“Flesh and Bone” leaps into the dark side of ballet. Sex, drugs and stripping are not the first things that come to mind when you imagine ballerinas in their pink tutus. But dark and gritty is just what you’d expect from Moira Walley-Beckett, the writer of an Emmy-Award winning episode of “Breaking Bad” (“Ozymandias,” Season 5, Episode 14). “Flesh and Bone,” a limited eight-episode series, begins tonight, Sunday, Nov. 8, on Starz.
“Flesh and Bone” centers on the story of aspiring ballerina Claire Robbins (Sarah Hay), a beautiful woman with a troubled past and a creepy, clingy brother, played by Josh Helman (X-Man’s “Days of Future Past” and the upcoming “Apocalypse”). Claire is talented, driven and vulnerable. To make her dream come true as a star ballerina, she first has to impress the megalomaniacal artistic director of the fictitious American Ballet Theater, Paul Grayson, played by Ben Daniels with enough sarcasm and camp to give the show its best laughs.
The show’s gimmick and strength is that the dancers in the cast are actually dancers. They include Irina Dvorovenko, Raychel Weiner, Emily Tyra and Sascha Radetsky, all current or past dancers with major companies. Rounding out the cast are Damon Herriman (“Justified), Tina Benko, Vanessa Aspillaga and New York theater veterans Patrick Page and Tovah Feldshuh.
Walley-Beckett, the cast, Starz CEO Chris Albrecht, and producers John Melfi, Lawrence Bender and Kevin Kelly Brown attended the splashy premiere of “Flesh and Bone” Monday at the Skirball Center for the Arts in Manhattan where they spoke to the press.
Celebrity guests included Riley Keough, granddaughter of Elvis Presley, and her husband Ben Smith-Petersen, a stuntman she met while filming “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Keough, who looks like her beautiful grandmother Priscilla, will star as a high-end call girl in the Steven Soderberg-produced show, “The Girlfriend Series,” airing next year on Starz.
And during the pre-reception screening, ABT principal Misty Copeland mixed with the “Flesh and Bone” cast.
Sarah Hay, who danced most recently for the Semperoper Ballet in Germany, is making her acting debut. She told me she only read the first episode when she signed up to do the show. Those early scenes include her walking in on her roommate having sex and dancers walking around naked. “I didn’t know what my character’s path was going to be exactly,” Hay told me, “but as far the grittiness and the drama, I was kind of excited about it. It’s a bit of a challenge for me.”
As for what’s next, she told me after 25 years as a dancer she thought she was ready to give acting a shot. “I would love to do more acting. I’m just kind of waiting to see what happens.”
Another plotline is that of drug-addicted Kirra, played by Irina Dvorovenko, who trained at the Kiev Ballet School and retired several years ago as a principal dancer with ABT. She told me her audition called for her to sniff cocaine. “That was really hilariously funny,” she said. “I went to the audition and I say, ‘How am I supposed to do this?’ I had no idea and my husband was making fun of me.” (She is married to Maxim Beloserkovsky, also a ballet dancer.)
I asked if she missed performing. “No, actually. I’m more elated and hungry for acting,” she told me. Also, “I get to eat now,” she said, although in her bandage dress she still appeared to have zero body fat. As for shooting “Flesh and Bone,” she told me, “I enjoyed it so much. I’m hungry. I want more.”
But the real star of the evening was the charismatic and brainy Walley-Beckett, who has brought her own dark, imaginative twist to ballet, which she studied growing up in Vancouver, Canada. Still tied to dance, Walley-Beckett still attends ballet classes in Los Angeles, where she currently lives.
In her introductory remarks before the screening, and before a performance by American Ballet Theater dancers Gillian Murphy and James Whiteside, Walley-Beckett told the audience, “This has been an epic adventure and it’s also a very personal story and there were many times when I would stand on the set and look around and take everything in and say to myself, ‘What the hell was I thinking? This can’t be done. We’re all going to die here.’ But we prevailed.”
She added, “The cast and the crew, my angels – the dancers – showed up, delivered, nailed it, and stuck behind me, and that is dance.”
“Flesh and Bone” was initially conceived as an ongoing series, but is now limited to eight episodes. There’s something I love about that,” she told me. “It’s going to be like this shooting star clasped into our consciousness and then disappears forever.”
Another major storyline is that of Daphne, who moonlights at a strip club. Played by Raychel Weiner, her character, despite her wealthy background, is a rebel, edgy but grounded. As to how she got the role, she told me, “I was dancing in a company, and I got an e-mail asking if I’d be interested because the tattoos are mine and the haircut is mine, so I fit into that kind of stereotype pretty well.”
The show also called for her to learn how to pole dance. “It is so hard!” she told me. “’I thought, I’m a dancer, I’m flexible, and I’m strong. It shouldn’t be too hard. But my god! It was intense. The shoes were terrifying.”
There’s lots of melodrama and humor in “Flesh and Bone” but Weiner said she hoped viewers would take away something more serious from the show.
“I hope they take note of how dancers put on a façade. We’re in class and we’re in rehearsal and it’s stone face and tough and then you leave,” she said. “I really admire that about the show because that’ s something that I never felt that people ever understood. I’m having a bad day, but in rehearsal I can’t show it.”