A new ballet drama series called Flesh and Bone from Breaking Bad producer Moira Walley-Beckett is heading to the cable network Starz, which sounds like great news for any dance fan out there (especially those who are still smarting from last year’s cancellation of Bunheads). Who doesn’t love a good dance drama? Yet there’s something suspiciously familiar about the series’ premise. According to The Hollywood Reporter:
The drama centers on Claire… who has a distinctly troubled past, as she joins a prestigious ballet company in New York. The dark and gritty series will unflinchingly explore the dysfunction and glamour of the ballet world. Claire is further described as a beautiful, soulful and deeply emotionally wounded young woman who possesses an innate innocence and fragility while at the same time harboring self-destructive tendencies and a vaulting ambition. She is a transcendent ballerina, capable of reaching the sublime, but her inner torment and aspirations drive her in compelling, unforeseeable ways.
A dark show about a New York ballet company and a beautiful and naive yet emotionally disturbed ballerina? Call us crazy, but that exact characterization could be used to describe Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), the unhinged ballerina from 2010’s Black Swan.
A television series inspired by the dark film makes sense: After all, Black Swan was adored by film critics, earned more than $300 million worldwide and scored multiple awards, including a Best Actress Oscar win for Portman. That said, many actual dancers were disappointed — or just plain irritated — with the dark stereotypes utilized in the film’s portrayal with both the ballet world and dancers themselves.
When Black Swan was released, Jennifer Kronenberg, a dancer with the Miami City Ballet, told the Sun Sentinel, “If taken simply at face value, the film is utterly ridiculous. It is also most important to remember throughout the film that it is not a factual depiction of the real ballet world.” Megan Fairchild of the New York City Ballet seemed to agree that the film offered too bleak of a depiction of the ballet world, telling Vulture, “It was so masochistic. I mean, we have a good time at work. We all think we should have a reality show because we think we’re so funny.”
Other dancers were annoyed with Portman’s character in particular: Tamara Rojo, a former dancer with the Royal Ballet and current artistic director of the English National ballet, said in an interview with the Guardian that Black Swan was “a very lazy movie, featuring every ballet cliché going. If you want to look at the dark side of ballet, do it properly, don’t just give us shots of a ballerina suddenly vomiting.” Toni Bentley, a former dancer for the New York City Ballet, rounded out the criticism in a scathing review for The Daily Beast, writing, “As a dancer, I have never been so perfectly insulted.”
All of this raises the question: Does the world really need another ballet drama trotting out the same nasty stereotypes? While that expert criticism didn’t slow Black Swan‘s success, similar slams — justified or not — could blight Flesh and Bone. After all, to build the sustained interest a television show needs to survive, Flesh and Bone will likely rely on dance lovers to be its core audience; it’s probably best not to alienate them right off the bat.
But while we’ll have to wait for the show to premiere to properly judge just how accurately Flesh and Bone depicts ballerinas, there is reason to believe that the series will do justice in terms of the ballet part of the show: series’ executives have cast actual dancers, rather than actors, to appear. Sarah Hay, who once danced with the Dresden Semperoper Ballett company in Germany and, funnily enough, also had a bit part in Black Swan, will play the main character, Claire. Supporting roles will be played by former American Ballet Theatre dancer Irina Dvorovenko, current American Ballet Theatre soloist Sascha Radetsky and Ballet Arizona company dancer Raychel Diane Weiner.
With any luck, those dancers will offer some insight into what the ballet world is actually like — and keep Flesh and Bone from descending into cliche.