluating his dancers in all aspects of their work with the company.  This way he or she can make an informed decision as to which dancers he would like to bring back for the next year.  I am sure Mr. Sklute, did in fact review his dancers in this way.  The audition segment was probably put together as a way to introduce the concept of the contract renewal process to the viewers.  I find no fault in this, as it was realistic enough and was captured in a tasteful way.

On “contract day” most of the dancers received letters informing them about their future positions in the company.  Two of the show’s featured dancers are called in for a meeting with Mr. Sklute: Bekanne Sisk and Katie Martin.  I really appreciated the conversation that Mr. Sklute had with Bekanne, the 19-year-old company newcomer.  He seemed so honest and open, explaining that he wanted to promote her, but not push her too far too fast. “Being a demi-soloist comes with a lot of responsibility,” he told her, discussing the importance of being a role model despite her young age.  This is the kind of conversation every dancer dreams of having with their Artistic Director.

Bekanne exits the office thrilled, as Katie enters nervously.  Her meeting does not go as well, as she is informed that she will not receive a contract for next season.  She immediately begins to tear up.  This moment really hit home for me.  This, in contrast to the first meeting, is the conversation every dancer dreads.  It’s as if you are watching all of your hard work going down the drain and having your career placed in limbo.  Even worse, she had to receive this dreaded news, while being filmed for a national television show.  The producers placed her in the empty theater to sob with sadness and disappointment.  Very cliché.

The dancers who received contracts, are set to return their paperwork to the administration in episode two.  Soloist Ronnie Underwood, is feeling unsure about committing to another year without a Principal title, when he “has been dancing Principal roles.”  (Again, somehow I feel this is drama that the producers pulled out of him.)  He sits down at a bar with other dancers in the company for an awkward conversation about deciding whether or not to sign his contract.  I can assure you, a Soloist in a company does not complain to his friends in the Corps de Ballet about their disappointment over not being promoted to Principal.  (At least I hope no one does that.)  So, another facilitated conversation and possibly a facilitated situation, as in the end Ronnie realizes that Ballet West is in fact the company for him.

In week two, Katie embarks upon her first company audition, leaving dancer boyfriend, Ronald, back at the Ballet West studios.  She calls him ecstatic after learning she has been offered an apprenticeship with Ballet Idaho.  Though the show is in fact getting involved in this couple’s personal life, this is a reality that a lot of dancer couples go through.  Dancers often find themselves moving to different companies in different parts of the country, sending their relationships into panic mode.  With this relationship, I am sure the producers were looking to show interesting drama, but they may have unknowingly stumbled upon one of the biggest challenges that dancers face in their personal lives.

The show’s other couple, Allison and Rex, seem to have a complicated relationship.  This is a situation I am going to steer clear from as it is extremely hard for me to tell what is real and what has been tweaked for the show.  Again, I will give them all the benefit of the doubt.

We meet the dancer’s Physical Therapist in episode two, revealing the strain elite activity puts on the body.  This scene was very well done and very realistic.  We all live and die by Physical Therapy; most dancers will tell you it is the most important element of their career.  However, I don’t think I have ever seen a Physical Therapist putting a bandaid on the top of a dancer’s foot.  We usually are left to fend for ourselves on that one.  But again, it makes for good TV.  Nothing like a little blood to make us seem tough!

All and all, I think if you take the dancers’ conversations and personal interactions with a grain of salt, this show has the potential to give people a relatively accurate look into the world of ballet.  I do hope the show continues down the same road they have taken in the first two episodes.  Being on a large network like the CW, the show is sure to provide invaluable exposure for Ballet West and the ballet world as a whole.

In the end I must say, keep it classy CW: you’re not doing too bad so far.

 

Readers- Are you in Ballet West or know someone who is?  I would love to hear more about how Breaking Pointe was filmed and what you think about it.  You can either leave a comment here, or email me directly at rebecca@tendusunderapalmtree.com.  Not associated with Ballet West at all?  I still want to know what you thought of the show!  Sound off here!

 

37 Comments

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  3. I’m so happy the public gets a peek into the hard and beautiful work of the ballet world. My daughter had the wonderful privilege of studying under Roland and Leslie Butler in SLC and also Ms. Joan Miller in Palm Beach Ballet Center.I had a first hand seat in watching the joyful but challenging experience. Thanks for sharing the real world of behind the scenes of Ballet. Also Thank You Roland and Joan Miller.

  4. Here on TENDUS, I have answered your called for more dancing from Breaking Pointe. I have put together videos of other companies dancing the choreography, to give you a better idea of their program from this season of the show. Check it out here: http://tendusunderapalmtree.com/2012/06/breakingpointevids.html

  5. Great blog – I think your comments and perspective on Breaking Pointe is spot on. Brava!!

    • Thank you Adria!

  6. Hey guys!!!

    This is Allison from the show! I love reading everyone’s opinions, good and bad. I’m guessing most of you dance and are very familiar with ballet! Fantastic! I just wanted to add something for you all to think about. We at Ballet West decided to go along with the project because we felt that, overall, it would get dancers everywhere by bringing awareness to ballet. You must remember that this show is meant to reach out to viewers who may not see ballet often or at all. They also might not understand ballet jargon if we just start throwing everything in their face right away! We needed to start slow. Yes, there is personal “drama” but our lives really play a part in our performing, you all should know that. Throughout the season there will be more dancing and more ballet. Hope his gets you thinking and remember this can help all of us! We need dancers support!

    -Allison DeBona

    • Thanks for chiming in, Allison. I think I can speak for everyone when I say we very much support the dancers on the series. Most of the points being made here are more about how the show is being edited, not how the dancers are conducting themselves. Best of luck.

  7. Because of the way it’s shot and edited (Quick, Quick, quick) plus little emphasis on actual dancing, I found it kind of boring. Wish they could have done a show more like The Secret Lives of Dancers. (RNZB) or Agony and Ecstasy (ENB). Both of those had long takes and a more leisurely pace.

    • Lisa-

      Interesting that you say you find it boring. I was actually wondering if I would find it boring if I were so interested to see how they portray the ballet world. If I knew nothing of ballet, I think it may bore me. That is why they are trying to add in the extra drama. I am very interested in watching the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s show. It will be very interesting to compare the different styles.

      Thanks for the comment.

  8. Great post Rebecca! I love how you were able to critic it thus far in a very open and honest manner without portraying any negativity! I love ALL things ballet, so I hope that this show continues in a positive and enlightening fashion!
    (and last but not least) … How drop-dead gorgeous is Ronnie Underwood? What I wouldn’t give to do a few promenades with him!!! 😉

    • Audrey-

      Well you know that is why the CW chose him!!! Thank you for the kind words. I am pulling for it to continue in a positive fashion as well!

  9. I have not seen the show and have been hesitant to do so. Mostly from fear of how they will portray us as. I too know the industry very well. I studied under Joan Miller at the Palm Beach Ballet Center and was a principal for years. I danced for Marie Hale at Ballet FL for a few seasons but have since retired due to my body turning on me! (I still put on my pointe shoes at least once a week and “fool around”) Drama? They are in the right place but there is so much more to it all. We are elite athletes we just do it in a more graceful fashion! I hope that they will shine the light in a good way and let everyone know how hard we work and the PASSION we have to do what we love. It has been difficult for me since my retirement…can’t seem to find my way. When it’s all you’ve known since 3 years old you are left empty. Maybe they should do a segment on us that can no longer preform and how we muddle through our lives after the fact. Just a thought. Tendus under a palm tree…yep that was me and wouldn’t trade it for anything!

    • Elizabeth-

      Thank you so much for your comment. Are you new to my blog? If so, welcome. I hope to hear from you more in the future.

      I completely understand why you are hesitant to watch the show. The art form means so much to us, that we would hate to see peoples’ opinions of it being influenced in all the wrong ways. I can tell you, that in my opinion, this has not yet happened on the show. They have kept it classier than I had expected, up to this point. But as people are saying, it would be great to see more dancing. They have not focused very much on the passion and artistry that lives in each one of these dancers. I can’t help but feel that the producers are unfamiliar with the ballet world. If they were, they would be capturing more of the footage that we, as dancers, want to see.

      Keep up those tendus under a palm tree. Wishing you the best of luck with what comes next.

  10. I’m enjoying the show, though I wish there were more dancing. It seems pretty typical for a reality show. I do appreciate them showing the hard work that goes into both performing in and running a ballet company.

    • Shelly-

      Thanks for the comment. I am glad you are enjoying the show. We are all pulling for more dancing too! Maybe they will hear us over at the CW!

  11. First and foremost, I’m delighted to see a TV miniseries about life in a professional ballet company, which is using real company members and no paid actors (that I know of). That is a huge step in the right direction in terms of raising the profile and public awareness of this beautiful, elegant, and badly under-appreciated artform. That said, I am not a dancer myself, but worked for a professional ballet company for five years and, while I appreciate that relationship drama occurs within a company, I feel they are spending too much time on this aspect of company life. If it’s drama they’re after, how about casting drama? THAT’s a biggie in the ballet world, for sure! Based on how we are led to believe Bekanne is being treated, I suspect there’s plenty of casting drama over the roles she’s been getting! And on the subject of Bekanne, she trained at The Rock School in Philadelphia and returned there last summer to do their summer intensive. My daughter was in that same summer intensive and I saw Bekanne perform in the end-of-intensive performance. To say this girl is amazing is not even close to giving a realistic portrayal of what she can do. She has the most gorgeous lines, can balance for days and turns like a top. It is no wonder she’s getting amazing roles. I would love it if Breaking Pointe would spend some time on her and show us what she can do. Show us WHY she’s getting all these amazing parts and, if they are determined to show the ugly, negative side of ballet, show us all the other girls sniping about her behind her back, because you know, as a 19 year old phenom, they are having a field day at her expense. LOL! I also would like to see more complete dance segments, instead of all the choppy little slices. Still, all this said, I couldn’t be more pleased to see a TV series focusing on REAL ballet dancers!

    • Ginny-

      Breaking Pointe will play a big role in raising awareness and appreciation for ballet. That is why everyone in the dance world is watching to see if they are portraying the art form in the right way. And focusing on the dancer’s drama, is not what we as dancers want to see. But again, we need to take it for what it is, being glad that ballet is being highlighted.

      It seems unanimous that everyone wants to see more dancing on Breaking Pointe, and I could not agree more. I am actually disappointed that I have seen the same clip of Beckanne 3 times on the show! I wish they would mix up the footage. That is something the producers probably think the audience would not notice.

      Thanks for your comment!

    • I said this somewhere else, but I agree with what Ginny says about Beckanne. The problem with Breaking Pointe is that the producers are not following a basic rule of filmmaking: show, don’t tell. For example, stop having various characters tell us about how awesome Beckanne is, and show us some of the amazing stuff that she can do. Similarly, stop having Ronnie tell us how he should be a principal because he’s doing principal roles, show us Ronnie dancing a principal role and doing it well (or not), or even doing really awesome steps that demonstrate how he deserves (or not) to be a principal dancer. Show us how the dancers are physically struggling instead of having them just complain about it. If they’re not going to take advantage of the unique things a ballet company can offer, why set the series on a ballet company in the first place? They can get generic drama anywhere else.

      As silly as things like SYTYCD can get at times, at least they show us the dancing, and we get to see for ourselves and decide if it’s good or bad or interesting. It also involves us more because we don’t have to rely on someone else telling us about something, we can see it for ourselves and decide.

      • Andre-

        Ballet is a visual art form, so let’s see it! When the dancers are being interviewed, we would love to see they dance as they are speaking. Would really showcase the company much more. I would like to see them dance more. I also would like to see them dancing in full body shots. They show so much of them zoomed in on their faces, which are of course beautiful, but not the whole picture!

        Thanks for another great point.

  12. I’m really enjoying the show. As for most of the TV I watch I just want to be entertained. The CW is one of the best for that. I don’t expect an actual documentary from the CW; that is more PBS or HBO. So far I’m loving the show. I’m in awe of the dancers; I could never have the discipline they have. Can’t wait for the next episode!

    • Kim-

      You’re exactly right- we cannot expect a documentary from the CW. I guess we will have to continue to wait for a network to pick up that concept.

      Glad you are enjoying the show. Thanks for writing in.

  13. I like the show. I own several documentaries on DVD about professional ballet troupes and I love the inside look. But this show feels very immediate to me. It’s a small company, the cast is young and we’ve only got several hours to see into their world.

    Maybe I’m too easy to please, but classical ballet on mainstream TV in prime time? This is big. Any media boost that ballet can get right now is good; you never know how many new fans will come from this type of thing.

    • Cedrics_Mom-

      I agree. Like Black Swan, ballet in the mainstream is a HUGE deal. Unlike Black Swan, this show shows ballet dancers as normal, passionate people. I hope it continues that way.

      Thanks for the comment!

  14. I haven’t watched the first 2 episodes so thanks for the recap. I plan to watch it this week. I am glad they haven’t stooped way to the bottom. I can’t watch reality tv because it’s always so fake. I hope it continues to showcase ballet in a positive light!

    • Maria-

      Yes, I too am rooting for it to portray ballet in a positive light. I think that is honestly all we can ask for. And that they create a show with integrity.

      Thanks for writing in!

  15. I saw the show for the first time last night and I must admit that I was disappointed. (I still have to go backwards and catch up with the premiere, which I have DVR’d.) The primary reason: the lack of dance or even detail about how a company operates. I do understand this is a reality show, and it wants to move quickly to the personal stories and intimate melodrama, but unfortunately, rather than revealing the world of ballet in an interesting way, it just levels things and makes it just like any other show. While your point about dancer couples being forced to separate due to jobs in different cities (a problem academics have too, I can tell you!), I wonder if the casual observer will understand, as you said, that this is something that dancers face more than the average person. Band-aid and physical therapist aside, I don’t know if it conveys the true difficulty of the work dancers do. It seems to me that the dance sequences are, like the “audition” scene, chopped-up montages to rush through rather than to enjoy or ponder. What class is like, how a rehearsal is carried out, how the director struggles to keep a company solvent: these aren’t there. And the funny thing is, while all those genuinely work matters are carried out, you could also get real drama. Having worked backstage at a ballet company, I can attest to both the familial closeness and the jealousies (more then former than the latter), the romances and the troubles dancing together when the affair ends, and so on, that all take place in the studio. Frederick Wiseman’s “Ballet,” about ABT, gives a better idea of company life, imperfect as it is.

    • Karenatasha-

      You bring up a really good point (something I over looked because I know the ballet world so intimately.) The show has missed a wonderful opportunity to educate their audience about the world of ballet: about class, about rehearsals, the reasoning behind technique, and the art involved. I sure wish they would have done that, but the CW would never have bought it. Nor would any other main stream network. But shame on them. Shame on TV viewers for not showing interest in real, interesting, concepts for shows.

      Thanks for the great comment!

  16. I think your point about it being a reality show and taking it for what it is makes total sense. For what it is, it isn’t bad. 🙂 I’ve seen way worse…
    And I’d love the see the other series as well.
    Thanks for the write-up – you captured things quite well!

    • Thanks for visiting TENDUS and commenting, Catherine! I am glad we agree.

  17. I don’t think very highly of the show. It is a low-quality show, with respect to ballet and even as a normal TV show. However, there is a good example out there of how a ballet reality TV series could be good. Search for the BBC’s series on the Royal New Zealand Ballet, or email me if you can’t find it.

    • Andre-

      I surely understand what you mean, but we must take it for what it is, a reality TV show. They are making an effort to cater to what America likes. And the shows America likes are very low-quality. I do believe that they could have made the show more negative or filled with more drama, but as for now, it doesn’t seem that way, at least to me.

      I would very much like to see the series on the Royal New Zealand Ballet. I hope that you will post it here so that my readers can see it as well.

      Thank you for your comment.

      • Here is the RNZB documentary — both seasons (and the 2nd season is Ethan Steifel’s 1st season as AD):

        http://minus.com/mbquYHATQO/

        Watch it before it’s taken offline!

        • Thanks for sharing Andre. Can’t wait to check it out!

          • You’re welcome Rebecca! Love it, hate it, or indifferent, I hope you’ll write something about it, maybe as a counterpoint to Breaking Pointe.

          • Andre-

            That’s a wonderful suggestion! I am always on the lookout for something new to write about.

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  1. My View on “Breaking Pointe” | Twirling Terpsichorean - [...] professional company dancers in a reality TV show setting. I agree with what Rebecca said in her post on…
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