‘Black Swan’ stereotypes bother dancers

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In this film publicity image released by Fox Searchlight, Natalie Portman is shown in a scene from “Black Swan.” — Photo by The Associated Press

Toronto — While many moviegoers are lavishing praise on the psychological dance thriller “Black Swan,” some Canadian ballet stars aren’t exactly doing gleeful grand jetes over the depiction of their craft.

Ballet BC dancer Racheal Prince watched the film in Vancouver and said while she thought the story was “interesting,” she also felt some scenes related to dance were extremely exaggerated.

“I thought it covered every stereotype out there about ballet,” said Prince, a native of Wasaga Beach, Ont., in a recent phone interview.

“I think it was not really supposed to be funny, but at times I was laughing, that’s for sure.”

Peter Smida, also of Ballet BC, felt the same way.

“One of the first things I thought after walking out, I remember saying, ‘It basically strengthens any kind of stereotype that’s slowly been disappearing over the last 20 years or so,”’ said Smida, who hails from Kingston, Ont.

“You know, this dancer who wants to be perfect in every way and is obsessed with what they are doing and can’t take their mind off of it for a night.”

Directed by Darren Aronofsky, “Black Swan” stars Natalie Portman as Nina, a New York ballet star whose sanity is tested as she fights to win the lead role in “Swan Lake.” Mila Kunis co-stars as her rebellious rival, Lily.

Nina is consumed by her dance career as she fights with Lily to be prima ballerina in the show.

Prince, 26, said while dance “does become your life,” she felt Portman’s character was over the top.

“She’s anorexic, bulemic, crazy. I was like, ‘Oh no,’” she said.

“Oh, and she has other disorders as well.

“I’m sure every dancer struggles with little things here and there but for one girl to struggle with every single problem out there, it just makes us look crazy.”

Amanda Green, a first soloist with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, also felt there were a lot of dancer stereotypes in the film.

“I think the biggest one was her vomiting throughout the movie,” said Green, 25, who hails from Tofield, Alta.

The dancers also took issue with a few other ballet subplots in the film, including the fact that Nina still lives with her mother, which they say is highly unusual for a soloist in her 20s.

Still, they did admit that it was tough for them to be objective and watch the film without a critical eye.

“I think we’re a bit jaded in that we know, we have the experience of what it’s like to be in a company,” said Eric Nipp, who dances with the corps de ballet at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and hails from Salmon Arm, B.C.

“So we have that clouding our vision whereas at some points it was thrilling, it was suspenseful and it was scary.”

The dancers also had unanimous praise for the ballet moves performed by the body doubles.

“The dancing in the movie was really well done and it’s the first time that I haven’t been cringing,” said Prince.

“It was really beautiful to watch.”

Green also gives top marks to Portman for her dance technique. “I think she probably did her homework really well. She didn’t have bad port de bras.”

“It was believable, her port de bras,” added Nipp, 23. “Which is what the ballet’s about. It’s all about port de bras, pretty much.”

Smida, 23, also acknowledged that creative exaggerations are to be expected in a film by Aronofsky, the auteur.

“I tried to remember that through the whole thing because his stuff is usually pretty out there,” he said.

“I think it’s always going to be hard for me to watch a movie that’s centralized around ballet or that theme because obviously I’m going to be watching it from a different perspective.”

Organizations: Ballet BC, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Swan Lake

Geographic location: Black Swan, Toronto, Vancouver Wasaga Beach Kingston New York Tofield Salmon Arm

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