‘Flesh and Bone’ Series Premiere Review: Dance Till You Drop

Flesh and Bone 4

“Flesh and Bone” is the latest stab at a dramatic series set around the world of ballet dancers, following in the footsteps of such would-be contenders as Australia’s “Dance Academy,” ABC Family’s “Bunheads,” and CW’s reality drama “Breaking Pointe.” However, whereas those series adopted more of a young adult approach, “Flesh and Bone” is adult entertainment all the way- more “Black Swan” than “Center Stage,” in other words.

That said, the show did get some of its DNA from the latter film: Ethan Stiefel, who played Cooper in the two “Center Stage” films, is the choreographer for the show; and Sascha Radetsky, who played Charlie in the original film, here plays Ross. Both are legitimate ballet dancers in real life, and attended New York City’s prestigious American Ballet Theater.

Furthermore, rather than going for the big names of a “Black Swan,” the show, for better or worse, opted to cast mostly real-life ballet dancers in the show, which, if it sometimes comes up a little short in the acting department, makes all the difference in the ballet scenes, particularly in regards to the lead, Sarah Hay, another American Ballet Theater vet, who plays Claire.

Fortunately, Hay makes for a strong lead- it’s not at all hard to see why they chose her. She dances like an “angel,” as remarked upon by several of the characters, and yet there’s a wonderfully skittish and wallflower-esque quality to her which really serves to connect with the audience as a way into the drama.

Also worth noting is that she’s hardly perfect. Over the course of the premiere, she spies on her roommate having sex (technically twice!), ogles another dancer at the strip club, smashes a guy in the face with a glass just for touching her, and steals cocaine from another dancer when she accidentally drops it on the floor. Shy she might be, but shrinking violet may be overstating things.

It’s pretty clear from the jump to the creepy conclusion involving her brother that this girl has been through some things, and many of them are not good. Exactly what those things are we don’t know as of yet, but they can’t be good if they required a lock on her bedroom door to, one assumes, protect her from her father, and don’t even get me started on that icky final scene, where her own brother, Bryan (Josh Helman, “X-Men: Days of Future Past”) calls her to “check in” while seemingly masturbating at the time, all the while admonishing her for leaving home on the fly. Yikes! Trust me, we are a long way from “Center Stage” here, much less the aforementioned TV series.

Flesh and Bone

Indeed, this is a pretty dark show all around, populated by some admittedly nasty characters, many of which are so out for themselves that one finds themselves watching the show with baited breath after a while, wondering how long before someone gets their Tonya Harding on and out-and-out assaults poor Claire. (Or, for you classic movie fans, before someone goes all Eve Harrington on her.)

This, of course, is precisely the quality of the show that will make it or break it for a lot of people- it’s almost relentlessly dark. Maybe not quite “Black Swan” dark, but pretty dark, nonetheless. Let’s put it this way- no one has died yet, but they very well could by the end of this thing.

On the plus side, we won’t have to wait long to find out- it’s a limited run series, with only eight episodes in the can to get through, all of which will be available on demand. I suppose it’s a testament to the show’s allure that I was indeed tempted to keep going immediately, and probably would have if I hadn’t had other shows to contend with.

On a side note, for the record, I will be not be reviewing the show weekly, but instead, will pop in later on in the show’s run to give people time to take things in and report on what I think of the end result, so expect another review later in the year, perhaps sooner if I feel compelled to speak up because of some particularly impressive development in the storyline.

As to my credentials, though I myself am no ballet dancer, I have dated a few- including one who did indeed end up moonlighting as a stripper, a la this show’s Daphne-cum-Raven (Raychel Diane Weiner, another professional dancer-turned-actress) – in my tenure in a fine arts school, so I know a thing or two about how the dramatic stands up to the reality.

I can tell you, just from the first episode alone, of all the shows and movies about ballet I’ve ever seen- and thanks to those girlfriends, I’ve seen quite a few, including the gold standard, “The Red Shoes”– this one comes the closest to the reality I’ve personally experienced. Though it’s not quite as dark perhaps as what is seen here, it’s definitely pretty cut-throat, and I can see where that would be that much more heightened in an even more competitive place like New York City.

Flesh and Bone 3

But “Flesh and Bone” absolutely splits the difference in a laudable way between the more bright-eyed wish-fulfillment of “Center Stage” to the bleak, borderline fantasy world of “Black Swan,” much less something like Dario Argento’s classic ballet horror “Suspiria.” It’s gritty, sometimes bordering on trashy- there’s a copious amount of nudity, some of it a bit on the leering side- but it’s certainly not boring. The question is, can the rest of the series compete with the premiere?

For the time being, I’m more than willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt. Watching this definitely brought me right back to hanging out with some of my exes’ ballet friends as they funneled down cigarettes, made catty remarks about the other dancers, and yes, occasionally snuck off to pop some pills or do some drugs on the sly. A lot of these girls all but starve themselves- if not outright do just that- in order to achieve some semblance of perfection, and speaking from experience, it wasn’t always pretty, nor were they. So, that part, the show definitely got right.

As for the rest, there is a slight element of wish-fulfillment here that is undeniably a bit much, the most glaring of which is the fact that Claire, no matter how talented and gifted she might be, rises to the top awfully quickly. Granted, she’s still technically got a long way to go, but that her teacher, Paul (Ben Daniels, “House of Cards”) would jettison his company’s entire planned production and start from scratch with a new, largely unproven dancer is a bit much. I’d think, at the very least, he’d want to train with her a good bit longer before going there, but then again, this is television we’re talking about, so heightened tends to come with the territory.

On the plus side, the show really knows how to sell this particular brand of fantasy without glossing over the rough stuff. Claire might have hit the jackpot awfully quickly, but she’s hardly living a charmed life, having come to NYC with practically nothing, along with the aforementioned iffy background.

Count on that latter element to absolutely come back to haunt her- it seems a given that her brother will come looking for her, if he doesn’t outright find out about her location in the media somehow- as well as inform her character moving forward. And, like I said, there’s always the element of danger from her fellow dancers, many of whom are already none too fond of the way she’s risen in the ranks so quickly, so count on that being a big problem as well.

Flesh and Bone 2

All in all, there’s a lot to recommend here, especially if the world of ballet fascinates or remotely interests you, but possibly even if it doesn’t that much. Producer Moira Walley-Beckett, of “Breaking Bad” fame, brings the grit, and the show manages to both adopt a rough, jagged exterior and, at other turns, a shiny, glamorous sheen that’s both foreboding and alluring at the same time, which isn’t the easiest thing to pull off.

Whether it continues to do so as effectively remains to be seen, but for now, I’m in, and if this seems like something you’d like, you probably will. Just know that it is pretty rough around the edges- there’s a whole lot of graphic nudity, sex and general nastiness on display here that might scare off those looking for the likes of another “Center Stage.” PG-13 this is not, trust me. But for those who like their drama more on the hardcore side, look no further.

What did you think of “Flesh and Bone”? Did it seem realistic to you? I’d certainly be interested in hearing from actual ballet dancers as to how true-to-life it rings. (In fact, I’m going to try and get in contact with my exes to see what they thought, if possible, which I will report back to you on in a later review, assuming anything comes from it.)

What did you think of the main cast? Did their acting chops match up to their dancing ones? Did you enjoy the general feel of the show? How about that theme song from Karen O? (Her day-job band, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, also cropped up in the strip club scene, which was a nice touch.)

Sound off on this and more down below, and be sure to look out for another review later in the season!