Breaking Pointe - “It’s Not Brain Surgery, It’s Ballet!”

Breaking Pointe - “It’s Not Brain Surgery, It’s Ballet!”

The best stories about artists (A Chorus Line, Slings & Arrows, Sunday In The Park With George) argue there is no distinction between the personal and the professional in art. People who dedicate their emotions to performance have no way of neatly separating that from the emotions they feel in their personal lives. Dance is not a profession so much as a way of life, an isolated community in which the members of a company are simultaneously family and competition. Although it uses the familiar tropes of reality TV, the CW’s ballet-themed “docu-series” Breaking Pointe rises above the reality milieu when it captures the drama inherent in a ballet company rather than inserting drama for drama’s sake. The show is performative and rife with tension, but, well, so is the world of dance. 

Breaking Pointe’s second season première corrects some of the more egregious missteps from the show’s first season, which often struggled to find the right balance between dance-world insights and soapy CW drama. After stumbling out of the gate with a pilot that focused too much on personal relationships, the first season improved once it turned its focus to casting, rehearsing, and mounting a ballet. The second season première drops the first season’s most boring plotline (the toxic relationship between two dancers which always felt shoehorned in by producers) and displays a newfound confidence in depicting the lack of separation between the personal and the professional in a tight-knit ballet company like Salt Lake City’s Ballet West. 

Ballet West’s director Adam Sklute (who really wants to be Andy Cohen) helpfully breaks down the ballet world into its high school equivalents. The principal dancers (prima ballerina Christiana and her husband Chris) are seniors, the soloists (injured Ronnie) are juniors, the demi-soloists (somewhat-injured Rex, perfectionist Allison, and ballet protégé Beckanne) are sophomores, and the corps de ballet (new cast member Josh) are freshmen. This season also focuses on Ballet West’s training program, Ballet West 2, where younger dancers train for two years before maybe one of those students is offered a contract. They are essentially the middle schoolers of this ballet program, biting at the heels of the company members. This season’s biggest personalities look like they will be drawn from this group including flamboyant Zach, competitive Ian, and put-upon Chase (Beckanne’s boyfriend).

During their confessionals it’s easy to think of these cast members as stock reality personalities—then someone does a grand jeté across the rehearsal room or executes a perfect pirouette. These cast members bring a level of talent and dedication not matched on any non-competition reality show on TV. Unfortunately, most of these dancers are more engaging while dancing than they are in their unscripted interactions. The second season tries to correct that problem by introducing several over-the-top personalities through the Ballet West 2 program, along with newcomer Silver Barkes (yes that’s really her name), a guest dancer who brings an enthusiasm to her non-dance scenes that most of the other cast members are sorely missing. 

This show is at its strongest when it sits back and captures the drama inherent to the ballet world. An injury is the oldest cliché in the sports-movie handbook, but that makes it no less compelling to see how one missed landing in a ballet last season could potentially stop Ronnie from ever dancing again. Josh is allowed to speak thoughtfully about the difficulties of being an African-American male ballet dancer from an underprivileged background and the only black male in the company. (And Adam rightly points out that Salt Lake City is not particularly diverse in general.) After reconnecting with an old boyfriend, Allison must choose between staying at Ballet West or moving to Michigan (and giving up dance) to be with him. Choosing between love and a career is not the most original narrative for a woman on TV, but then again, it is a very real choice that many dancers (both male and female) have to make. Ballet is not a career that lasts forever; there are limitations to what the human body can do and how long it can do it. Does that mean Allison should give up dance now in hopes of finding personal stability? Or does she push herself as long as she can, putting her personal life on the backburner in favor of dancing a few more years?

There is actually frustratingly little dance in this episode, a problem that will hopefully be fixed once the show moves from casting to rehearsing this season’s production of Cinderella. But outside of So You Think You Can Dance, this is the best place to find high-level dancing on television. The show continues to improve as it finds confidence in linking its dance world exposé with its CW-mandated drama. At its worst, Breaking Pointe is about ballet dancers getting drunk at a party. At its best, it is about every artist’s struggle to find personal and professional satisfaction. It’s not a consistent show, but it is a sometimes-fascinating look into the world of professional ballet.   

Stray Observations:

  • As a theatre major in college, I have been to many parties exactly like the one Silver and Ronnie throw (right down to someone crying in the corner because they are worried about their friends). Ballet dancers strive to make their dancing look perfect and effortless, and it is kind of compelling to see how silly and fallible these people are in real life. Instead of undermining their performances, it makes it all the more impressive that these inane people are able to transform themselves into perfection onstage. 
  • Zach is extremely performative, but in this case, I have a feeling he is exactly the same way when the cameras stop rolling. 
  • For anyone else who read The Babysitter’s Club books, Josh is pretty much exactly how I pictured Quint Walter, Jessi’s ballet dancer boyfriend. 
  • Only two cast members from the first season don’t return in this episode. Katie didn’t get her contract renewed and moved to Idaho, but as far as I can tell, the show makes no mention of what happened to her boyfriend (and Rex’s brother) Ron. Maybe the show just decided having a Ronnie and a Ron made things too confusing?
  • I love Cinderella stager Wendy, especially when she corrects one of the dancer’s arm movements by saying, “It’s not Swan Lake.”