New Starz series ‘Flesh and Bone’ gets to the point

Sarah Hay plays Claire Robbins, a young ballet dancer whose natural skills help her rise up through the company.
Sarah Hay plays Claire Robbins, a young ballet dancer whose natural skills help her rise up through the company. Starz

The one thing “Flesh and Bone” creator Moira Walley-Beckett was most adamant about with her new eight-hour limited series for Starz was making sure the tale of a young dancer with a dark past be told in the most authentic way possible.

To ensure authenticity, 22 accomplished ballet dancers were cast, including former American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Irina Dvorovenko and former American Ballet Theatre soloist Sascha Radetsky. The series was shot in the heart of the ballet world, New York.

“Flesh and Bone” is a gritty examination of the underbelly of a ballet company seen through the eyes of a dancer who quickly rises in the company.

Walley-Beckett called the process a daunting challenge to find just the right dancer/actor to handle the central role. Whoever was cast had to dance and get across the emotional elements of the story.

“I didn’t want to fake it. I didn’t want to have body doubles. I didn’t want to have actors who could dance a little. I wanted dancers, and I wanted to be able to put the camera anywhere,” Walley-Beckett says. “I wanted to watch them sweat and bleed and suffer and be sore.

“So we went on an exhaustive, seven-month, international search for my main characters, and we kind of got down to the wire.”

I feel like a lot of those movies have catered to the very glossy, ethereal, optical illusion that is ballet, and we ripped the Band-Aid off.

‘Flesh and Bone’ creator Moira Walley-Beckett

They finally found Sarah Hay, a dancer who began her training at the School of American Ballet at age 8 and later attended the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School of Ballet at the American Ballet Theatre. Among her major accomplishments was being a soloist at the Dresden Semperoper Ballet in Germany.

It was the “Flesh and Bone” choreographer, Ethan Stiefel, who remembered Hay and tracked her down in Germany.

Except for being a member of the ballet ensemble in “Black Swan,” Hay comes to the project with a limited résumé of on-screen work. She feels prepared to handle both the acting and dancing parts of the TV series.

“When you are portraying a character while you are dancing, it’s important to be as authentic as you can,” Hay says.

“If you have the ability to portray a character to a real level then the art form becomes the art form.

“It doesn’t just look like tricks. It becomes more deep and beautiful.”

Although “Flesh and Bone” is an opportunity for Hay to get the fame and attention that comes with starring in a TV series, it was a tough decision to step away from the ballet world for the months needed to film the show.

Ballet is a very competitive world and it is easy to lose status in a company with a long absence. Hay eventually decided starring in the TV show was the best decision for her.

Hay has seen some subtle differences between acting and dancing, but her preparation to play the character was no different than getting ready for a new dance role.

Because she’s doing both, Hay still ends the day bruised and bloody because of the physical demands of dancing. She suffers through the pain because she loves her art form.

Another important element for Hay is getting to expose ballet to a larger audience.

“I think that any sort of publicity that we can bring to the arts is really important right now because, in general, our audiences are not that big in the ballet world,” Hay says. “When it’s brought to television and people see the beauty and how we are preserving history, it’s the same like a painting. We are preserving art.

“I hope that it inspires more people to dance because a lot of people can get discouraged in the beginning. It’s very difficult.”

Rick Bentley: 559-441-6355, @RickBentley1

Flesh and Bone

  • 8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8, Starz