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Behind "the athletes of God"

You’ve seen the television ballet drama 'Flesh and Bone'. Now you can win a night at the ballet and see the real drama unfold on stage.
Behind "the athletes of God"

Image: supplied.

Due in no small part to the popular fiction that depicts the underbelly of professional ballet, when we think about the art form we immediately see the stars who fight with each other, the jealousy and the accolades.

What is it that makes us return to the form as audiences who attend productions on stage, and those who watch the drama unfold in fiction?

On one hand the unsettling and often gothic horror that follows the fictional retellings of the lives of ballerinas has enormous appeal (think Black Swan and the recent television drama Flesh and Bone). Here we see the competition, envy, and even the injuries that belie the grace and beauty of a dance form so many people love.

But ballet appeals to something else in us as well. As Einstein once said, ‘Dancers are the athletes of God.’

In the weightlessness, freedom, and gravity-defying dance we witness the human body do things it shouldn’t be able to, and yet – somehow – it can. Behind it all is the monotonous, enormously disciplined work and the ritual of class every day.

‘Ballet is the ultimate optical illusion. We make effort appear effortless. We make difficult divine. And we make gravity our bitch,’ says Paul Grayson, the Artistic Director of the fictitious American Ballet Company (Ben Daniels) in Flesh and Bone.


The domineering Artistic Director Paul Grayson (played by Ben Daniels) leads the morning class; Image: supplied.

The new dance drama Flesh and Bone, by Emmy Award-Winning Writer and Executive Producer Moira Walley-Beckett (Breaking Bad), explores the dysfunction behind professional ballet.

The story follows Claire Robbins, a talented ballet dancer with a few secrets in her past. Claire leaves life in Pittsburgh and heads for New York where she auditions for the American Ballet Company.

Paul Grayson: You're 21 and I'm confused. Says here, you were apprenticed at the Pittsburgh Ballet at age 18, and took a leave of absence in that first year. And nothing since. No where.

Claire Robbins: [Moves to speak]

Paul Grayson: No, no. I do the talking.

Paul Grayson: I have to say I'm disinclined. Suspicious. No one walks away from that kind of opportunity. Attitude or injury? Wonder what they'd say if I were to call.

Claire Robbins: You should they would...

Paul Grayson: [interrupts] Thank you for coming.

Claire Robbins: [hesitates] They'll tell you it was a family issue sir.

Paul Grayson: [looks up, annoyed]

Claire Robbins: Sorry... Please let me dance.

Claire Robbins: Just two minutes of your time.

Paul Grayson: [pauses for a second] Impress me.

She makes an impression on the unstable Grayson and quickly becomes an important part of his plan to save the struggling company. But at what cost?

Grayson, who veers dangerously from enthusiastic to furious in a single moment, and the resilient yet seemingly naive Claire strain against one another and this relationship informs many of the tense moments in the series. It’s the dancing that stands out though.

Due in no small part to the cast, the show depicts ballet more authentically than many other portrayals in popular fiction.

All the ballerinas in Flesh and Bone are played by actual dancers. Sarah Hay, currently a soloist in the Semperoper Ballett in Germany, plays the lead as Claire and co-stars Sascha Radetsky and Irina Dvorovenko were both former American Ballet Theatre dancers. These actors appear alongside twenty other dancers in the TV show.

Just got better

To celebrate the release of Season One on DVD Defiant Screen Entertainment are offering ArtsHub readers the opportunity to win a trip to Melbourne for a night at the ballet.


The winner of the giveaway will get to stay at the Blackman Hotel after a night of ballet. Image; supplied.

The giveaway includes a flight voucher, two tickets to the Australian Ballet on the 17th of September, and a night at The Blackman Hotel thanks to Art Series Hotels.  The major prize also includes a copy of Flesh and Bone season one on DVD.

No doubt you will be looking at the principal artists and wondering what effort and sacrifices each of them made to get where they are.

To enter the giveaway click here.

Giveaway sponsored by Art Series Hotel Group​


Brooke Boland

Monday 30 May, 2016

About the author

Brooke Boland is a freelance writer based on the South Coast of NSW. She has a PhD in literature from the University of NSW. You can find her on Instagram @southcoastwriter.