Dancer Julia Rhoads looks at Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan
A former ballerina and now contemporary dance maker assesses the new movie about a ballerina dancing in Swan Lake.
The movie Darren Aronofsky takes us inside the world of a neurotic ballerina (Natalie Portman) selected to star in Swan Lake. The demands of the production take their toll, and reality and fantasy begin to blur.
The expert Julia Rhoads, artistic director for Lucky Plush Productions, was briefly a company member with the San Francisco Ballet before moving into contemporary dance.
What did you think of Portman’s technique as a ballet dancer?
There was one scene where I think that highly trained eyes might not necessarily buy that what she was doing would be the work of a prima ballerina. But in general I thought she pulled it off pretty successfully.
Some of this stuff mines the hoariest clichés of the ballet world: the stage mom, the ballerinas who are anorexic, the backstage competitiveness.
There’s a grain of truth, but this is so beyond. Sure, all of that exists. This film didn’t move past any of those stereotypes. In fact, it went so far into them that it became almost comical to me at times.
I loved details of the dancers taking apart their ballet slippers and reconstructing them, and using razor blades to rough up the soles of the shoes. Is that stuff right?
Yup. Pointe shoes are basically just layers and layers of cardboard. You need to have a firm structure there. So we would pour liquid cement in and put them in the oven. That’s all true.
Early on in a rehearsal scene, the director taps dancers on the shoulder to pick them, and I heard you laugh.
I was in an audition for a contemporary company in London and I remember the director walking around and touching people and saying, “Whoever didn’t get touched, please leave.” And I thought at that time, God, that’s so stupid and old-school. But these paradigms do still operate in the ballet world. —Hank Sartin
Black Swan opens Dec 3.