I saw Swan Lake performed on TV when I was a little girl. American Ballet Theater, New York City Ballet, The Bolshoi. I don’t remember which company and I am not sure of the dancers’ names either. Maybe Suzanne Ferrell? All I know is from that moment to this, I thought ballet was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I begged my parents to discontinue my much hated piano lessons so I could study ballet. They didn’t listen to reason, so the piano lessons continued.
Years later on a trip to New York City, I saw my very first Broadway musical, A Chorus Line and heard the song, At The Ballet.
“Everything was beautiful at the ballet.
Graceful men lift lovely girls in white.
Yes, Everything was beautiful at ballet. Hey!
I was happy… at the ballet….
Everyone is beautiful at the ballet.
Every prince has got to have his swan.
Yes, Everyone is beautiful at the ballet.“
Everything Is Not So Beautiful in Black Swan
Black Swan director, Darren Aronofsky shows us a dark and extremely competitive world as we peer backstage at a prominent New York City ballet company, starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel. Ultra thin ballerinas with bruised,deformed feet, bleeding toes and aching muscles, desperate to gain the favor of the ballet master, Thomas Leroy, played by French actor Vincent Cassel (Ocean’s Eleven).
Natalie Portman transformed herself into a talented, but very troubled ballerina in Aronofsky’s movie, Black Swan. As Nina Sayers, Natalie studied ballet for a year and lost an incredible amount of weight for this role and has been rewarded with multiple award nominations, including a Golden Globe for Best Actress.
The arrival of a young, new dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis) and Thomas’s decision to mount a production of Swan Lake, using one ballerina to play both the White and the Black Swans sparks emotions in Nina that play on her deep insecurities and lack of confidence. It is this lack of confidence, Thomas tells Nina that keeps her from becoming the perfect Black Swan.
Nina is a fragile and sensitive girl who lives with her mother in a small apartment. Nina’s home life only adds to her emotional instability. Barbara Hershey portrays Nina’s overly possessive, smothering mother, a former ballerina who feels she gave up a budding career when she got pregnant. Now she lives her life vicariously through her daughter’s career. Their relationship is strange and leads to some creepy and disturbing questions. You be the judge.
The opposite of Natalie Portman’s Nina, Mina Kunis is Lily, the free-spirited, sexy and talented new dancer who evokes fear and a curious mix of feelings in Nina. Lily and Nina are opposites even in their wardrobe. While Nina dresses in white, pinks and pastels with her hair in a tight bun; Lily wears black lace with free-flowing hair.
As rehearsals for Swan Lake continue and Nina and Lily’s strange friendship progresses, Nina goes deeper and deeper into her dark side to dance the Black Swan role. She steals little momentos from the dressing room of the company’s prima ballerina, Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder), goes out partying with Lily and picks up strange men. She even explores her sexual side in a lesbian relationship with Lily.
Natalie Portman gives an outstanding performance. She seems to be on verge of breaking into tiny white feathers and blowing away at any minute. You would wonder how anyone so emotionally fragile could survive in such a competitive environment? I also wonder why Nina’s mother painted so many pictures of her daughter when it is obvious that painting was not her talent? And why didn’t she go out and get a job or a life of her own? Maybe I thinking too much. Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is a study in contrasts and insanity. It is unnerving, raw and emotionally jarring. It is everything, but beautiful.
My Favorite Ballet Movies
Tchaikovsky – Swan Lake with Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev
The Turning Point starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Shirley McClain
Baryshnikov Dances Sinatra with choreography by Twila Tharp
The Red Shoes The quintessential ballet movie.