Sit down, Natalie Portman.

Sarah Lane, Portman’s body double.

I wrote before that I was utterly unimpressed by Black Swan. The predictable plotting, melodramatic acting, and subpar dancing got to me. Now that has evolved into active dislike, thanks to the lack of acknowledgment of the REAL ballerina whose contribution was muffled in an attempt to exalt Portman’s “grueling” ballet training.

Benjamin Millepied, Portman’s babydaddy, stated in the LA Times (see dlisted article for full quote)  that Lane “just did the footwork and the fouettes and one diagonal in the studio. Honestly, 85% of that movie is Natalie.” Terrible quote. Footwork, fouettes, and diagonal=only 15% of ballet? What then composes the 85%, pray tell? Arm flapping and looking constipated? Millepied needs to brush up on his basics.

Anyone with a reasonable degree of ballet training could recognize Portman’s dancing for what it was: a non-dancer trying VERY HARD to look convincing as a professional. Which, for the sake of a Hollywood movie, is fine; but let’s not pretend that Portman is some kind of prodigy.

I understand that so much of this is probably the studio pushing its agenda and not the fault of Portman or Millepied per se, but let’s give credit where credit is due. Sarah Lane is the real thing, and Natalie Portman is not.

14 thoughts on “Sit down, Natalie Portman.

  1. adultbeginner

    I know, what’s with all the subterfuge, right? How much more gracious if she had said something like, ‘Well of course I had a dancing double! I trained my ass off for a year, she’s been training her entire life!’
    I mean, I enjoyed the movie but there’s been so much who-really-did-what and who-should-get-credit-for-what in the aftermath regarding costumes, dancing, it’s all such a turn off.

    1. apricot Post author

      I agree. I don’t know that Lane should’ve expected Portman to thank her during her Academy Awards speech–I mean, it’s an award for acting, after all, not dancing. But it would have been nice for some acknowledgment of the ballet world’s contribution at large.

  2. Acacia

    I must admit that as a film lover, it is becoming increasingly difficult to enjoy a movie for its own sake when there are so many battles over who “really” did what. Audrey Hepburn didn’t sing in My Fair Lady, Debbie Reynolds didn’t do the voice overs in Singin’ in the Rain (it was actually the actress she was supposedly speaking for in the first place), Jennifer Beals didn’t dance in Flashdance. I do understand why dancers and singers care about getting credit, but it does destroy the world created within the film in a fireball of smug schadenfreude.

    The point of having a double is that the actor cannot physically (or vocally) do everything her character can. The intention is to create a complete character and those who do act a body or stunt or voice or dance doubles accept those positions with the understanding that they fill the gaps and provide verisimilitude by seamlessly merging with the actor (hopefully.) They knew that going in, and to whine and complain later for not getting credit for doing a job where success comes from being indiscernible from the person they “double” to make a complete character is childish.

    Should Portman have admitted that she used a double when asked? Sure. Should Millepied have kept his stupid mouth shut? Definitely. Should a body-double understand that for this film she isn’t a star too? Maybe.

    I’m a beginning dancer (aka Melancholy Swan) and a film lover, so I admit my allegiances are divided.

    1. apricot Post author

      A “fireball of smug schadenfreude”–love it! You have a way with words. 🙂

      I can understand the importance of creating the seamlessness you describe. My only beef is that the filmmakers, Portman, and apparently Millepied seem to be in cahoots to make it appear that Portman is some kind of ballet wunderkind. This reeks of Hollywood/corporate manipulation. While I think that the world of the film itself ought to be seamless (the audience shouldn’t be able to tell that the body on the screen ISN’T Portman, in this case), I don’t think we need to carry this kind of fantasy off-screen and into the real world.

      It’s not that I think Lane ought to have been mentioned and praised in reviews/discussions/etc of Black Swan, I just object to the filmic fantasy of Portman-as-ballerina being taken too far. A healthy dose of modesty is in order for the Black Swan folks, I’d argue.

  3. Natalie

    I’ll admit it–I freakin’ loved Black Swan. I thought Portman was fantastic, and despite the abundance of cliche dance scenes (bloody toes are the drinking cue of ballet movies), I enjoyed the dark twist.

    I must point out a touch of irony:
    Lane is pictured above in a fashion magazine but she is not a model. I wonder if any models were jealous? I mean, who can compete with a ballerina body?

    1. apricot Post author

      Well in our very biased opinions…no question that a twiggy, untoned model pales in comparison to a dancer, right you are. 😉

      There were definite good points to the film, I concede that. I thought the cinematography was interesting. I wish I could agree that Portman was amazing, but despite my longtime fan status (I had a total girl-crush on her when I was in high school!!), I felt that she was just ok. Maybe it was the screenplay. I do think that she was perfect for the role in terms of her delicacy and fragility though.

  4. janalou

    Hi – I wanted to tell you that I love your blog! I just stumbled upon it and I think it’s so great. I started ballet late, very late – just this past year, at the age of 30! – so it’s nice to know that there are other adult beginners who are passionate about this art form. I think it’s awesome that you celebrate and feature ballet for dancers of all ages, shapes, sizes and walks of life. I’m looking forward to being a regular reader!

  5. Juliet

    This is really fascinating – I just sort of took all the hype for granted and figured Natalie did all her own dancing even though that would be pretty incredible, now that I think about it. The other day, out of curiosity I did a google image search of the terms “Natalie Portman” and “ballet,” but there were no pictures of Natalie actually dancing…just a pose and some head shots…perhaps this explains it.

  6. Jean-Pierre

    The anguished expression on Natalie’s face was just too much – and constant. Most ballerinas are able to display at least a couple emotions while dancing.

  7. Curmudgeon

    I don’t give a big rat’s patoot who did what percentage of what – it was a drama of a lovely young person slowly losing her mind, and I just accepted it as that.

    Of coure I cried at the end – I’m a sentimental old Irishman and a sucker for that sort of thing.

  8. sammy

    hi, i’m sort of a rising ballerina myself. i’m thirteen, obsessed with Black Swan, addicted to ballet, and in love with Natalie Portman. i havent actually seen the movie but i have watched enough clips and read enough about it to get the picture. i think Natalie is a really good actress, and i congratulate her for achieving the ideal ballerina body, but i find it hard to believe that a devoted actress could just magically turn into a New York City Ballet dancer in a year for one movie. she had to lose twenty pounds to fit the role. if she was actually a good enough dancer to do all or most of the dancing in this film, we would have known about this talent before the movie came out. it kind of reminds me of Disney characters on TV who just “happen” to also be good singers; either they suck, or their faking it. i have to give Sarah Lane credit for this one.

  9. Avesraggiana

    Hello again, Dancing Apricot.

    Rather belatedly, I want to weigh in on this long-simmering debate. I almost got up about two thirds of the way through “Black Swan”. The mugging, the campy makeup, the flapping of arms and scurrying around that passed for dancing, I really couldn’t take it anymore. The worst part about this whole thing is that people unfamiliar with ballet did mistake Natalie Portman for the real thing by calling ballet box offices, asking if Natalie Portman would be dancing the role of “THE BLACK SWAN” that evening.

    Most people addicted to our mass-entertainment industry have a pretty tenuous purchase on reality as it is, so I’m really not surprised that that kind of thing has been happening.

    In the old 1982 video recording of Natalia Makarova and Sir Anthony Dowell in Swan Lake, there’s a beautiful and truly dramatic moment right after Von Rothbart and Odile make their unexpected and uninvited first entrance. After first greeting the Queen Mother in a deep reverence, Odile, whose back has been to Siegfried until then, turns around, extends her hand and faces him for the first time. That look, that single, baleful, penetrating look, fraught with menace and barely disguised evil, is a moment of sheer theatrical genius that informs an age.

    And in my biased and ballet-fan-crazed opinion, an acting tour de force on Makarova’ s part, certainly worthy of an Oscar.
    She’s the real thing, the real Black Swan.


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