Black Swan – Take a Bow

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I have waited quite some time to give my take as a professional ballet dancer on the movie Black Swan. Recent press regarding the controversy involving Sarah Lane (a beautiful American Ballet Theatre Dancer) as Natalie Portman’s “stunt double” has prompted me to break my silence. Having both experience on film and as a professional dancer I’m going to offer my perspective on the whole thing and how the dance world is so different from Hollywood.

After reading an Entertainment Weekly article written by Adam Markovitz, (you can read it here) it is clear that Ms. Lane is a bit upset over her role in the movie Black Swan. It seems that the producers didn’t properly define her role as a stunt double in the film. Unfortunately, being a stunt double is a very thankless job when it comes to academy awards.

Just as Lane is quoted as saying that Portman’s portrayal of a dancer is “demeaning to the profession (ballet),” I feel that Lane’s primadonna attitude in these articles doesn’t make the profession look much better. This primadonna attitude is exactly the reason why dancers have such a (excuse my language) bitchy reputation.

Could legal issues follow these accusations? Lane claims that though she was “told not to talk about her work to the press” there was no non-disclosure clause in her contract. So who advised Ms. Lane to speak up? Surely she has an agent. Surely someone went over the contract with her. I understand the work that Lane put into the few dance scenes that were in Black Swan, but I do not think it is right for her to slam Portman and the movie. This is something that should have been advised against, and if this is merely a business issue, why is it being aired out publicly?

On to the Oscar Controversy:
Whomever did the dancing in the movie is not the reason why it won an Oscar. I understand that some in the dance community feel that Natalie Portman won the Oscar for her “upper body” portrayal of a dancer, but if you truly watch the film you will see that it is far more than that. Natalie Portman received a much deserved Oscar for her work as an actress, not as a dancer. In fact, if you watch the movie again you will see that there really isn’t much dancing in the movie at all. Has Lane seen the movie?

So why the controversy? One thing that us dancers have is pride. Our profession feeds off of acknowledgment (think bows at the end of a performance) and acceptance. I think that Lane feels the need for a bit of closure since she didn’t get to take a “bow” after her performance as Ms. Portman’s stunt double. Slamming the movie you worked on and the actress who’s “acting” awarded her an Oscar is hardly applause worthy.

I have yet to read a response to this controversy by the ever poised Natalie Portman’s who’s dancer fiance Benjamin Millepied has spoken up saying that “85 percent of that movie is Natalie.” Will we hear a reply from her? Also, please do not see this as an attack on Ms. Lane or her dancing, rather a look into the business side of things. I am looking forward to seeing how this one unfolds.

This Blog post was inspired by the Entertainment Weekly Article “Black Swan double claims Natalie Portman only did 5 percent of full body dance shots in the movie” Written by Adam Markovitz.

About Nikol Klein

Nikol Klein is former Professional Ballet Dancer turned Women's fitness expert. She currently works with Women all over the world as a personal trainer and Ballet Strength coach to dancers.

Posted on March 26, 2011, in Ballet, Ballet News, Dance, Dance Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. Interesting point of view. I wonder if Lane is confusing the amount of her dancing that was filmed with the amount that was actually in the film. Your right theres not many dance scenes in the movie.

  2. The bitchy comment made me laugh. Dancers bitch? lol

  3. I totally disagree. Sarah is no primadonna. If you read Sarah’s interview in 12/10 Dance Magazine about Black Swan doubling she was very gracious and not out for credit. On the other hand, all you heard from the director and Fox was that “Natalie did all her own dancing” – blatant lying to get a small movie noticed and make money for Fox and Aronofsky. Even now, many think Natalie did all the dancing. Guess it’s true if you repeat a lie enough times, people believe it.

    As for the Oscars, they are for “Best PERFORMANCE by a ….” In this case, dance was heavily part of the performance, which Natalie claims was all her. Sarah was told by FOX producers to keep quiet until after the Oscars and she did. But she rightly deserves credit and I’m glad she’s finally standing up for herself.

    • Taken directly from the Oscars site “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role” is the title of the award given to Natalie. The word performance doesn’t always apply to dance in context.

      I do however agree that this young girl has been treated a bit unfairly in not being listed in the credits properly.

    • Kennedy Sergio de Mille

      She received credit in the form of a paycheck and the rights to use/list this among her experience. That’s it. And, if they asked her to go along with saying nothing about her work, she obviously agreed to it. Until now. Someone else has dreams of Hollywood stardust in their eyes I see.

    • “I totally disagree. Sarah is no primadonna. If you read Sarah’s interview in 12/10 Dance Magazine about Black Swan doubling she was very gracious and not out for credit. ”
      But now, she obviously IS out for credit.
      It’s not that she is seeking to get more credit, that riles me up, it’s the way HOW she does and that she doesn’t even tell us, HOW it should have looked like to satisfy her hunger for acknowledgement.

    • Just because someone SAYS they’re not out for credit, doesn’t mean they don’t have a massive chip on their shoulder, which was already evident in that interview. She didn’t appear to understand the question, which was ~how does it feel to have contributed to a performance that is getting rave reviews? A non-narcissistic response would not start out with “I”m not looking to be recognized” (she doth protest too much), it would be something along the lines of “I’m really proud of what I contributed, Natalie also worked very hard and it was all shot and blended together very well to create a credible portrayal. I’m thrilled the movie and the performance to which I contributed were so well received.”

      Ms Lane doesn’t grasp what it means to be a double, she doesn’t grasp that the purpose of this film was not to celebrate her industry, she doesn’t grasp that different industries have different perspectives and thus use different semantics as a matter of course. So a “dance scene” to a movie person is everything involving any dancing vs. the same character in eg, a “street scene”. While a dancer naturally will focus on her whole body, her footwork, etc. and of course what she herself contributed. To a non-dancer, dancing while they crop the scene at your waist IS a dance scene! There is nothing presumptively dishonest about that.

      Lane is making red herring arguments about how “the truth” is nobody can become a professional quality dancer in a year and a half. But that’s a total non-issue, no one said that! Almost everyone I know has seen this film and everybody understands the difference between a professional dancer and Natalie Portman. Ms Lane insults the public intelligence, demeaning us far more than her profession could possibly have been demeaned. She is the one demeaning her profession with her own behavior.

      Natalie has repeatedly stated she had a double for the difficult things she couldn’t do, she has complimented Sarah in interviews, they have been entirely consistent going back to when they were still mid-production! And remember this was a tiny, very low budget film. NO ONE was thinking “Oscar” back then.

  4. I watched the movie and it was clear that Natalie was awarded for selling the role and not selling ballet dancing.

    Tell this ballet dancer with lead singer disease that she got paid to do her stunt doubling and that is a thank you that is enough. If she wants credit and or an award for dancing there are plenty of competitive tv shows for that.

  5. Clever take on the acknowledgment, taking a bow similarity! *curtsy*

  6. Kennedy Sergio de Mille

    I’m a dancer as well who has completed many stunts. Sadly, Sarah was not coached that THIS is the business of stunts. YES, you CAN use it as credits for future endeavors. NO, you’re not supposed to go around griping that you weren’t given credit and acknowledgment from the actors. It’s called professionalism. It is not their responsibility to prop you up. Your paycheck and ability to use the experience to gain future work is all you get. And I suspect you won’t get any phone calls for future work in Hollywood after this. In fact, now that you’ve tarnished your name, no one will want to touch you with a ten foot pole.

  7. In some ways, I’m inclined to agree with you, Nikol. There’s been a lot of fuss over this movie in the ballet world that frankly comes off as a bit whiny. Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of the film itself but mostly because script and plot choices put me off – I simply don’t agree it was Oscar-worthy. Its ballet cliché is just not surprising – Hollywood has yet to grow beyond certain devices when it comes to dance.

    However, (and I can’t know for sure but) I’m not so convinced that Lane is confused about her role in the film or upset over the lack of acknowledgement. More disconcerting (it seems) for her and for me is the extent makers of the film were willing to go to downplay that role and feed the general public’s illusion that Natalie did 85-90% of the dance that DID appear in the film and that she learned to do so in one year’s time.

    You’re right that there is VERY little dance in the film at all but why in a making-of is there a need to actually remove segments showing Lane dancing and the special effect of replacing her face? The only reason that I can see is to not only enhance but exaggerate the DANCE aspect of Natalie’s performance leading up to the Oscars. Was this agenda pushed because ‘they’ were unsure her acting performance alone was enough to impress? I don’t know. Seems more petty than any of Lane’s complaints.

    I’d like to say it’s backfired and brought more attention as Lane and others speak up but oh well, they still got their Oscar. Actually I feel a little badly for Natalie, whose so-called supporters kind of undermined her by underestimating her acting. Anyway, here’s another take on this from Wendy Perron at DM:

    • In the 12/10 Dance Magazine interview with Sarah she said she received a lot of advice from both Kevin McKenzie (ABT AD) and Victor Barbee (ABT Assc AD). Still, I assume she thought she would be acknowledged as a double (which she wasn’t until recently). I think the did the work just to make some extra money, since ABT has many weeks off during the winter (Sarah’s husband is also an ABT dancer). IMO, doubling is beneath Sarah, akin to having Julianne Moore cast as an extra in a movie.

      Also, I think what broke the camel’s back was having a fellow dancer unfairly discredit you. IMO it was not very smart of Millepied, who just set “Troika” on ABT (it’s now premiering in Moscow) to loudly discredit one of ABT’s most valued soloists (ABT is the 2nd biggest ballet company in the US). Especially to discredit Sarah when you are working for ABT now, setting a ballet. Ben would obviously like to get more ballet commissions but I hardly think this is the way to go about doing it! It will be interesting to see if ABT really performs Troika during their Met summer season. As for Ben’s own performing career, I can only say he rarely performs anymore and his boss – Peter Martins – didn’t even both to see Black Swan. So he better change up his game plan fast.

    • It’s all about hype, money and awards. Fox had no ethics and deliberately duped the public so their small movie would get noticed and earn big bucks.

  8. I don’t understand why anyone needs to take away from Natalie’s accomplishment by over-stressing the fact that she is not a professional dancer and that a double was used. Of course. The general public does know that.

    That’s exactly why we we’re impressed that Portman can dance at all.

    Are we particularly surprised that an ABT dancer can dance? No 😉 She got her paycheck for the wonderful job she did. Sorry, she’s just not the lead in this role. I honestly can’t figure out why she thought she was. It’s a movie!

    • I don’t understand the need by the filmmakers to take away from Natalie’s accomplishment (in acting or the year 1/2 in training) by strategically attempting to misrepresent what she DID do of the dancing … it’s demeaning to Natalie really, especially if the general public is so aware and it’s so obvious that she had a dance double. Seems to me Sarah Lane is taking nothing away from Natalie that wasn’t taken already.

  9. Interesting to hear your take on this. Here is a thorough recap of how the whole incident blew up, and it doesn’t look good on Lane.

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