Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Critic weighing in: Black Swan

One of the most disturbing movies I’ve seen recently is Black Swan. Reportedly ten years in gestation, the movie is provocative (on many counts) and is a strong statement on perfectionist tendencies that are utterly destructive. If there is any consistent theme in the movie, it has to do with the power we have to create environments of our own choosing. Clearly, in Black Swan, the young ballerina (Nina, played by Natalie Portman) who is cast as a “new” Swan Queen feels vulnerable and powerless. Nina’s attempts at transformation from the ephemeral white swan, Odette, to a cunning femme-fatale Odile is a main focus of the film.

Supposedly, Portman was in training for many months to achieve a sylph-like appearance; port-de-bras was perhaps achieved more easily (see young dancer Holly Lynn Fusco’s account of her work as a ballerina on the set http://www.dancespirit.com/articles/2824). ABT Soloists Sarah Lane and Maria Riccetto filled in for the two main leads, so every scene we hear had to be shot twice, once with the actors, and once with the dancing doubles, and then the multiple takes edited.

The movie is brilliantly directed by Darren Aronofsky. Still, at times, the movie can feel more like Shutter Island than The Red Shoes. For other critics’ takes see, http://thephoenix.com/boston/arts/112791-dance-critics-take-on-black-swan/ (Marcia Siegel) and for dancers’ see
http://www.theballetbag.com/2011/01/08/what-do-dancers-think-about-black-swan/ Few feel it describes well their profession and its challenges — some say it may even damage ballet’s image, certainly Swan Lake’s position in audience-pleasing repertory – personally, I don’t think it will.

For me, infantile treatment (by mom Barbara Hershey) and the infantile-nature of the young ballerina, the self-mutilation, the psychotic fantasies, are horrifying. As is echoed repeatedly, perfection is not just about control, it’s also about letting go. Seems like there’d be more than the one (bloody, self-destructive) way presented in the movie to achieve this. But then this psychodrama wouldn’t be half as creepy as it is.

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