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Black Swan

With anticipation and slight trepidation, I finally saw Darren Aronosky’s “Black Swan.” I read several of the movie’s reviews: the New York Times, Washington Post, etc. . . In addition, I received an influx of opinions on the movie from friends and colleges. It was time for me to form my own verdict.

Last night, I met up with a friend for the late showing at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas. Before heading to the theater, the two of us chatted excitedly about the movie over a bottle of wine. We had heard intriguing feedback; both positive and negative. I felt more prepared for the film than some of my friends, who expected to see a ‘ballet movie.’ My plan was to approach it as a psychological thriller, in which the characters just happen to be ballet dancers.

I missed the first few minutes of the film. Perhaps if I saw the beginning then my perception would be different. If there was any type of gradual plot line build in the beginning, then I missed out. I came in as Natalie Portman’s character Nina was auditioning for the role of Swan Queen – her dramatic fouette sequence interrupted abruptly by Mila Kunis’s character Lily, “fresh off the plane from San Francisco.”

This lack of build didn’t allow for me to get to know the characters. Yes, of course, Nina is the obsessive perfectionist ballerina who’s A-type personality traits juxtapose Lily’s rebellious attitude. Nina’s sheltered life and icy persona is most likely a result of an overbearing, ‘has-been’ stage mom, played by Barbara Hershey. The film is drenched of negative, over-the-top ballet stereotypes: the eating disorders, inappropriate Casanova-like directors, the razor-sharp competitiveness between dancers, the obsessive ‘do or die’ mentality towards one’s dance career, it is all there. Yet, it was not these unflattering images of ballet that left me unsettled.  After all, stereotypes, whether good or bad, come from somewhere. Why try to sugar coat it? This all exists in the ballet world in vary extremes. I’ve seen it and experienced it. Where Aronosky went wrong is the extent of stereotypes he used. It was as if he tried to cram every single one into 2 hours, involving just a few characters. It felt like too much, which took away some of the credibility.

Natalie Portman gave a believable performance. She truly is a talented actress, who I almost always enjoy watching on the big screen. Her devotion to the film is apparent from beginning to end. I heard she trained in ballet for up to a year and a half before filming. I think she really shines as an actress here and carries the film through to the end.

But, overall, I can’t be in love with “Black Swan.” It felt so dramatic and absurd. At times, I actually laughed out loud. Aronofsky relies heavily on gore and sexual tension/story lines. In the end, it made the story feel weak. The sequencing of events throughout the movie jumps around. Perhaps this was done on purpose for effect; to blur the lines of reality and Nina’s neurotic alternate world, in which reaching ballet hierarchy is all consuming.

I can’t comment on the dancing because there wasn’t much of it. Benjamin Millepied played Portman’s onstage prince, as well as providing most of the film’s choreography. In many of the dance scenes, the camera angles display only torsos, limbs, and facial expressions, which makes it difficult to provide further feedback on Millepied’s choreography. Portman does look the part of a ballerina. Though, she did have a body double (Sarah Lane stepped in for Portman’s difficult dancing)

I’m still processing how I feel about the movie. I was in a state of slight shock as I rode the subway home last night. It definitely is not a ‘dance movie.’ Yet, despite my mixed feelings, I still think it’s worth going to see it.

On another note, if anyone is looking for a truly touching and inspiring dance movie, or really all around great flick, check out Mao’s Last Dancer.

Written by Stephanie Wolf

Stephanie Wolf

An Atlanta native, Stephanie Wolf has performed professionally with the Minnesota Ballet, James Sewell Ballet, the Metropolitan Opera, and Wonderbound (formerly Ballet Nouveau Colorado). She has a BA in Liberal Studies from St. Mary’s College of California. Her writing has been published in national and regional media outlets, including Dance Informa, Indianapolis Star, and the Twin Cities Daily Planet. Currently, Stephanie lives in Denver, where she is a public radio producer and reporter. She loves bluegrass, cooking, Netflix, and owls.