Last week, a silly controversy erupted over how much dancing Natalie Portman did in Black Swan. Benjamin Millepied, the film’s choreographer (and Portman’s finacee) told the LA Times that Portman did “85 percent” of the dancing in the film. Her dancing double Sarah Lane responded by telling EW that Portman’s work only comprised 5 percent of the full body shots. Lane also says there was a cover-up and that producers asked her not to speak so as not to jeopardize Portman’s Oscar chances. Now director Darren Aronofsky has stepped in to try and put the matter to rest. He says that the of 139 dance shots in the movie, 111 are Portman and 28 are Lane. Hit the jump for his full statement and my thoughts on this “controversy”.
Aronofsky released the following statement to EW through Fox Searchlight, the studio behind Black Swan:
“Here is the reality. I had my editor count shots. There are 139 dance shots in the film. 111 are Natalie Portman untouched. 28 are her dance double Sarah Lane. If you do the math that’s 80% Natalie Portman. What about duration? The shots that feature the double are wide shots and rarely play for longer than one second. There are two complicated longer dance sequences that we used face replacement. Even so, if we were judging by time over 90% would be Natalie Portman.
And to be clear Natalie did dance on pointe in pointe shoes. If you look at the final shot of the opening prologue, which lasts 85 seconds, and was danced completely by Natalie, she exits the scene on pointe. That is completely her without any digital magic. I am responding to this to put this to rest and to defend my actor. Natalie sweated long and hard to deliver a great physical and emotional performance. And I don’t want anyone to think that’s not her they are watching. It is.”
Here’s the simple truth: actors have stunt doubles and if you think ballet dancing is easier than stunt work, I encourage you to try it at home (but I will take no responsibility for your inevitable injury). I don’t know if Oscar voters voted for Portman because they were convinced by her dancing. I would like to think they voted for her because she gave a compelling performance. But even if not a single frame of the film was actually Portman dancing, it wouldn’t change the fact that she did train to get a dancer’s body and learn the study of ballet. As Lane points out, Portman “really tried to go method and get into a dancers head and really feel like a ballet dancer.” And she delivered on that count.
I’ve spoken with friends who actually understand dance and can tell the difference between good ballet dancing and bad ballet dancing. One friend thought Portman was stiff (a criticism Lane shares) while another felt that Portman’s dancing was passable, but nowhere near good enough to be thought of as a prima ballerina. Based on those opinions, I can only come to one of two conclusions: 1) Portman is dancing on screen and she’s not a very good dancer, which is excusable for someone who only spent a year learning ballet as an adult; or 2) Sarah Lane, who has 22 years ballet experience, is on screen and she’s not a very good dancer.
But here’s the real point: who cares? My enjoyment of Black Swan isn’t lessened by knowing who’s doing the dancing. People who are now upset at Natalie Portman probably don’t care about the film and are probably predisposed not to like Portman anyway. And if that’s the case, then a rebuttal from Aronofsky won’t make any difference because they’ll simply say, “Oh, he’s just on Portman’s side. Of course he’s defending her.”
If you’re now sour on Portman because you think she didn’t do her own dancing, I have some more bad news for you: she also didn’t really have sex with Mila Kunis and she didn’t really grow giant black wings during a dance performance. Sorry if that’s not method enough for you.