The other day I wrote about a show whose concept was so well-known I figured with help, eleven-year-olds could pitch it. In the trailer for Disney+’s new ballet documentary series, On Pointe, about the lives of dancers at the School of American Ballet in New York City, the ballet ‘buttons’ they push are so well-known it might be nine-year-olds who put it together…
Which does not diminish my enthusiasm at all. If anything, I’m *more* here for it. Why!?
I can answer with two words: Center Stage.
Obviously there have been millions of books, movies, and shows about aspiring ballerinas and ballerinos (that is the real, actual term, btw), but Center Stage was the one that introduced us to teenagers who A, looked, spoke, and acted like people we knew and wanted to be; B, loved the pace of living in New York City; and C, could talk about their love for ballet in non-ballet terms.
The On Pointe trailer hits all three at once at the 00:48 mark, when a teen girl who I hope and assume is our main character says, about ballet, “It’s just a chance for me to be vulnerable without, like, having to talk about it, you know?”
THAT is the secret sauce. There are ballet stories that have forgotten the humanity of the young people in them (you can also see this in sharp relief in Olympic gymnast stories, where the pressures of it all coming down to one week some months or years in the future eradicate all but the faintest hints of teenage enthusiasm) and there are teenage stories that don’t touch the rigors of actual ballet – just get a dancer started on why Jodie Sawyer would be a non-starter.
But the balance here is good, especially because they’re talking to kids who are a lot younger than the usual types we see profiled – they haven’t quite figured out their poker faces yet, and we know that most of them won’t get where they’re going; it’s a testament to the way the trailer (and show, one assumes) is cut that we’re in it for all of them anyway.
Last year I wrapped all my Christmas presents to what is, in my opinion, the greatest offering on Disney+: Encore! where casts of high school musicals get back together to do it all again. This year, it’s going to be On Pointe, because the structure of both shows is almost entirely identical. You know where the show’s narrative is going – to Grease or The Nutcracker, respectively – and those roles and paths are well-worn. What makes it worth it is the characters, and not since Zoe Saldana first introduced us to Eva Rodriguez grinding out a cigarette in her pointe shoe have I been this excited to meet a whole new character in a well-worn ballet space.