cover art by @isabella_agosti on Instagram
By Alena Nguyen
I love ballet. I always wish I had the poise and grace that ballerinas have when they dance across a stage, embracing and flowing into every move. Their elegance and refinery is beautiful to watch and witnessing artists live their true selves is inspiring to all.
Despite the smiles plastered on by makeup and dramatic lighting, the ballet industry can be toxic and harmful to the people that are brave enough to enter it. Netflix’s original series ‘Tiny Pretty Things’ attempted to explore just how intense the ballet industry can be, but was disappointing in the end. The 10-episode series revolves around students at The Archer School of Ballet, a renowned ballet school in Chicago, Illinois that trains the next prima ballerinas of the world. When Inglewood, California native Neveah Stroyer (played by Kylie Jefferson) gets a scholarship to attend said elite institution, she gets (not so elegantly) whisked into the drama of a murdered star student Cassie Shore, sex trafficking rings, drug addiction, and TOO MUCH SEX (why was everyone having sex at all times?) Despite all the drama, the administration just wants them to keep smiling and dancing, often trying to sweep all this drama under the rug.
The first episode was misleading; I thought this was going to be another ‘Dance Academy’ where a new girl tries to fit in with the skinny rich kids at an elite dance school. However, ‘Tiny Pretty Things’ became so much more- without any logical reason to besides dramatic purposes. Once Neveah found out that she was accepted into The Archer so that the school would appear philanthropic by taking an “unlucky but extremely talented dancer” under its wing, she seeks to expose the school inside and out- starting with the ‘whodunnit’ murder of Cassie Shore, the star ballerina that was pushed off a building, opening a spot for Neveah at The Archer. Suddenly, Neveah is losing and gaining allies (not friends) every ten minutes as she uncovers all the secrets that Madame Monique Dubois (Lauren Holly) has swept under the aforementioned, metaphorical rug. The way Neveah’s personal life merely hinted at Neveah being a much more complicated character than she seems was unsatisfactory; the show kept teasing me as if to say, “Neveah IS a really interesting character with humane aspects to her, but let’s focus on the bare asses instead”. Maybe there was some symbolic meaning behind showing bare breasts and butt cheeks in a sauna throughout the show but I did not catch onto it.
Anyone would kill to make a name for themselves at and for the Archer school- literally. It seemed like show creator Michael MacLennan cared more about making the drama as, well, dramatic as possible instead of focusing on any real plot and character development. I had a feeling that the drama would get out of hand when Ramon Costa, a guest choreographer, chose to create a show off of the serial murderer Jack the Ripper (not the most elegant story to tell through a ballet but okay).
Everyone besides Neveah and Bette Whitlaw (Casimere Jollete) had a comical, overexaggerated character arc. Bette becomes the new queen bitch after the downfall (pun intended) of Cassie and has a love-hate relationship with just about everyone at school because of the way Bette mercilessly uses people to get to lead roles. Her insecurities about being overshadowed by her star older sister Delia Whitlaw (Tory Trowbridge) who also happens to be a prima ballerina seem to be the only authentic thing in the whole show. Bette’s sidekick, June Park (Daniela Norman), goes through emancipation and attempted rape yet still lacks any character development from those jarring events that would definitely change a person’s outlook on the world. Neveah luckily bonds with her first friend at The Archer, Shane (Brennan Clost), due to their rough (to say the least) beginnings and home life. However, just like everyone else at The Archer, Shane has a freakishly high sex drive which gets him into a few complications when a one-night stand appears at his school as an assistant to a board member.
The creators of the show did a great job at displaying the high-tension, body-image harming culture that is the ballet industry but lacked the means of flawlessly intertwining the characters’ personal issues with how it contributed to any solid plot. There were many underdeveloped character relationships, such as the principal-student grooming relationship, that were overshadowed by certain plot lines that were not necessary (what was Sienna Milken’s deal with Nabil? What was Nabil’s deal with everyone? And why was he always praying?!) I kept finding myself going, “What is going on? Why is this happening? Why is no one talking about Oren’s eating disorder that devolved into severe mental health issues for him?” and would lose track of what the show was actually about, which I don’t know if I could tell you. The phrase “what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas” can be applied to the Paris situation in TPL. Weird, undiscussed shit happened in Paris between Cassie, Ramon Costa, Nabil and someone else, but it wasn’t explicitly brought up so I was left confused as to how this Paris drama connects to the drama in Chicago.
Overall, the plot of the show seemed to unravel like a roll of toilet paper- once you dropped the roll, it would only get further and further away from you, becoming smaller and smaller until it was left to nothing. ‘Tiny Pretty Things’ is an emotionless blend of the graphic movie ‘365 Days’ and ‘Dance Academy’. While I understand the ballet world is terrible, ‘Tiny Pretty Things’ paints said world in a darker and more twisted way. I still love ballet, but just not MacLennan’s version of ballet.