One thing that “Breaking Pointe,” a new series on the CW network, made clear is that a reality show about a ballet company can be just as gooey as every other reality show. These leggy perfectionists in updos and heavy eyeliner may not be quite as capable of snark as a Jersey housewife, but they absolutely deliver on the soapy romances, tears and on-camera humiliations.
And of course, someone had to mention glass in the pointe shoes, to raise hopes for a catfight.
But the fact that “Breaking Pointe’s” first installment last Thursday at 8 p.m. ended up being more thoughtful and honest than it began bodes well for the rest of the series. I’m grateful that the makers of this behind-the-scenes look at Salt Lake City’s Ballet West realized partway through the episode that a daggers-out rivalry among competing ballerinas just wasn’t going to happen. They backed off that avenue of intrigue, in the face of cheery comments about the niceness of the troupe’s veteran star Christiana, and the sweetness of her supposed antagonist, 19-year-old phenomenon Beckanne.
“You almost wish someone with that much talent was a brat,” says a fellow dancer, dimples flashing, “because then you wouldn’t feel so bad about being jealous.”
Dancers are typically good-natured, eager-to-please people, and it’s reassuring to see that streak come through in this show—reassuring that BBC Worldwide Productions is not aiming to blacken the eyes of a generally well-behaved lot. On the contrary, according to a statement issued by Ballet West Artistic Director Adam Sklute: “When the BBC approached us, their idea was to create the antidote to the movie ‘Black Swan.’”
“My hope for ‘Breaking Pointe’ is that we can set the record straight about the dance world,” said Sklute. “I want to present the real joys and heartaches—dramatic, yes, but not with overblown and exaggerated stereotypes.”
One stereotype that gets stomped straightaway is the one about food deprivation, as we see dancers Katie and Beckanne tucking into fat, sloppy sandwiches while Beckanne laments the fact that some in the company are too envious of her talent to befriend her.
“Just because you’re a freak at ballet doesn’t mean you’re a freak at everyday life,” says Katie, consolingly.
“I like that statement,” coos Beckanne. “A little.”
I like this show. A lot. I’m all for breaking down the mystique of ballet, and I hope this approach will spark wider interest in the art form. To that end, it’s a brilliant idea to bring viewers into the claustrophobic confines of a ballet company to meet the appealing and courageous souls who spend their lives quite literally on top of one another, dealing with the same few dozen ambitious folks day in and day out, working together, falling in love, falling off balance, falling out of favor, etc. Even after grabbing a rare moment in the spotlight, there’s little glamour once they step offstage to ice their feet and prepare to sweat it out again the next day.
All too soon, it may come to an end. As it does for Katie, when she enters Sklute’s office and hears him tell her she’s finished after this season. Her tears surely burned into many a viewer—this was real grief, painful to watch. Still, both she and Sklute remained respectful, gentle and courteous with one another--a model, really, for how to handle bad news in an age of Donald Trump-style firings.
Later, packing up for an audition in Boise, Katie tells her boyfriend, “My job is to put a smile on my face and work hard.”
Surely dancers have one of the best work ethics on the planet. Bravo to “Breaking Pointe” for spreading the word.