For all the beauty, grace, skill and artistry of a ballet performance, the dancers themselves are often perceived as hypercompetitive, treacherous, chain-smoking, drug-addled, maladjusted bulimics with gross feet. The new Starz limited drama series Flesh and Bone (Sundays at 8pm ET/PT beginning Nov. 8) probably won’t help change that image.
The story centers on Claire (Sarah Hay), a talented dancer who flees a deeply disturbed life in Pittsburgh to join an elite ballet company in New York City. She impresses the director and is chosen as the prima, which draws the ire and envy of her colleagues and the lust and desire of wealthy patrons. Claire is also pursued by a malicious figure from her past, and the puzzle of her dark, troubled psyche is assembled for the viewer piece by piece.
Creator and executive producer Moira Walley-Beckett (Breaking Bad) says that Flesh and Bone will “rip the Band-Aid off” the optical illusion that is ballet. “Dance is so ethereal looking and it’s so beautiful and it looks so effortless. And it’s actually a punishing, brutal endeavor and it costs dearly physically and emotionally to be this kind of artist and tell stories with your body,” she says.
That paradox is something Walley-Beckett explores with a key visual motif. “Pointe shoes are fetishized, and they’re so beautiful and they’re shiny pink satin things with ribbons, and girls aspire to them,” she says. “And yet what they do to the feet, and what dancers do to the shoes in order to wear them, is violent and brutal. So I liked the idea of ripping them and shredding them and cutting them and burning them and all these things.”
Regarding those gross feet, Walley-Beckett says, “I think the missing toenails and the callouses and the bunions and the scabs — you know, it’s part of the job. I think dancers’ ugly feet are badges of honor.”
Starz will premiere new Flesh and Bone installments on Sundays (the entire first episode is available for free preview here), but will also release all eight episodes online and on demand Nov. 8. “I love to watch television like that. It’s really exciting. It almost becomes a compulsion,” Walley-Beckett says of binge-viewing TV shows. “And certainly for a show like Breaking Bad and Flesh and Bone, it lends itself to that. It’s not a procedural. It moves intricately and incrementally and at the end of each one, there’s a desire to know what’s next. I hope people have a voracious appetite for what’s next.”
Photos: © 2015 Starz Entertainemnt, LLC Credit: Patrick Harbron