The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Aug 01, 2012

Ballet West goes behind the scenes on reality TV

Posted by rdurbin

It's time for a backstage look at professional ballet. There have been a few behind-the-scenes movies, but they were almost totally about ballet training schools and not adult, fully professional dancers at work.In "Breaking Pointe," we get a reality TV turn as Ballet West (BW) of Salt Lake City opened its backstage doors for the camera for six weeks and allowed the show's directors to focus on a special metaphor — that is, the old ballet saw that if you break pointe, or fall off your toe, you are done. Start packing your bags.

BW dancer's pointe shoes. Photo Eric Ostling/The CW

 That's the point of the various subplots in this meticulous series from CWTV. In an episode called "Survival of the Fittest," we find that although artistic directors may say that dancers simply "come and go," they are often sent away (sometimes pretty unceremoniously).

BW dancer Katie Martin at the barre. Photo by Eric Ostling/The CW

Witness Ballet West apprentice Katie. When contract time comes, she's told that she's got to go. The expense of finding where to land is on her and she stands to lose her principal love interest, Ron (who does get a renewal contract).

The fear of not holding up also drives prima ballerina Christiana. Her emotions are conflicting, making her an engaging character. She aspires to perfection, and that desire is matched only by her fear of younger dancers frothing at the mouth for her position. She has to stay on top.

BW principal dancer Christiana Bennett. Photo by Eric Ostling/The CW

One dancer who will presumably take her place one day is Beckanne. She has an abundance of talent, is unnervingly happy and cheerful, and frankly a great person. One wonders how long she'll be able to keep that up in this tense profession.

BW dancer Beckanne Sisk. Photo by Eric Ostling/The CW

An up-and-coming male dancer, Ronnie, joins in the perfection pursuit, but his has the added dimension of deliberate challenges to the mostly wrong perception of the male dancer. He has multiple cars, cycles and hits incessantly on the women in the company.

BW dancer Ronnie Underwood. Photo by Eric Ostling/The CW

A former ballet dancer told me that she likes watching the show because she identifies with the interactions among the dancers — the women measuring up the men, the scrutiny of principal dancers through both envious and admiring eyes, and gossip about the smoldering love affairs going on within the ranks.

That's another subplot — the on-again, off-again relationship of Rex and Allison. It's pretty clear they shouldn't be together; their struggle to ignore that fact keeps the interest level up. Since their bodies are their instruments, personal strife can affect performance. It's their constant struggle.

BW dancers Allison DeBona and Rex Tilton during filming. Photo by Eric Ostling/The CW

"Breaking Pointe" by CWTV aired six episodes from May 31-July 5, ending with the company completing successive weeks of public performance (there are good shots of Ballet West in action). However, full episodes can still be seen on laptop and mobile devices at the network's website. (Click here.)

At the time of this writing, it isn't clear yet whether the series will be back for a second year. There are enough cliff-hangers and other Ballet West dancers to keep the show going.

"Breaking Pointe" aired on CWTV. Episodes can be seen at

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