Chicago can’t have nice things — even on the small screen.
The new Netflix series “Tiny Pretty Things,” scheduled to drop Monday, begins with a person wearing a hoodie pushing ballerina Cassie Shore off a building at Chicago’s only elite dance school. The whodunit mystery unravels over 10 hourlong episodes that follow Cassie’s classmates as they point fingers, fight, kiss, break up, make up, kiss, break the law, kiss, and, oh yeah, dance.
Much of the drama centers around rising star Bette (played by Addison native Casimere Jollette), who stops at nothing to snag the lead role in productions; newcomer Neveah (Kylie Jefferson), who refuses to abide by the rules; and Madame Monique Dubois (Lauren Holly), who sacrifices love, joy and family to run the Archer School of Ballet.
“Madame Monique is complicated, to say the least. She was a prima ballerina in a different era and needs to find a way to stay relevant and to keep some power and find her way in this new world, especially doing a job that until that point was done by a man,” Holly told the Tribune by phone.
The 57-year-old actress — known for her roles in “Dumb and Dumber,” “NCIS” and “Picket Fences” — laughed when asked about her own dance background. “When I was four or five, I danced to ‘Here Comes the Sun’ in a gymnasium, does that count? But no, I did not have dance experience, and it was very hilarious because when they were all in training, before we started filming, I wanted to go to their classes as sort of a bonding thing. I also felt that it was really important that I carry myself as a dancer, walk like a dancer and all that. I wanted to get the posture correct and whatnot, and I quickly became the comic relief in the class because I couldn’t even hold my arm correctly. They all look so beautiful and graceful in the mirror, and I look like I had branches coming out of my body.”
Holly may not have the moves, but she knows her way around Chicago. She lived in Lake County for a few years in the mid-aughts because of her then-husband’s job. Holly — who is now based in Toronto — said she was “really bummed” not to make the fall 2019 trip to Chicago to film. Much of “Tiny Pretty Things” was shot in Toronto, though some cast members came here to film scenes downtown on Wabash Avenue, along the lakefront, by the Riverwalk, at the Art Institute before doors opened to the public, inside the Goddess and the Baker’s Wabash location and other spots.
“I told them if we go back, I want to go to Chicago because they all had such a great time. They got to film in such iconic locations,” Holly said.
Netflix has not announced a second season of the series, which is based on the 2015 “Tiny Pretty Things” book by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton. The book is set in New York City, but series showrunner, executive producer and writer Michael MacLennan cited his “huge love of Chicago” as a factor for bringing the drama here.
“When it came to deciding where to set ‘TPT,’ I didn’t want our fictional Archer School of Ballet to be among seven or so professional-level ballet academies as it would be in New York, where it can feel like half the city is out there toting a dance bag and rocking the performing arts,” MacLennan said in an email. “Relocating the show to Chicago means our students have to engage more in worlds outside of dance — to live as part of a larger and more diverse fabric. I took inspiration, of course, from Chicago’s amazing Joffrey Ballet, and its feeder academy.”
Chicago’s robust dance community may be why so many dance-related TV and film projects are set here. Recall the 2004 Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez film “Shall We Dance?”; the 2003 Neve Campbell film “The Company”; and the 2001 Julia Stiles and Sean Patrick Thomas film “Save the Last Dance.” There’s even a new Fox pilot filming here called “The Big Leap,” which is said to follow a group of underdogs competing to be part of a ballet-themed reality TV competition.
No word if that project also begins with yellow police tape.
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