by special guest writer FLEUR
‘Ballet is the ultimate optical illusion. We make effort appear effortless. We make difficult divine. And we make gravity our bitch.’ Paul Grayson (Ben Daniels), the artistic director of the American Ballet Company, speaks these words at the celebration of the opening of the new ballet season in the first episode. Interestingly enough, this miniseries shatters that optical illusion. It shows that the effort is not effortless, but costs lots of training and surviving jealousy and backstabbing by your fellow dancers. Difficult is not divine, but painful, like ‘just’ losing a toenail as main character Claire Robbins (Sarah Hay) says. This miniseries shows us the gritty side of the ballet world, which we normally do not get to see.
Executive producer of the show, Moira Walley-Beckett, was intent on finding real dancers for this show. This shows Walley-Beckett’s ambitions, since it must be very hard to find good ballet dancers that are also good actors. But these difficulties are definitely worth it, because it makes the series so much more credible. Hay, for example, is a real-life dancer and studied at the American Ballet Theatre. She stressed that the miniseries does not exaggerate, but gives an authentic picture of the ballet world. In her own words: ‘Everything I’ve portrayed during filming has happened to me during dancing.’
The story follows Claire, a young and ambitious woman that runs away from home to try and make it in the ballet world. She auditions for the American Ballet Theatre and blows the jury away with her grace, skill and beauty. It becomes Grayson’s goal to make her a star.
However, quickly you realize that Claire has a dark past. But she is certainly not the only one; all the dancers seem to have their own struggles and secrets. Prima Ballerina Kira (Irina Dvorovenko) is addicted to drugs, whereas others have eating disorders. When in the dressing room a dancer asks for a tampon, someone is even surprised that she still gets her period. Clearly this series is not just about ballet. It tells the stories of ambitious, young people that are struggling to keep it together. Especially in the ballet world, where the pressures are sky high. You do not have to be a part of that world though, to be able to relate to the characters.
The series is not just terror and despair. You certainly do get a glimpse of the glamorous side of ballet, such as the elaborate galas. Personally I fell immediately in love with the rich kid Daphne Kensington’s (Raychel Diane Weiner) apartment. Especially her closet is absolutely to die for. But of course the dancing itself is riveting and makes you which that you that you could do that, even though you know now the pain and effort it costs. Furthermore Grayson is exactly the passionate, flamboyant, aloof artistic director you would expect for a ballet company. Finally, Hay is everything you could wish for as a ballet dancer as well as a lead actress.
Therefore I would certainly recommend this series, also to non-ballet lovers. For me at least it soothes the pain somewhat of my goodbye to Downton Abbey. Hence I can prolong my tradition of my Tuesday series-night with some delicious St. Petersbourg Kusmi tea to reward myself for surviving my class that lasts until 21.00. Unfortunately it is only a miniseries, but I will just play ignorant for a while.