Life forgives; Ballet does not.
— "Breaking Pointe," second season trailer
Summertime, and I've been making my way through the first season of "Breaking Pointe," the reality show about Salt Lake City's own Ballet West. Really, I should have watched it sooner. It's a pleasure that's not even particularly guilty.
On one level, of course, it's a contrived reality show full of staged encounters and conversations that trump up all the romances and rivalries that develop in a group of attractive, ambitious young people who spend too far much time together. But it's also a genuine look behind the scenes of a professional ballet company, and a chance to see our old familiar Salt Lake City playing the role of Great American City.
Though "Breaking Pointe" stands on its own, for Utah viewers, seeing familiar people and locations is a large part of the enjoyment. I'm not personal friends with any of the dancers but I have season tickets to Ballet West so I've seen the cast dancing on stage countless times. What fun it is getting to know their personalities as they compete for roles, rehearse and strive to perfect Paquita, Emeralds and Petite Mort — the same ballets that I saw on state last spring.
Salt Lake City looks like a great place to live, too, glamorously shot in color-saturated time-lapse footage, with fluffy clouds floating above the snow-capped Wasatch Mountains, glorious orange-red sunsets over the Great Salt Lake, and glittering city lights. The show is full of local color, shot at restaurants like the Coffee Garden, Este Pizza, Squatters and Redrock, or in outdoor locations such as Reservoir Park, Memory Grove and Diamond Fork Hot Springs.
There's even kind of a storyline: In the first episode everyone finds out whether or not their contracts were renewed and determines exactly where they stand in the pecking order of the company. Prima Ballerina Christiana Bennett (34) plays the role of aging diva ("There are all these girls biting at my heels," she says, but she's still a noticeably better dancer than anyone else); 19 year old Beckanne Sisk (who remarks demurely, "Dance Magazine wants to write an article about me" ) is the rising star doing the biting; demi-soloists Allison DaBona (28) and Rex Tilton (24) carry on a rocky relationship (he wants romance; she has chosen ballet over love); Katie Martin (23), Beckanne's best friend, loses her job at Ballet West but lands a new gig at Ballet Idaho; soloist Ronnie Underwood is ambitious for promotion to dancer principal but lacks consistency to match his charisma (or as the tattooed biker-dude dancer puts it, "If I get out there and I stroke it then I'm going to get more attention and it's all about looking fly").
Artistic Director Adam Sklute plays the rational calm at the center of this storm of egos, insecurities, hormones, perfectionism and
emotional outbursts. He's generally full of praise for his dancers and tries to nurture Allison who is a
gorgeous dancer undermined by bouts of self-criticism (Adam to Allison: "Finish your ballet. Don't make a face. We'll fix it"). But behind those puppy eyes, Sklute is ruthlessly willing to promote or demote any dancer at any time for the sake of the performance.
The other great character in Season 1 is Russian ballet mistress Elena Kunikova, an authority on the Russian classical style of ballet (showcased in Paquita) who literally looks down her nose as she cries "No, no, no, no, no!" and constantly halts the rehearsal to correct imperceptible imperfections. Elena disses Allison's style declaring, "Allison has a personality. She has a very individual approach," while Allison complains, "When I tell you it feels like a foreign language I'm not exaggerating," and her rival the self-assured Beckanne claims that she finds dancing Paquita easy.
The show gives a little ego boost to us dance writers, too. As Christiana says, "Opening night usually means that there will be critics in the audience and there will be a review about you," and there's one scene particularly guaranteed to warm the hearts of journalists when the dancers gather to read aloud from the Salt Lake Tribune's review of their opening night performance. As much as ballet dancers want their moment in the spotlight, writers want someone to care about our words.
The contradiction of "Breaking Pointe" is, reality TV is really anything but live and what these dancers desire most, after all, is the thrill of live performance. You get a taste of the dancing from the show, but you had to be at the Capitol Theater to see just how thrilling Petite Mort was on stage. However, unlike most reality TV audiences, Utahns can easily break through the fourth wall into real Salt Lake City locations and real Ballet West audiences, and that alone makes the show worth watching.
Breaking Pointe season 2 premieres Monday, July 22 on KUCW (channel 4.3), 7 pm.
Breaking Pointe season 1: http://cwtv.com/shows/breaking-pointe