Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Thoughts on Black Swan

I recently had the opportunity to see the highly acclaimed movie Black Swan.  All the hype had certainly got me very excited to see the first high profile ballet movie for a long time.  Would it be a realistic portrayal of the ballet world?  Would Ms. Portman's port de bras betray her lack of ballet training?

I think that as a ballet dancer it is extremely difficult to view this movie from the perspective of a ballet novice and not to compare what Ms. Portman's character Nina goes through with my own experience of the reality of life as a professional dancer.

Lots of dancers have been weighing in with their perspective of the film and the unrealistic aspects of it's portrayal of life in a ballet company.  Royal Ballet principal Tamara Rojo was particularly critical of the film and is quoted in the Guardian as saying ' this is a very lazy movie, featuring every ballet cliche going. If you want to look at the dark side of ballet, do it properly, don't just give us shots of a ballerina suddenly vomiting.'

Others have criticised the dancers being asked their opinion on the realism of the film asking if a film involved, for example, scientists would any real scientists ever be questioned on how realistic they found the film to be?

Perhaps it is taking Aronofsky's film out of context to question it's realism, however so rarely is a film ever made involving the insular specialised world of ballet that it's inevitable that people will be asking themselves if that's what it's really like? 

Many aspects of the film were accurate and they seemed to have taken quite an effort to get the basics right. The clothes, pointe shoes, schedule, physical and mental stress (to a degree) that a ballet dancer faces were pretty accurate.  It's great that people watching the film really do get a glimpse of the back stage realities of daily life. The characters and storyline are where the reality verges wildly of course which is also probably what Aronofsky's planned it to be.

I found the film to be entertaining yet hilariously funny, it was just too close to home and unrealistic to be able to take it seriously.  The worst stories you've ever heard within the dance world: the eating disorders; the intense destructive ballet mother; the ballet girl/woman with no real-life experiences; the sleazy company director tormenting his dancers; the bitchy competition, all occur within one person in the space of a couple of hours.  These things do exist but the bombardment of them all in one short space of time make for a wild trip which I expect is exactly what the director wanted.  It's no wonder the poor girl's mind unravels.

I did appreciate the cinematography, the clever if repetitive use of black and white and 'blink or you'll miss it' subtle (and not so subtle!) special effects.  I was impressed also with the film score's use of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake  throughout the film in various 'mixes'.  Of course Natalie's acting was very impressive and even if us picky ballet dancers could tell the difference between her and the pros's I doubt that's going to bother your average film goer.

If there's one thing the ballet world could use it's some good publicity.  Hopefully there will be some positive fall-out from this film and the public's interest in the art form will be peaked.  If they're expecting us all to be riding on the edge of sanity to bring them our best possible performance they will, thankfully, be sorely disappointed.