For anyone who is my ‘friend’ on facebook and has read my fake ‘I wish for a Valentine from….’ list that I create in February, you will know that Natalie Portman is on my short-list of ladies that could persuade me to ‘play for the other team’. I, like Mila Kunis (or drug-dream Mila Kunis as the case may be) have a serious crush on the academy-award winning actress. But ‘Black Swan’ may have changed that.
First, here’s my take on the film: I thought it was dramatic, over-the-top, and visually pretty stunning. I thought the character development was poor at best, the narrative as badly threaded as pretty much anything I attempt to sew. But I do not claim to be a seamstress. I think a movie needs more than a single point of view such as, ‘here’s what can happen in an obsessive perfectionistic, lifestyle which I believe is the point the director Darren Aronofsky was trying to make. Well, I take that back because ‘Requiem for Dream’, another film of his, is little more than showing the dangers of addiction, but the characters are interesting, connected, and their weird behaviors are understandable in the trajectory of the movie because enough back story or characterization is provided. In Black Swan, I didn’t know why she was so psychotic. I also hated how friends of mine who aren’t dancers would ask me if that’s really what the dance world is like. I know I can be rude, tactless, crass, and just plain loud, but I draw the line at sprouting big crow wings and pulling twigs out of my skin. I wouldn’t have minded that stuff if Nina (Portman’s character) were better fleshed out. And speaking of fleshed out, I don’t think actors should deserve as much attention as they get for losing/gaining weight. I think there should be a separate ‘dediaction to becoming the character’ award and leave the Oscars for pure acting. Also, the choreography stunk. what WAS that new junk for the Black Swan pas? I blame silly home-wrecked Benjamin Millepied, Portman’s new hubby, and the worst teacher I had at The Rock School of Pennsylvania Ballet (even if I did have a MASSIVE crush on him at the time, and let’s face it, he’s a fantastic dancer and undoubtedly prettier than me or dare I say, his new lady- the latter really saying something, the former, meh, not so much).
So that was my attitude towards the film until the whole ‘body double’ controversy stirred up. For anyone who hasn’t heard about it, Natalie POrtman and the studio execs were claiming that she did 80% of the dancing herself, and that she had trained for a year and a half to do the part. I’m sorry, but a year and a half is a drop in the bucket for a ballet dancer. I’ve been doing this for 20+ years and I still look like crap next to Sarah Lane. There’s no way Portman could fill those shoes, and that Lane could step in only for the hard turning sequences. Lane gave a brief interview in Glamour Magazine and was then asked to not give any more interviews or talk to press regarding her role in the film. She was also not properly cited in the end credits, listed as something like ‘girl in the alley’ rather than ‘person who did all the hard stuff while Portman cried and acted like a bewildered prude in a leotard for an hour and half (if I seem a bit biased, I probably am!). Most of the dance community has rallied around Ms. Lane for speaking up not only for herself but against the facade that a dancer can be made in a year and a half
I take less issue with this aspect of the story. Just recently, I saw the star of the documentary ‘dancing across Borders’ Sokvannara (Sy) Sar perform a solo with St. Louis Ballet Company. Sar was found in Cambodia and noticed for his skill with traditional Cambodian dance, and brought on scholarship at the age of seventeen to study with the School of American ballet in New York city, where he trained for four years before joining the company and now freelancing. He was absolutely stunning and to think started at seventeen..I had been dancing ON POINTE for almost ten years by then! Some people just have talent that with the right teachers cannot be caged and this is clearly one of those cases. It is also, the exception. People that spend their entire lives studying dance rarely become this good (case in point, me). I find it less belittling to say that a dancer can be made in a year and a half of very hard work, than the idea that anyone -should they decide to step into a studio -can become a professional ballerina, which by taking away the credit from Sarah Lane, is what it feels like the public is being told. To say that anyone, no matter the amount of study, could be easily swapped in and out with a dancer as lovely and amazingly gifted as Sarah Lane is hurtful and just flat out wrong. I could not be swapped with her without considerable CGI work and I’m in the business, I have the muscle memory and training and I would never dare to compare myself with her. The very best dancers have specified body types, and I’m not talking about numbers on a scale. We must have a certain bone structure, rotation in the hips, flexibility of the muscles, not to mention a considerable tolerance for pain that not just everyone has. There is more to the aesthetic of dance than long legs and low body fat- there are needs in the bone structure in order to properly carry out the technique that you must be born with or have beaten into you. There is no acting your way out of bad feet and knees.
Speaking of ‘body doubles’, when I was in Louisville in 2009, famous choreographer Adam Hougland was first setting his amazing ‘Rite of Spring’ on the company and we brought in New York City Ballet principle dancer Wendy Whelan to dance the lead part. In the end of the piece, an actual stream of water falls like rain on the soloist as she dances in a spotlight. It’s a thrilling and powerful visual the way the water catches the light as it falls, hits the dancer, and is cast off as she moves. To get the lighting just right, I ended up going to the Louisville Ballet warehouse (which is in kind of the Kentucky ghetto) in a van to fill in to be ‘rained on’ to test out lighting possibilities for when it was Wendy onstage.
it was one of the most odd and memorable moments of my life, thrashing about under a faucet in a big dark room with only the artistic director Bruce, Adam, and Wendy watching. Then there’s also the fact that we got lost driving home and had to call Wendy’s police officer sister who lives in Lville for directions.
This story doesn’t have much to do with anything, I just think it’s a great story and moment in my life. I certainly didn’t get any ten-dollar tip or program credit, not that I would have expected that. Ms. Lane did considerably more on her end of the production than I did for mine. I guess I can understand both sides of the argument; for me, just the experience of being part of the production and getting to spend time with such amazing people was a treat enough in itself. And Lane was hired to be part of the illusion of making it look like Natalie. If they just wanted a great dancer they might have gone with someone taller or blonde. She was cast for her similar looks and dancing skill. I just don’t really see why that dancing skill has to be hushed up in the real world, why the production couldn’t have celebrated her contribution as well.I wonder how Ms. Portman would feel if Ms. Lane were given an award for acting. Though in my opinion, if she can say during her interview with 20/20 that Natalie still deserves the oscar with a straight face, that proves her acting chops right there.
I’m curious to know what other people think about this topic. Also, enjoy this video!