Ballet West’s Breaking Pointe: Did the CW Get it Right?

July 9, 2012
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Ballet West Emeralds

Six episodes.  How do you hook a summer audience on a show about ballet in six episodes?  The truth is, the CW’s summer show had a built-in, loyal audience months before Breaking Pointe, showcasing Salt Lake City’s Ballet West, ever aired.  The question is, did they keep it?

It would be unfair not to mention that Ballet West, one of the premiere ballet companies in the United States, is well known to me.  I have been attending Ballet West performances for a few years, have written a number of articles about performances, and have become friendly with a number of those associated with the Company.  I have an undeniable bias when it comes to my opinion about Ballet West.

I had known early on about the filming of Ballet West by the BBC, but the questions that always lingered were, what type of show would this be, how would it be presented and where would it air?  Would it be a documentary airing on a cable network in the U.S.?  As a BBC production, it could air worldwide and have a mass appeal to dancers of all ages around the globe.  There was real promise in this possibility.

When the CW Network announced that it would be adding Breaking Pointe to its summer line up, I was excited on multiple levels.  I was thrilled to learn that Ballet West would be airing on a popular network, which would hopefully put not only a magnifying glass on Ballet West but on the Performing Arts in general.  The Arts have suffered a huge financial hit in the past 4-5 years, and our culture has not had nearly the same focus on Performing Arts as it did a mere 20 years ago.  Having a ballet program on mainstream television was a win-win, particularly for those who have a personal investment in the Arts.

Ballet West Petite MortI was also perplexed.  Breaking Pointe was promoted as a reality/documentary program, and having an understanding of Reality TV, I couldn’t quite figure out the catch.  Every Reality TV program has an end-game. Someone wins a prize. Someone is crowned a winner.

But Ballet West is an active ballet company filled with non-reality stars, and no prize is to be awarded, no competition is to be won.  I had no idea how the CW would be presenting Ballet West, so like everyone else I knew who was excited about seeing their friends and co-workers showcased on national television, I impatiently awaited the airing of the first episode!

I was initially disappointed with episode one.  I was hoping for a show about dance, a documentary-type program about the dancers, what it takes to become a professional ballet dancer, how hard they work, how music plays such an important role.  We saw very little dance in that first episode as we were introduced to a cast of dancers and their relationships with each other and with Ballet West.  Even though I was slightly disappointed, I understood that we had to be introduced to these dancers, and others around me said they expected there would be more dancing in future episodes.  With only six episodes for the summer season, they didn’t have time to dilly dally.  I was anxious to peer into the world of these dancers who I have admired for years!

In the episodes that followed, it became clear that while we would get a peek into the world of ballet, we were not going to be watching any sort of documentary.  The CW quickly showed its hand, and the primary focus of the show was the mostly personal relationships between the dancers.  It’s not surprising that the CW focused on the combination of puppy dogs and rainbows, and disappointment and broken hearts given that its most popular shows are 90210, the Vampire Diaries and One Tree Hill.  Breaking Pointe became as soapy as its fictitious CW sister shows.

Ballet West PaquitaBack to ballet.  Intertwined with the personal relationship dramas were seemingly real dancer struggles.  While the presentation of some of these issues appeared a bit scripted, I did appreciate the, scripted or not, honesty of Ronnie Underwood’s career concerns as he didn’t get the promotion he desired and how he was dedicated to proving his value and strength as a dancer during the season’s final performances. Ronnie was blunt on camera, but his personal drama was all about his place with Ballet West.

It was easy to sympathize with Beckanne Sisk, who at 19 felt like an outsider with colleagues 10-15 years older than her.  In a normal environment, this age difference can be significant, but in the competitive, hierarchical ballet world, it’s a seemingly insurmountable wall.  Beckanne is a young, talented dancer who has to earn her place as a professional dancer through her skill and talent, and at the same time has to find a way to join a tight-knit family without upsetting too many apple carts.  Hopefully, she’ll have plenty of mentors around her to help guide her as she continues to grow into a long career in ballet.

Allison DeBona became Breaking Pointe’s primary “character”.  Her relationship with Rex Tilton was center stage from episode one through episode six. While I could appreciate Allison’s position as her relationship with Rex related to her career, the constant and never ending storyline got real old, real quick.  And this is where the CW lost me.  I didn’t mind the occasional relationship issues between the dancers; that’s real life.  But that’s not what I tuned in to Breaking Pointe for.  And had I not been optimistic and supportive of my friends involved with the show, I probably would not have come back after episode 2.  And definitely not after episode 4.

The best episode, for me, was episode 5.  We saw more dancing in that episode than any other, and while there was a great deal of drama, it was primarily focused on  the final performances of the season, Paquita, Emeralds and Petite Mort.  Allison’s struggles with her roles and her constant issues with tempos, showed us some of the pressures dancers have to deal with, and those issues, good and bad, are the types of things I want to see, so that I can understand and appreciate the art, the company, and the dancers all the more.

Episode six wrapped up Breaking Pointe with a brief finale of the performances, but went back to its docudrama roots. Ending a six-episode season on a three-second cliffhanger tells you all you need to know about the show’s focus.

Ballet West EmeraldsSo I ask myself, did the CW get it right?  What was the goal, really, of Breaking Pointe?  In six episodes, we got to know a half dozen dancers, we learned a lot about their personal relationships with each other,  and we saw a little bit of ballet.  Did the CW gain a loyal following?  Did they lose their original built-in following?  All good questions that need to be answered if a second season is to be considered.

From my biased perspective, the CW didn’t do Ballet West and Breaking Pointe the justice they deserved.  I think the CW had a real opportunity to bring something cultural, something unique, and something beautiful to viewers, but they muddied it up with too much personal, non-ballet drama. If I wanted to watch a soap opera on the CW, I’d just watch One Tree Hill.  I tuned in for a show about dancers and ballet, and it just fell flat for me.

That said, I don’t hold Ballet West at fault at all for the way the show was crafted, edited, and presented.  I realize that is all based on what the producers felt would appeal to their demographic.  I just think that there were a lot of eyes in the ballet world watching Breaking Pointe to see how their art would be presented, and my guess is that most of those who tuned in probably tuned out, unless they had a personal reason to watch, like I did.

I’m happy that BBC and the CW took a chance on Ballet West and put Breaking Pointe, and Salt Lake City, on the TV map. I would love to see a completely revised second season of Breaking Pointe that had a 15/85 relationship/dance ratio, and I’d like to see far more of the dancers featured.  If I were to tune in again, it would be because they were presenting more of a documentary, rather than a drama/soap opera.

I have a great deal of respect for Ballet West and the Company.  Artistic Director Adam Sklute brings compelling and beautiful ballets to Salt Lake City every year, and next season looks to be as exciting as the past.  If you’d like to follow any of the dancers showcased in Breaking Pointe, their Twitter and Facebook accounts are listed below.  Learn more about Ballet West at www.BalletWest.org and see the gallery below for more images from Paquita, Emeralds and Petite Mort.  Photos courtesy Luke Isley.  

For more articles about previous Ballet West performances, click the following links:

Twitter

  • HashTag for Breaking Pointe: #breakingpointe
  • BW on Twitter @BalletWest1
  • BW Principal Artist Christiana Bennett: @ChristianaBenne
  • BW Soloist Ronnie Underwood: @RonnieU93
  • BW Demi-Soloist Allison DeBona: @allidebona
  • BW Demi-Soloist Rex Tilton: @RexLajos
  • BW Artist Beckanne Sisk: @beckannesisk
  • BW II Artist: Ron Tilton @rontilton
  • BW II Artist Kathleen Martin: @itskatiemartin

Facebook

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