This past week, Dd contributor Matthew Donnell and I had the pleasure of sitting down with Allison DeBona, a featured dancer on the CW show Breaking Pointe. Joined by her brother Jared, the four of us enjoyed a causal gathering over cocktails at the Time Warner Center’s swanky Stone Rose. The topics ranged from bonding over common ballet acquaintances to education to Ballet West to, of course, the hot topic on the table, Breaking Pointe. I haven’t always been the biggest supporter of the series, sometimes dishing out strong critical feedback. While I hold firm to my previous comments, chatting with Allison did put several things about the series and her own story within the show into perspective.
The Ballet West Demi-Soloist is instantly likable. Despite the anxious, neurotic 28-year-old ballerina portrayed by the television cameras, she is poised and energized about her overarching aspirations for the series—getting the general public interested in ballet. A daunting feat no doubt, but Allison embraces the challenges and proudly represents Ballet West and the series. After almost five hours of conversation, I realized how similar Allison is to all of us in the Dd community—sharing similar dreams for the dance world at large, as well as possessing a proactive demeanor and the chutzpah to make a difference. She’s quite the mover and shaker herself.
Once we got down to business, Allison quickly addressed the ballet world’s stern response towards the show. It was this exact type of feedback that made the dancers of Ballet West question letting cameras into the rehearsal studio. But the dancers considered the potential in reaching new audiences. She explained, “We didn’t do the show for other dancers…we did the show for the general public who does not know ballet.” Several other companies including Boston Ballet and Miami City Ballet turned the CW down, but Ballet West saw an opportunity and seized it. Filming and preparations began around the end of September/beginning of October in 2011, but planning for the show had been going over for over a year.
Allison insisted nothing on the show was staged. However, many moments seemed “insincere” because of the filming process. It took time to prepare shoots and, sometimes, restaurants or shops had to be closed in order to film without interruptions or complications. How to behave in front of the cameras, which were in her apartment some days from 7 am to 1 am, was a learning curve. Yet, there was no denying that some of the more dramatic aspects were played up for entertainment sake. The ‘rivalry’ between Allison, Christiana Bennett, and Beckanne Sisk was exaggerated. Allison explained that the three are friends and, in actuality, Ballet West has a strong sense of community amongst its dancer—“a family.” “It’s a skewed version,” she said. “You don’t see everything.”
We certainly didn’t see a lot of the dancing through the first season. Allison explained that the rehearsal and performance sequences were sliced and diced to the extreme because of rights issues—not just for choreography, but for the music as well. There were a lot of technicalities affecting the aired rehearsal and performance footage, which other professional dancers may not be aware of.
The reality of reality TV is that things get blown out of proportion because it makes good television. If the series lacked some of these exaggerated scenarios, Allison felt, “the public would be bored and not watch the show.” While this is likely, I wanted to know exactly what truths were stretched for ratings sake—most particularly, what was the real deal with her and Rex. “Rex is my best friend…he is not a puppy dog,” she asserted. The conversations we witnessed between the two were very real, but we didn’t get to see the whole story. Only so much material can fit into one hour. Thus, the tumultuous storyline between these two was distorted, but Allison assured us that they are close friends and supportive of each other.
On the show, we did’t hear much about her past struggles and triumphs, nor did we learn of her passion for teaching dance and her interest in writing. Rather, the show casted her as the villainess, or as Entertainment Weekly called her “Bitchy Allison.” Anything but bitchy, she explained that her reactions on the show are a result of being in the industry for a certain amount of years and knowing the “consequences of what happens when you mess up.”
Unfortunately, like the series, there was much of our conversation I have to leave out. I could write pages about the range of interesting topics the four of us covered. But, for now, here is a snapshot of what you may not already know about Allison; she joined Ballet West upon graduation from Indiana University—education is immensely important to her. After spending two years as an apprentice, she was promoted into the company and just completed her fifth season in Salt Lake City. She has a work ethic of epic proportions, sitting in on every rehearsal and learning as much of the repertoire as she can—an attribute Adam highly respects in her. Allison involves herself in many aspects of Ballet West, including a wonderful program called Artists Resource Fund—a “dancer-generated” iniative that helps support dancers financially when transitioning from the stage. Additionally, she spends a lot of her non-rehearsal hours teaching. It is evident that she really cares about her students and is harnessing the power behind the series to really “influence the next generation of dancers.”
Ultimately, she just wants Ballet West and the show to succeed. Positive or negative, she isn’t as concerned about people’s opinions; she is just happy to see people interested in ballet. Will there be a next season? This has yet to be determined. Allison is hopeful. With only six episodes, a lot of footage ended up on the floor of the editing room. A second, and perhaps longer, season would give Ballet West the chance to dig a little deeper—now that the company has people’s attention, they can start to cultivate new audiences for ballet everywhere. The dancers and the producers are passionate about the show and working towards its future. Everyone involved is encouraging fans to ‘like’ the Breaking Pointe Facebook page since social media is one way the production team can track viewership and initial responses.
She certainly has my attention now.