Reality TV goes backstage with ballet

If you don’t follow ballet, you probably have no idea how athletic it is, how competitive, how all-encompassing.

The recent documentary First Position took viewers behind the scenes as kids trained for Youth America Grand Prix, a prestigious ballet competition.

And now Breaking Pointe, which premieres at 8 Thursday night on CW57, goes backstage at Ballet West in Salt Lake City, one of the best companies in the country. It explores the dancers’ drive, intense preparations, uncertainties, and jealousies.

One of its stars is Beckanne Sisk, 19, from Longview, Texas, who spent most of her teenage years at Philadelphia’s Rock School for Dance Education and graduated at 17 from the Rock Academic Program Alliance. The Inquirer interviewed her in 2008, when she was a talented 15-year-old competing at Youth America Grand Prix. She performed quite a bit in Philadelphia with the Rock School as a teen and made a brief appearance in First Position.

Sisk is heavily featured in the first episode of Breaking Pointe, and she’s also the best reason to keep watching. By most rights, based on her age and the mere year she has spent in the company, Sisk should be a speck barely worthy of notice. But she’s far too talented for that.

"There’s a phenomenon that can come around sometimes that just blows everybody out of the water," Ballet West soloist Ronnie Underwood says on the show, "like 19-year-old Beckanne." Her female colleagues "probably want to put glass in her pointe shoes."

And sure enough, later in the episode, another dancer describes a swollen foot as looking like Beckanne’s, which is wider than most but gorgeous and flexible.

"I was really intimidated by Beckanne when she first came here," says Katie Martin, 23. "I think I wanted to not like her, but she’s so nice. You almost wish someone with that much talent was a brat, because then you would feel better about being jealous of her."

All the dancers have a good reason to feel nervous and threatened, because the first episode coincides with the day their one-year contracts are renewed (or not) and promotions announced. No one knows what to expect.

"The best recipe for creating a hardworking and well-functioning dancer and artist," says artistic director Adam Sklute, "is if all the dancers know that they are special — but also that they are expendable."

Careers seem sustainable only if the director is pleased and promotions are offered. Romances depend on both partners’ dancing for the same company. That’s why Katie Martin and Ronald Tilton worry about their future together, and Allison DeBona keeps Ronald’s brother Rex at arm’s length.

"They say getting here is the hardest thing in the world," Sklute says, "but staying here is even harder."

But no one seems worried about Sisk, who is also model beautiful, with a fashionable dancewear wardrobe to match.

"You have potential to be a real major ballerina, and I see role after role after role for you in the future," her boss, Sklute, tells her.

Indeed, she’s a talent worth watching.

As for the rest of the show, it’s a little staged, a little forced, and the producers seem to want to aim a magnifying glass on the dark side of dance.

But I’m interested enough in all the characters to tune in again next week.

 

Contact writer Ellen Dunkel at edunkel@philly.com.

TV Review

Breaking Pointe

8 p.m. Thursday on CW57