Not your ordinary holiday ballet, “Black Swan“ could be more readily be viewed as the ‘anti-Nutcracker,’ where dance is spoken, and says a great deal more than words. And while there is biting, raw dialog, it is the scenes without which are the most riveting.
Welcome to the underbelly of the New York City Ballet – (the company is never named outright, but there are external shots of Lincoln Center), where deception lurks behind every curtain, and the very real threat of injury or sabotage penetrates every moment. From the cutthroat competition to the wince-worthy painful rehearsals, a pounding intensity permeates the entire two-hours — an intensity that transcends dance and is at once alarming and sad.
Sandwiched between the passion and pirouettes is a persistent fear and delusion. Director Aronofsky misses no chance to show us the inner turmoil of his lead ballerina, an astonishing and entirely believable Natalie Portman. Her aches, wounds, and pressure — both real and perceived – seem tangible and crushing. Her frightfully deluded idol: a washed up diva, played with agonizing pity by a wonderful Winona Ryder.
Delicate like a swan, yet tough as twisted steel, Nina (Portman) bounces between fragile and fearless—her equilibrium subject to the slightest loss of balance, concentration, or confidence. Her haunting, mesmerizing struggle jumps from dance to disturbing in a matter of minutes.
As Nina’s charming nemesis and rival, the beautiful yet dastardly Mila Kunis is brilliant. As the sexist ‘Gentleman,’ company Dance Master and so much more, Vincent Cassel is superb. Oozing cocksure confidence and authority, he takes control of everyone around him, with ne’er a care or look back. The other source of tension and major drag on Nina’s self-esteem: her mother – a slightly scary and pathetic coulda-been dancer, who refuses to accept her daughter as grown up, never mind a successful lead. Barbara Hershey takes protective mommy to a whole new level, attempting to not only keep her daughter innocent, but isolated.
Desperate for approval and recognition, Nina works herself ragged, fights her mother along with her inner demons, and vigorously strives to achieve “perfection.”
The affecting pressure — both from fellow dancers, and within — is unrelenting. And despite the jarring blood, sweat and tears, you cannot — will not — turn away. Alternately creepy and moving, “Black Swan” goes beyond mere star story, exposing the emotional grip and tortuous dedication which together comprise the darker side of dance.
by Caren Ostrow
Written by: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John McLaughlin
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
- Natalie Portman – Nina Sayers/ The Swan Queen
- Mila Kunis – Lily/The Black Swan
- Vincent Cassel – Thomas Leroy/ The Gentleman
- Barbara Hershey – Erica Sayers/The Queen
- Winona Ryder – Beth MacIntyre/ The Dying Swan
A very special thanks to the Colony Theatre at Millbrook and Six Road for inviting us to review.