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Natalie Portman Delivers Stellar Performance as Troubled Ballerina in 'Black Swan'


Ms. Portman plays Nina Sayers, one of the dancer’s in a New York-based Natalie Portman in "Black Swan." Photo: screencrave.com/tag/natalie-portman/ballet company, led by the artistic director Thomás (played by Vincent Cassel). The story unfolds as Thomas is about to cast the next major ballet – and the rumor mill churns that the star ballerina, Beth (Winona Ryder) will be retired.

Thomas wants to try some inventive casting for his interpretation of Swan Lake and wants one woman to play the parts of the White and Black Swan.

Nina might be technically proficient, but she is too careful and controlled with her dancing. Thomas finds that side of her perfect if he were only casting the White Swan – so Thomas tries to manipulate her into releasing some of that tension. She’s ambitious enough to play along – up to a point.

Later at rehearsal, Thomas introduces Lily (Mila Kunis), a new dancer that has come from San Francisco. She clearly has the fire that Thomas had in mind for the Black Swan. As Nina and the other ballerinas go through the audition process - Thomas plays off their strengths, pushing them all to see which dancer will deliver his vision.

Nina believes this is a critical point in her career – and that if she’s not cast, she will never have a chance at a key role again. She pushes herself – trying to become perfect. Barbara Hershey plays Erica Sayers, Nina’s mother, also a former dancer who has an unhealthy interest in seeing Nina succeed. Her transformation drives the film – but I won’t go into any more detail here.

This is the fifth feature film from director Darren Aronofsky, and includes some of his trademark themes of obsession, myth, family and madness. This movie has a few gruesome moments in it, and there are some truly scary scenes as well. The ballet world provides extremes – this type of artistry can only be achieved by a fairly unhealthy lifestyle and dedication to repetitive training that is brutal to the body.

Natalie Portman’s portrait of a dancer is extraordinary. Her Oscar nomination is probably assured, and this performance is certainly Oscar-worthy. She clearly applied her usual strong work ethic – and apparently the delays in production allowed her to focus on her training even more than what was originally intended.

I asked Joe if I could review Black Swan, because I trained as a ballet dancer when I was a kid. I was curious to see if she really pulled off the dancing in the film. Both Ms. Portman and Ms. Kunis carry themselves like real dancers – most notably during their scenes at rehearsal. The ballet sequences are relatively simple – but in the few key sequences, to most filmgoers, they will probably look convincing. Perhaps the training was more to shape their physiques, than to prepare them for a lot of footwork. Fortunately, the Pennsylvania Ballet de Corps provided the real skill during some of the key performance scenes.   

Finally, adult moviegoers have a complex, thriller at the box office this season.

Contact Diane Cooney at dcooney@philly2philly.com

Homepage photo: screencrave.com/tag/natalie-portman/