Dancers object to Black Swan's stereotypes

Some Canadian ballet dancers are unhappy about the depiction of the dance world in the psychological thriller Black Swan.

Some Canadian ballet dancers are unhappy about the depiction of the dance world in the psychological thriller Black Swan.

Ballet BC dancer Racheal Prince, who saw the film in Vancouver, said that although the story was "interesting," some scenes were extremely exaggerated.

"I thought it covered every stereotype out there about ballet," Prince, a native of Wasaga Beach, Ont., said in a recent telephone interview. "It was not supposed to be funny, but at times I was laughing, that's for sure."

Peter Smida, another dancer with Ballet BC, felt the same way.

"It basically strengthens any stereotypes that have slowly been disappearing over the past 20 years or so," said Smida, who hails from Kingston, Ont. "You know, this dancer who wants to be perfect in every way." 

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 rival, Lily. 

Over the top

Prince, 26, said that although dance "does become your life," she thought Portman's character was over the top.

"She's anorexic, bulimic, crazy," Prince said. "I was like, 'Oh, no!'

"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 dance stereotypes in the film.

"I think the biggest one was her vomiting throughout the movie," said Green, 25, from Tofield, Alta.

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

They admitted that it was difficult for them to be objective about the film.

"I think we're a bit jaded in that we know," said Eric Nipp, a 23-year-old member of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's corps de ballet  who hails from Salmon Arm, B.C. "We have the experience of what it's like to be part of a company."

But the dancers had unanimous praise for the performances of the body doubles.

"The dancing in the movie was really well done," Prince said. "It was really beautiful to watch."

Green also gives top marks to Portman for her dance technique.

"She did her homework really well," she said.

"It was believable, her port de bras," Nipp added. "Which is what the ballet's about — it's all about port de bras, pretty much."

Smida, 23, said exaggerations are to be expected in a film by Aronofsky, who also directed The Wrestler, the 2008 drama starring Mickey Rourke about an aging wrestler who continues to have matches despite failing health. It won the Golden Lion Award at the 2008 Venice Film Festival.

"I tried to remember that throughout  the film because his stuff is usually pretty out there," Smida said. "I think it's always going to be difficult for me to watch a movie about ballet because I'm going to be watching it from a different perspective."