Earlier this week weÂ followed with interest the online reaction to The Guardian pieceÂ entitled “What Britain’s ballet stars made of Black Swan”.Â Objecting to the dancers’ more literal and nitpicky approach to Aronofksy’sÂ movie, commenters responded with such remarks as “Watching Black Swan for the balletÂ seems to me like watching South Park: The Movie for the ChristianÂ theology” and “have you ever seen an Aronofsky film?”
Aronofsky’sÂ movie only opens in the UK on 21 January but in the US itÂ has been out for a while. At the time of its release several USÂ publications also approached professional dancers for their views.Â We now have the opportunity to look at all these different reactionsÂ and to conclude that the movie really divides dancers: while some areÂ generally unhappy with the clichÃ©s, with Natalie Portman’s “inadequateÂ port de bras” and at how negatively the movieÂ portrays an “already struggling art form”, others have approachedÂ it from the viewpoint of symbolism and metaphor. Below we list these different POVs:
We all know those stereotypes ofÂ the ballet world: the stage mom, the anorexic or bulimic, the other ballerina out to get your roles, the obsessive perfectionist, etc.Â They are all represented in this movie to an extreme level. But allÂ these things don’t bother me. That is not what the movie is about.Â This is a psychological thriller about a delusional girl. This isÂ no one’s ballet movie. Yes, the main character is a ballerina, butÂ this is about her mind more than anything else. It is hard to tellÂ what the reality is and what she is seeing. It truly sets your headÂ spinning.
Natalie Portman is fantastic asÂ Nina, a corps dancer struggling to rise to the challenge of dancingÂ the principal role of the Swan Queen. The actress poured herselfÂ into serious ballet training to be able to embody the look of aÂ professional dancer and she did a magnificent job of it. No realÂ dancer I can imagine could have portrayed the depth of emotion thisÂ role required, it needed a great actress. But without the degree ofÂ devotion and discipline that she applied to the dance,Â Black Swan would never have achieved theÂ heights that it does.
ABT’sÂ Gillian Murphy and David Hallberg for theÂ LA Times (Q&A):
As principals in aÂ major New York company, what was your reaction to the movie’s dark depiction of the ballet world?
GillianÂ Murphy: I thought the extreme nature thatÂ it presented was shocking, but it was intentionally that way. IÂ thought the movie was brilliantly conceived andÂ imaginative.
DavidÂ Hallberg: It’s from a well-respectedÂ director, so there’s a comfort in that. And I’m a fan of his work.Â It’s always interesting to see where someone will take it. I was,Â interestingly, quite stressed throughout the film, especially nearÂ the beginning of the end, because it became such aÂ thriller.
Do you often find yourselfÂ stretching in dank, spooky corridors?
No. That was a really dark andÂ spooky space they found! With the cement walls and stuff? It was soÂ masochistic. I mean, we have a good time at work. We all think weÂ should have a reality show because we think weâ€™re soÂ funny.
It basically strengthens any stereotypes that haveÂ slowly been disappearing over the past 20 years or so, You know,Â this dancer who wants to be perfect in every way.Â I tried to rememberÂ [exaggerations are to be expected] throughout the film becauseÂ [Aronofsky's] stuff is usually pretty out there, I think it’sÂ always going to be difficult for me to watch a movie about balletÂ because I’m going to be watching it from a differentÂ perspective.
Jennifer Kronenberg: (…) I’m also telling people to look for symbolism and metaphorÂ rather than taking everything literally. If taken simply at faceÂ value, the film is utterly ridiculous. It is also most important toÂ remember throughout the film that it is not aÂ factual depiction of the real ballet world. It is the world as seenÂ through the eyes and mind of an emotionally disturbed, veryÂ neurotic young girl whose social development has beenÂ severely arrested. She’s incapable of copingÂ with the stresses and pressures of a competitive world and allowsÂ herself to be consumed by her own self-destructiveÂ demons.
Callie Manning: (…)Â Portman did an admirable job of “faking” the dancing. Her bodyÂ double (SarahÂ Lane) was beautiful and the transitions between the twoÂ them were done really well. I think most of the audience believedÂ that Portman did all her own “stunts.” Her acting was wonderful, IÂ was just really annoyed by the character she played. Kunis didn’tÂ do much dancing but her acting was great, too. I have a much easierÂ time relating to her character’s persona and didn’t find herÂ “clichÃ©” nearly as irritating.
Miami City Ballet’s Rebecca KingÂ for her blog TendusÂ Under a Palm Tree:
I think this movie has provided the ballet world withÂ a lot of attention, but is it the right kind? I don’t think so.Â Though I generally enjoyed my movie-going experience last night, IÂ did get the giggles a few times in the beginning, where most of theÂ cliches resided. I think this film paints ballet in a tainted lightÂ and when people think of “Swan Lake”, they will always be remindedÂ of Darren Aronofky’s “Black Swan”, instead of the centuries oldÂ masterpiece danced on stages around the world. To me, that is aÂ shame.
Royal Ballet Dancers for TheÂ Guardian – Judith Mackrell (quotes):
TamaraÂ Rojo: This isÂ a very lazy movie, featuring every ballet cliche going. If you wantÂ to look at the dark side of ballet, do it properly, don’t just giveÂ us shots of a ballerina suddenly vomiting. Nina’s mother was beyondÂ the clichÃ© of a ballet mum â€“ she was a psychopath. And the onlyÂ people who looked like they were having a good time were the onesÂ having sex.
Edward Watson: The sadÂ thing is that while this film shows the drive ballet dancers haveÂ to become perfect, it makes what we do look so naff and laughable.Â It doesn’t show why ballet is so important to us â€“ why we wouldÂ want to try so hard.
Lauren Cuthbertson: SomeÂ of Nina’s character felt accurate. We’re all obsessive in how weÂ approach a new role: it can dominate our thoughts for months. AndÂ some of us like to wear pastel colours sometimes. But in the filmÂ it’s all so extreme. And Nina’s such a good little girl; she wearsÂ pink all the time, and her hair in a bun, even when she’sÂ outside.
Please don’t forget to take part in our ongoing survey Â (click here, 5 questions only). Your participation will help us steer this dance webzine in the right direction.