Ballerina Allison DeBona on pointe for reality show
Allison DeBona, 28, is a dancer with Ballet West, the subject of a new docu-series "Breaking Pointe" on the CW. She is a graduate of Chartiers Valley High School.
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By the time a dancer reaches the professional ballet ranks, she'll have portrayed a variety of roles, from princess to swan. Sometimes, even, swan princesses.
But nothing could prepare Pittsburgh native Allison DeBona for her latest debut -- that of reality television star.
"What we do is a beautiful art form, and we have a reputation to uphold," said Ms. DeBona, 28. "All this weight is on our shoulders to show everybody what it is like to be a ballet dancer. And at the same time, you don't want to tarnish it.
"This [dance] is what we have."
"Breaking Pointe" premieres Thursday at 8 on the CW, with encores airing the following Monday. It's part "Black Swan," part serious documentary, and has some parts of any other reality show you've ever watched involving young, attractive people.
BBC Worldwide productions promises to follow six weeks in the life of Salt Lake City's Ballet West company. Ten of the troupe's 40 members -- including Ms. DeBona -- were selected for the honor, and stress, of being followed by cameras.
"We just said 'No Snookie,' " said her stepfather, Don Rice, laughing.
"That's been the ongoing conversion, kind of a joke," said her mother, Debra Rice. "She is nothing like that, trust me, but one thing I do tell her is, 'just be mindful, don't throw anybody under the bus.'
"Once those cameras are gone, she's going to have to live with it. That said, I told her to just enjoy it."
Unlike most reality shows, the producers had to come to an agreement with a union. The American Guild of Musical Artists represents Ballet West.
The season premiere jumps right in with the drama. Christiana Bennett, a 30-something principal dancer, talks about the challenge of holding off young, up-and-coming talents such as Beckanne Sisk, a brunette beauty from Texas.
It's also contract time, and dancers are shown nervously awaiting word from artistic director Adam Sklute.
Then, there is a bit of tension involving Ms. DeBona and fellow demi-soloist Rex Tilton, who is not shy about expressing his ardor ("I love Allison; she is beautiful."). Ms. DeBona, whose mother said she has been involved in a long-term, long-distance relationship with someone else, does not appear comfortable with this development.
Not surprising that the first episode concentrates more on personalities and the business of running a dance company, but future shows promise more focus on the creative side of ballet.
"We're all very competitive, and there is just this natural drama. I think that's what they're trying to show," Ms. DeBona said.
Her path to becoming a professional ballerina was rather unusual. As a child in New Castle, she studied under Debbie Parou, the artistic director of the New Castle Regional Ballet. At age 7, one of the instructors told Mrs. Rice that her daughter was "exceptional."
"I thought, 'That's nice,' never dreaming what she really meant," said Mrs. Rice, who later married Don Rice.
The family moved into the Chartiers Valley School District when Ms. DeBona was in middle school, although her father, Ed DeBona, was still very much involved in his children's lives.
Allison is the eldest, followed by Jordan DeBona, an actor in New York City, Jared DeBona, who is studying law at Temple University, and sister Delaney Rice, a high school freshman who sings and dances. Her half-sister, Julianna Sabol, 12, also has dance leanings.
Although Ms. DeBona had been dancing since she was a tot, she actually quit for a couple of years.
"I went on hiatus my freshman and sophomore years ... and when I wanted to go back, I got very serious about it," she said. "That's when I really got it into my mind-set that I know I love this, I know I want to dance."
Chartiers Valley allowed her to attend school for a few hours each day, with dance classes in the afternoon. At graduation, she had a big decision to make.
"I'd always wanted to audition and get a job straight out of high school," she said.
Her family researched the odds of becoming a professional dancer, and tried to guide her toward a college program that would give her the best of both worlds. She wound up at Indiana University in Bloomington, with a bachelor of science degree in ballet.
During her last year at IU, she took courses online and spent the time training with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's graduate program.
"I was [dancing] at 8 in the morning until 6 at night, and I drove up to New York City every week for three months," she said.
"She had just worked her butt off," Mr. Rice said.
Ms. DeBona joined Ballet West in 2007 and was promoted to demi-solist last year; "I said to myself, 'I cannot retire in the corps.' "
She's only been dancing professionally for six years but adheres to the "age is just a number" theory.
"There was this notion that the older you got, the less chance you had to make it. Well, if you tell me I can't do something, I'm going to do it anyway."
Although her family hoped to entice her to fly home to watch the premiere of "Breaking Pointe," Ms. DeBona said she'll probably watch with a few of her fellow dancers.
Being in the spotlight on stage is one thing, but this program is new territory.
"We always want to look good, we always want to be perfect at what we do," she said. "The cameras are always on your tail, and [sometimes] you just want to try to get away.
"At those moments you think 'Oh please, just let me be, but then you remember: you agreed to do this.' "
First Published May 30, 2012 12:00 am