Awash in new year’s resolutions, January is a time to reflect, but also designate areas to focus on improving. Eat healthier, quit smoking, work out more, get organized are some of the most tried and true resolutions (whether they work or not) around. Trying to be a better “you” or transforming into your perfect self. Dancers are always trying to better themselves, to become, through their art, a more perfect version of themselves as well as transforming into the character the role requests.
An interesting and terrifying example of this type of transformation is Natalie Portman’s portrayal of an obsessive and unstable ballet dancer in Black Swan. RB finally had the chance to see the disturbing, yet beautiful movie last week. I don’t normally go to “scary” movies — and this one did provoke a few nightmares — but I recommend this one, if only for the actors’ performances and the Tchaikovsky-laden soundtrack. At times it was difficult to tell what was real and what wasn’t, which added to the general feel of dementia, coupled with the brilliant camera shots and editing made me wonder if I was going crazy too. (No comments on that, please.)
Portman’s virginal/naive Nina provides the ultimate (if extreme) balance to Mila Kunis’ wild and passionate Lily. Both actors trained hard before donning their leotards for the cameras (notably losing approx 20 lbs each, which seems about right). Portman’s port de bras and basic positions looked good and with some of the camera shots she really needed to know what she was doing , but Kunis’ arm were hideous. Portman’s dancer double (ABT soloist Sarah Lane) doesn’t get enough credit, in my opinion. Unless you are reading a dance magazine or blogs, you rarely, if ever, hear her name mentioned. (*Note to Portman: if you win any awards, it would be proper to acknowledge Lane.)
There were a few things that annoyed me…namely, the back tattoo on Lily. What ballet company would let her go on stage during Swan Lake with that showing? The music box ballerina in Nina’s childlike bedroom rotated backwards. It drove me crazy until, on further reflection, I realized it was supposed to…alluding to her unwinding, her mind unraveling.
Although the characters and plot are clichéd and pushed to the extremes, I thought the casting was spot on. Vincent Cassel was, as usual, slimy. Barbara Hershey psychotic and demanding and really, who plays a better crazy than Winona Ryder? I understand that some are upset that the arts world is again being portrayed as crazy and self-destructive. Black Swan does delve into the darker side of creative obsession, but in its defense, it’s a movie people(!) and I found it disturbing, but entertaining. Plus, if it makes an audience member want to go see a live performance of Swan Lake or anything, I’m all for it.
*Spoiler Alert (of sorts, it’s in the commercial shots): The scene where Nina transforms on stage during her menage into fouette sequence, literally into a swan by growing feathers and sprouting wings is worth the price of admission. RB had goose (or swan?) bumps! Of course, the red eyes, score and creeptastic sound effects helped too.
The best line of the movie was when the Artistic Director asks Benjamin Millepied’s character, “Would you *bleep* that girl?” His response is a “hell no! are you crazy?” look that got chuckles from the audience, who by the time RB saw it, already knew Millepied and Portman are engaged in real life and she is pregnant with his baby.