Why This Ballerina Drama Could Be Better Than ‘Black Swan’

Starz is getting ready to premiere a new series that looks highly reminiscent of Darren Aronofsky’s Oscar-winning thriller Black Swan and reiterates the point that for young women, being a ballerina is a dangerous job. The network has just released the first trailer for Flesh and Bone, an upcoming show about a dancer whose mental issues are exacerbated by her career and a creepy, demanding artistic director of her ballet company. Sarah Hay, a real dancer who was recently a soloist at the Dresden Semperoper Ballett and danced in Black Swan, stars as the young ingenue.

The show was shot in New York City and follows Hay’s character Claire as she struggles with her personal demons while trying to excel in a prestigious ballet company, according to Deadline. The company’s artistic director is a mercurial force she’s desperate to please, played by House of Cards’s Ben Daniels. Claire is described as being self-destructive, talented, and hugely ambitious, though when a face from her troubled past shows up unexpectedly it could throw her completely off balance. Boardwalk Empire’s Emily Tyra, X-Men: Days of Future Past’s Josh Helman, Justified’s Damon Herriman, The Good Wife’s Tina Benko, and The Walking Dead’s Tovah Feldshuh are also on the cast.

The trailer shows many of the same aspects of ballet that were highlighted in Black Swan and aren’t very flattering to the profession or art. We have the intense level of competition among the dancers in the company, the perfectionist director who demands that his dancers sacrifice everything for the sake of the art, and a young dancer whose self-destructive tendencies are brought out by all that competition and hyper perfectionism. The show is helmed by Moira Walley-Beckett, who served as a writer and producer for Breaking Bad, which guarantees maximum grittiness.

Flesh and Bone is lacking a few things in comparison to Black Swan, namely originality, a visionary director like Aronofsky, and a stellar cast like Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. Portman won an Academy Award for her performance as a tortured, bipolar ballerina and much was made of the training she went through to do as much of her own dancing as possible. For Kunis the supporting role was one of the first times the funny sexpot proved she could really act, giving a menacing dramatic performance. The film has an 87% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics praising Portman’s performance in particular though the movie’s wildly melodramatic tone was criticized by some.

The advantage Flesh and Bone could have over the movie it so closely resembles is authenticity. Black Swan was criticized by dancers, even the dancers used in the movie, for exaggerating how much of the dancing Portman actually did herself. The actress had an actual ballerina for a body double, Sarah Lane of the American Ballet Theater, who claimed that the majority of the dancing seen in the film was not done by the actress. Flesh and Bone has 22 accomplished ballet dancers in its cast, according to Deadline. Ethan Stiefel, former artistic director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet and a former American Ballet Theatre principal dancer, served as the show’s consultant and choreographer.

Having real dancers act on the show will lend much authenticity to the dancing sequences that cannot be achieved by using body doubles and other movie tricks. But, ballerinas still aren’t actors and the fact that Starz is choosing not to do a second season of the show might be a bad sign. The show’s eight episodes will begin airing on November 8.

Follow Jacqueline on Twitter @Jacqui_WSCS

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