A story behind the story of Flesh and Bone

If the title of the show doesn’t tell us enough then the poster does.

The dancer, as you can see, is pressing her fingers into her arms, clasping her legs and wearing a small chain around her pointe shoes and a spikey bracelet.

Yes, it’s another incarnation of ballet as agonising and maybe a psychotic, way of life.

The show is Flesh and Bone, a Starz Network production and the executive producer is Moira Walley-Beckett, who was a writer and producer for Breaking Bad.

Here’s the synopsis: “The drama follows a young dancer with a distinctly troubled past as she joins a prestigious ballet company in New York. The dark, gritty, complex series unflinchingly explores New York City through the eyes of Claire…an emotionally wounded but transcendent ballerina navigating the dysfunction and glamour of the ballet world.

“Claire’s self-destructive tendencies amid her vaulting ambitions drive her in compelling, unforeseeable ways, especially when she is confronted with the machinations of the company’s mercurial artistic director, played by Ben Daniels and an unwelcome visitor from her past”.

Self-destruction, ambition, pain and suffering – we’ve been there before, from The Red Shoes to Black Swan.

One of the most annoying ballet images is the contrasting foot picture. One foot is shown in a shiny pink pointe shoe while the other foot is bare, and showing the external damage to the toes, complete with bandages and bleeding. Why do we seldom see images of the damage done to the bodies of gymnasts, musicians and skaters?

Maybe it’s because ballet is such a perfect contradiction. In performance, the dancer, exerting maximum effort must show no glimpses of stress and pain.

Flesh and Bone, first conceived as a multi-season show, has been reduced to one season of eight episodes, screening in the US from November 8 and presumably available to download soon after the premiere.

Starz has rounded up an impressive cast and creative team, with Ethan Stiefel as consultant and choreographer and 22 professional ballet dancers including the former American Ballet Theatre principals, Irina Dvorovenko and Sasha Radetsky.

The main role, Claire Robbins, is played by the American dancer, Sarah Hay, a soloist with Semperoper Ballett Dresden. Hay was in Black Swan, as a member of the corps de ballet.

Stiefel, the former artistic director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet and principal of American Ballet Theatre, had a major role in casting the dancers.

He quit RNZB after only three years in the job to return to New York to work on Flesh and Bone.

One of the company’s dancers, Dimitri Kleioris, auditioned successfully for a part in the show.

In the role of Cory, he is a member of the fictional company’s corps de ballet.

How does a dancer land such a part?

Talent is a given but luck and good timing are also important.

Dimitri’s story

Last year, Dimitri spent some time in his home city of Sydney, taking class at various studios. I first met him at the Sydney Dance Company studios and later we chatted after several classes at Academy Ballet, Sydney, where Vicki Attard, former principal with the Australian Ballet runs open classes twice a week.

I asked Dimitri about his family and dancing life. His father was a house painter born in Greece and his mother was from Malta. At the age of 65 she still loves her life as a clown! She performs at children’s parties and encouraged Dimitri to dance when he was 4. (“My Dad pulled me out three weeks later because I was the only boy in class”).

He went back to dance when he was 8 and eventually enrolled at Sydney’s McDonald College of the Performing Arts. At the age of 14, he began to learn ballet.

Dimitri auditioned successfully for the Australian Ballet School where his first year teachers were Mark Annear and Michela Kirkaldie.

Later, the teacher Janet Karin was “a big inspiration and saviour/mentor for me”.

In his last year at the ABS (2009), he auditioned at the Royal New Zealand Ballet where the then artistic director, Gary Harris, “offered me a job on the spot. I was blown away, having not been the favourite at the school and suddenly offered a job.

“I really got along with Gary on a personal level but he was ready to leave”. Working with his Harris’s successor, Ethan Stiefel, was “really great for me (with) no bullshit which is really refreshing because this ballet world is full of it”.

But Dimitri wanted a break from dance, and, on the brink of abandoning a life in ballet, he gave Stiefel a year’s notice that he wanted to resign.

He travelled to the United States in 2013, taking a look at the ballet companies in Houston, San Francisco and New York.

Stiefel asked him if he was sure he wanted to leave RNZB but Dimitri confirmed he was ready to go. That’s when Stiefel asked him if he’d be interested in joining the cast for Flesh and Bone.

So that’s one dancer’s story, but each cast member will have their own equally interesting story. I’ll be watching Flesh and Bone when it’s available internationally, not for the melodrama, but to enjoy the performances of each professional dancer who got the job in the show, gave it their all, and has now moved on to whatever may come next in their dancing life.

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Flesh and Bone poster

Flesh and Bone in rehearsal, photographer unknown

Sarah Hay, photo © Ian Whalen

Dimitri Kleioris, photographer unknown

Sarah Hay, centre, in Flesh and Bone

Dimitri Kleioris and Lucy Green, photographer unknown