Tag Archives: Ballet West

Dance without drama

It should have been dance meets drama Thursday night as “Breaking Pointe” premiered on the CW network. The six-week docudrama follows the personal and professional lives of select dancers with Ballet West in Utah, headed by artistic director Adam Sklute.

It’s been billed as a compelling behind-the-scenes look at life in ballet world, but strikes me so far as a run-of-the-mill whine-fest. Whether taking company class, joining friends for coffee or hitting the local bar, these dancers have issues.

Not the sort that make for fascinating fare, but the type you’d expect during an ordinary teenage slumber party. Frankly, these dancers feel a bit boring — more consumed by puppy love than passion for their art.

Early on, a dancer describes their habitat as a mix of rivalry and relationships. It’s a dead-on description of the show’s content — something sure to disappoint those searching for pure unadulterated dance.

Episode one centers on the contract renewal process. Dancers audition for Sklute, then wait for word of what position they’ve been offered for the coming year. After slots in a set of small cubbies are filled with white legal size envelopes sealed with dancers’ fates, dancers gather to discover the news.

Two friends find letters asking them to meet with Sklute, but only one gets the promotion she seeks. The other learns she’ll be unemployed once the season ends, then frets while packing for an audition in Ohio. Seems she’s miffed about having to pay her own job hunting costs.

It’s one of many signs that some of these dancers just don’t get out much. Life in ballet world can be tough. But life’s no never-ending series of grand entrances for the rest of us either. Put on your big girl’s tutu, and move on already.

Two of the dancers featured on “Breaking Pointe” are brothers. But their relationship has a weird vibe, as if someone forgot to cut the cord. Apparently part of ballet world is deciphering whether career trumps family (or love interest). It’s hardly an original plot point.

Beware of leaving your first love for another until you’re certain a reversal of roles would yield the same outcome. It’s easy for viewers twice the age of these dancers to suggest such things. But I suspect we’ll have to endure at least a few of them learning the hard way.

Assuming we’re able to watch at all. Following a show for six weeks requires some sort of connection to its characters. But so far there’s little to love, and even less to hate about these dancers. Let’s hope greater depth and complexity in coming weeks makes one or the other possible.

— Lynn

Note: You can enjoy Ballet Arizona performing three Balanchine works, including one Arizona premiere, through Sunday at Symphony Hall in Phoenix. Click here for details.

Coming up: S.W.A.T. Lake


Dance meets competition

Jessica Phillips dances in “Paquita” with Ballet Arizona (Photo: Rosalie O’Conner)

For most folks, the film “First Position” will be a rare glimpse into the world of competitive youth ballet. “First Position,” scheduled to open late May in Scottsdale and early June in Tucson, follows the adventures of six dancers as they compete in the Youth America Grand Prix — the “largest  competition that awards full scholarships to top ballet schools.”

But Jessica Phillips, who has danced professionally with Ballet Arizona as an apprentice since 2009, has already gone behind the scenes of the prestigious competition — competing several times as a soloist and as part of an ensemble from the Bay Area Houston Ballet and Theatre in Texas.

Phillips began dance lessons when she was eight years old, but says she “didn’t take it seriously” until she was 12. That’s when a teacher suggested Phillips enter the Youth America Grand Prix, and Phillips was game. “I remember being so nervous,” she recalls, “knowing that I’d been working for months and months and months.” It all turns on a single dance, and anything can happen.

“Dancers have good days and bad days like any job or day in life,” muses Phillips. “The day of the competition there’s so much stress thinking about all the sacrifices you’ve made.” No matter how well you do, she says, you never feel like it was exactly how you wanted it to be. “You can always be better,” insists Phillips.

Phillips participated in the Youth America Grand Prix when Rebecca Houseknecht, one of the film’s six featured dancers, was competing as well — and the two became friends while housed together during their competition days. Phillips recalls admiring Houseknecht because she “really puts herself out there” as a competitor.

Still, Phillips says it isn’t all about winning. “It’s a learning process,” she adds. Though recognized for being in the top 12 during her third year of competition, Phillips went home feeling something more — the inspiration of seeing other beautiful dancers and they ways they work. Also a new sense of her own unique strengths and style.

The world of competitive dance isn’t for everyone — but Phillips recommends it for dancers who are are passionate and like performing. Especially those who dream of being a ballerina. Phillips recalls running across some not-so-nice dancers and stage moms, but says she met plenty of folks who were “sweet and kind.” Her best advice? “Don’t compare yourself with others.”

“Stay focused on yourself,” suggests Phillips. “Everyone has their own journey.” It’s self-destructive, she says, to start “freaking out” over people you have no control over. Phillips recalls listening to music before taking the stage because it “helps to get the stress out.” Whatever the outcome, competing “gets your name out there.” And the travel is another plus.

“First Position” promises to take audiences on a “yearlong journey around the world” — following both the struggles and successes of its central characters. Another dance film, opening May 18 in NYC, offers a behind-the-scenes look at one of the country’s longest-running dance festival. It’s called “Never Stand Still: Dancing at Jacob’s Pillow.”

Those who’ve tired of “Dance Moms” divas can get a glimpse into the world of competitive ballet when the CW Network (in cooperation with the BBC) premieres a reality TV show titled “Breaking Pointe” on May 31 — which features Ballet West in Utah, headed by artistic director Adam Sklute.

I’m eager to see both films, and the new series — but hope folks who enjoy them will take dance appreciation a step further by enjoying live dance performance in their communities. Dance on the big or small screen is lovely. Dance on stage is magnificent.

— Lynn

Coming up: Tackling bigotry with plays, poems and songs

Diving into dance

My favorite dance dad snapped this baby several years ago

Seems the dance teacher duo of “Dance Moms Miami” has decided to delve into the psyches of its charges — coupling choreography sessions with pseudo-therapeutic meanderings into the minds of young dancers. But taking fifth place with an homage to letting go of insecurities seems to have refocused their resolve to destroy all imperfections.

I can’t help wishing, as I watch young Lucas dance each week, that some benevolent ballet teacher would snatch him up — crisply pointed toes and all — and take him away from all that Bieberesque behavior. There’s more to dance than bright lights and bootie shaking — and it appears we’ll soon get a glimpse of it thanks to The CW Network’s new “Breaking Pointe,” which promises a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the world of competitive dance.

I learned of the show from a dancer and ballet teacher who once called Utah home. Turns out Ballet West in Utah, led by artistic director Adam Sklute, will be featured in the new BBC production — conceived as a sort of antidote to the 201o film “Black Swan.”

We’ve been working on a book inspired by burgeoning interest in the dance world, eager to offer dance parents a resource for guiding their own family’s journey with dance. The next step in our own journey will be securing a publisher and getting that baby into bookstores.

We know there’s plenty of interest. Posts I’ve written on the “Dance Moms” phenomenon continue to get a high number of hits, and she’s often approached by dance parents hungry for information and guidance. I was a dance mom for more than a decade, and know there’s more to dance education than schlepping from one two-bit competition to another.

We’re all plenty entertained by shows like “Dance Moms” — but our own children, who don’t live inside a little box ruled by remote control, need more. They need parents appreciative of the true art and athleticism of dance. And families who support their creative journeys with more than sequins and spandex.

— Lynn

Coming up: Ballet Arizona premieres Ib Andersen’s “Topia” at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix

Note: We’d love to hear from parents with dance-related questions, dance professionals with pearls to share and folks with publishing connections. You can share comments below or reach us at poisedpen@cox.net until our new website takes wings.