Ronnie Underwood is one of seven members of the Ballet West company who are being followed in the new CW reality series âBreaking Pointe.â
“In a cutthroat world with fierce competition,” a disembodied voice says.
“There is rivalry and relationships,” another continues.
A young woman later haughtily intones: “Do I think everyone belongs? Probably not. To be the best, it takes passion, sacrifice” — dramatic pause — “and obsession.”
Though these statements sound as if they could be uttered by just about any of the countless stars of reality competitions currently on television today, there is one crucial difference: These young men and women are wearing ballet tights and costumes. They are the dramatis personae of “Breaking Pointe,” a six-episode reality series making its debut on Thursday night on CW that offers an in-depth look at the inner workings of Ballet West, the esteemed ballet company based in Salt Lake City.
Development on “Breaking Pointe” began a year ago, but the idea for the show started long before that.
“I had a couple of real obsessions with worlds I wanted to explore dramatically,” Jane Tranter, the head of BBC Worldwide Productions, which is producing the show, said recently. “One was ballet, the other was a convent.”
Each, Ms. Tranter said, offered “a world which is a hidden world: there’s what the public sees, and what happens underneath.”
As it turned out, the dance world proved more readily accessible, thanks to both Ms. Tranter’s own experience and lucky timing. Ms. Tranter was an early figure in the development of “Dancing With the Stars” (which was based on the British series “Strictly Come Dancing”).
“The attitude toward ballroom dancing when I first started talking to people about it was not so different from the attitude toward ballet,” she said. “It’s not as rarefied, but people thought it was in its own way as eccentric a dance form to put on screen. And look what happened to that.”
When the movie “Black Swan” came out, Ms. Tranter said she knew the time was right to seize upon the new awareness of ballet in popular culture.
CW officials felt the same way, and the channel picked up “Breaking Pointe” without a pilot. The channel’s target audience is women 18 to 34, and it excels at “showing young people’s lives slightly heightened, holding a microscope up to a heightened world that feels really fascinating, particularly to women,” said Kristen Vadas, CW’s head of reality development.
“The world of ballet fits right into that pot,” she added. “Ballet holds such a kind of aspirational, beautiful and in some ways unattainable place, particularly in a young girl’s mind.”
Getting “Breaking Pointe” off the ground proved to be a lengthy process. Casting producers considered about 15 ballet schools, including those of the San Francisco Ballet, the Boston Ballet and Juilliard, before narrowing the pool down to a final three. Ballet West’s prestige and social structure — with only 40 dancers and a relatively isolated setting in Salt Lake City, the company is extremely tight-knit — were key selling points.
“We knew we were getting a certain quality of dancer, and also a pressure cooker environment front and center,” Ms. Vadas said of choosing Ballet West, which is 49 years old and widely considered one of the top regional companies in the United States. “We really wanted to capture not only the intense beauty and sacrifice of the actual dance part of it, but, for the CW audience, more of the soap opera element.”
The show focuses on seven company members at varying levels in its ranks, including the 32-year-old Christiana Bennett, a much admired principal artist; the brothers Ronald and Rex Tilton (who both have romantic relationships with ballerinas on the show); Ronnie Underwood, a self-professed gear head and “most unlikely ballet dancer you will ever meet”; and the promising 19-year-old ingénue Beckanne Sisk.
The show begins during the delicate time of contract renewals, and, in an unusually open turn, Adam Sklute, the artistic director, lets cameras into his office as he promotes dancers and releases one. He explains on screen that in a functional company, dancers must know that “they’re special, but also that they’re expendable.”
For the charismatic, chatty Mr. Sklute, who has been Ballet West’s artistic director since 2007, participating in “Breaking Pointe” was always appealing.
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