Ballet West's drama continues on CW's 'Breaking Pointe'
Christiana Bennett is accustomed to people looking at her. As a principal ballerina with Ballet West, it comes with the job.
But she wasn't so accustomed to watching herself especially before she and the rest of the company became the focus of "Breaking Pointe," the documentary series that returns to The CW on Monday, July 22.
And it's still difficult.
Like when she broke down in tears under the pressure of a demanding career that she knows can't last too many more years. In ballet, being 33 means the clock is ticking.
"I wanted to be completely forthcoming with what my real life is like right now," Bennett said. "And that includes a huge transition in a couple years. So I am glad that it was brought out in the show.
"But I wish I hadn't cried," she said with a big laugh. "I was, like awwww, here it comes. It's hard to be vulnerable. It's hard to see yourself being vulnerable on TV."
It's the price members of the company paid to raise the profile of Ballet West.
"We want this to be one of the premier companies in America, and that's what this is all about," said artistic director Adam Sklute. And the company has seen increased interest in touring, "which is what we need to do."
Any effect on ticket sales has been negligible, according to John Roarke, Ballet's West's marketing director. But web hits increased by almost 1.3 million the month the show premiered in 2012.
"Because of the program, we quadrupled our summer program auditions, which in effect made us more competitive with other programs around the country and helped to raise the quality of the students admitted to our program," Roarke said.
More dance • Being on TV is difficult just ask Allison DeBona. The soloist was in an on-again, off-again relationship with fellow dancer/first soloist Rex Tilton and found herself cast as the villain of Season 1. She learned to deal with it.
"I figured it out," DeBona said. "I think that's why I'm less stressed out. I just don't let it affect me as much. I'm just sort of going with the flow.
"And I guess I've gotten over the fact that everything I do is on that camera and people are going to see it. I've just thrown my hands up and said, 'Oh well.' "
What members of Ballet West are hoping to see is more dancing in Season 2. That's pretty much a given, because Season 1 was only six episodes. Season 2 is 10.
"It certainly seemed that way in production, but we never know what's going to happen once they go into the editing room," Sklute said.
It's tough to say whether the proportion of backstage drama is down and the proportion of dancing is up in the Season 2 premiere. We see a mix of both.
From the get-go, the company is immersed in preparing Sir Frederick Ashton's "Cinderella," which is "something we've never done in this company," Bennett said. "So it's really going to be quite a journey for the audience."
There's a resolution to the Allison-Rex relationship almost immediately, although continuing drama flows from that. The news is not exactly a spoiler as The CW released a trailer more than two months ago in which DeBona says, "Rex and I are no longer together."
Waiting for the Season 2 premiere, DeBona said, "I don't know what to expect. I really don't. My stomach kind of gets scared a little."
But there's good news for her. There's a new villain in town.
Season 2 incorporates the junior company, Ballet West II, into the narrative. And 20-year-old Zachary Prentice practically leaps off the screen as the dancer you love to hate.
"I love petty drama," Prentice says in Monday's episode. "When people are, like, coming to me and gossiping, like the more gossip I can know, I love it."
He immediately injects himself into something that's clearly none of his business and seems determined to stir things up as much as possible.
"Zach just lives out loud," says principal dancer Christopher Ruud, who was the artistic director of Ballet West II during filming. "Once in a while, I would really like Zach to rein it in."
Ruud who is also Bennett's husband recently stepped down from his Ballet West II leadership position (see accompanying story).
Hazards of the job • The thing about "Breaking Pointe" is that the drama is not manufactured. This is a show about highly competitive people in high-stress jobs who are competing for the same parts.
"I can tell you that whatever drama you see on TV is a small percentage of the drama that goes on," Sklute said with a laugh.
And the drama is heightened because dancers face the daily danger that it could all end very suddenly.
As Season 2 picks up, Tilton is dealing with a torn tendon in his foot. And Ronnie Underwood the muscle-bound dancer who exuded confidence in Season 1 is trying to recover from an extremely serious foot injury.
"It's very tough," Sklute said. "And this gives people a look at what life is really like for a dancer."
It also shows the dancers what it's like to be TV stars. Which can be weird. Like when people you've never met rush up and give you a hug.
"I felt like people knew me without me knowing them," Bennett said. "That got a little uncomfortable at times when people would assume that they knew me intimately and I was just meeting them for the first time."
Or when DeBona got off a plane and discovered that three other people on the flight were tweeting about her.
"And I was, like, 'Oh, God, I look like [expletive]. I just woke up. It's 5 in the morning,' " DeBona said. "It's just bizarre, and I don't think it will ever feel normal."
Bennett used the same word to describe the first time she watched herself on "Breaking Pointe."
"It was bizarre, actually," she said. "It was, like, 'That's me?' And 'Oh, do I really sound like that?'
"But I'm much better at crying now," she said with another big laugh.
Season 2 of this documentary series that follows the drama and trials of Ballet West returns to The CW on Monday, July 22.