Putting the Black Swan Blackout in Context
Sarah Lane, whose heavenly dancing helped make Natalie Portman believable as the ballerina Nina Sayers—thanks to face replacement—was not acknowledged by Portman at the Oscars. Not only that, but Lane was suddenly deleted from a video showing Black Swan’s special effects that was circulating on the web. In my blog last week I called it a blackout.
Sarah Lane calls it a more polite word: a façade. I asked her if she was expecting to be thanked when she heard Portman reel off 10 or 20 other names during her acceptance speech. Lane said no, because a Fox Searchlight producer had already called to ask her to stop giving interviews until after the Oscars. “They were trying to create this façade that she had become a ballerina in a year and a half," she said. "So I knew they didn’t want to publicize anything about me.”
As she said in Dance Magazine's December interview, she felt good about her work—though it was exhausting and frustrating—on the set. “It was a great experience to see the whole process of making a movie,” she told me. But she didn’t realize until just before the Oscars just how exploited she was. All the pirouettes, the full-body shots, and just-the-legs shots were her. (She also said that fellow ABT soloist Maria Riccetto doubled for Mila Kunis in one long shot.) The publicity campaign from the studio, however, spread the word that Portman did 90 percent of her own dancing.
Is it unusual for real dancers to get shoved under the rug in Hollywood? From the responses I got to my previous blog, no. John Rockwell reminded me that Savion Glover, whose tap dancing and choreography were the heart of the animated movie Happy Feet in 2006, was barely acknowledged. In a very funny take on this (“Penguin, Shmenguin! Those Are Savion Glover's Happy Feet!”), Rockwell tells us that Happy Feet director/producer George Miller claimed the movie would have been impossible without Savion—and yet the tapper's name appears way down in the credits. (Read Rockwell’s rant here.)
Likewise, on IMDB, Sarah Lane’s name appears way down the line for Black Swan, not as a double but as “Lady in the Lane,” which she explained to me was a split-second scene where she appears as an incidental, non-dancing figure. Obviously she was not as crucial to the film as Glover to Happy Feet; Darren Aronofsky could have hired a lesser ballerina. But the idea is the same. Get a real virtuoso to make it believable, but pour all your publicity into the studio’s star—even if they are only audible and not visible as in Happy Feet.
It seems that when a movie star needs a singer to double for her voice, that’s common knowledge. No one is surprised to learn that Audrey Hepburn and Natalie Wood didn’t do their own singing when a trained voice was required. But people seem to believe that Natalie Portman did her own dancing. Of course to most people, Portman was entirely believable. (I myself found her upper body fairly convincing.) But for dancers, the idea that you can turn someone into a ballerina in one year is ludicrous.
Sarah says she was more offended by that myth than any slight to her as a dancer who worked “painstaking” hours on the set. She says she's talked to her colleagues about “how unfortunate it is that, as professional dancers, we work so hard, but people can actually believe that it’s easy enough to do it in a year. That’s the thing that bothered me the most.”
(Addendum: A reader foraged on the web and found the one instance of the original special effects video that still shows face replacement. Click here to see Sarah Lane's face, during piqué turns, swiped over by Portmans.)
(One fun tidbit I learned from reader Jeff Nelson: Olivia Newton-John had a dance double for a scene in the “Hand Jive” number of the movie Grease. For an alley-oop, a member of the ensemble, Antonia Franceschi, was her dance double. Franceschi went on to dance in Fame and join New York City Ballet.)
"Besides the stage, baking is my other happy place," says New York City Ballet corps member Jenelle Manzi.
Four years ago, she thought her baking days were over when she was diagnosed with gluten intolerance. Manzi had been dealing with pain, frequent illness and joint inflammation for nearly 10 years. Once she cut out gluten, Manzi gradually started to feel better, noticing a transformation in how her body felt and functioned. She found her joints were less inflamed, and she got sick less often.
New York City Ballet soloist Unity Phelan and American Ballet Theatre soloist Cassandra Trenary spend every day making their hard work look effortless and graceful both in the studio and onstage. That's exactly what makes them the perfect spokesmodels for the dance-inspired activewear line, Belle Force.
To celebrate our 90th anniversary, we excavated some of our favorite hidden gems from the DM Archives—images that capture a few of the moments in time we've documented over the decades.
This image was captured during a 1978 New York City Ballet tour that took the company to Copenhagen—home turf for Adam Luders (right), who trained at the Royal Danish Ballet School and briefly danced with the company before joining NYCB as a principal dancer in 1975. Next to Luders is (of course) George Balanchine, in conversation with ballerina Suzanne Farrell. And looking on with a smile? NYCB's current ballet master in chief Peter Martins.
On March 8, 2016, Rami Shafi found himself inspired to film an impromptu dance video of his best friend, Aaron Moses Robin, improvising on Gay St. in New York City's Greenwich Village. Thus was born Pedestrian Wanderlust, a collection of dance videos that has grown to include a monthly improv jam.
Shafi works with anyone who wants to take part in the project, filming videos in locations chosen by the dancers and later adding music. The videos are shot on Shafi's iPhone in one take and, other than the starting and ending points, are entirely improvised. The editing afterwards—including the music choice—is minimal. "I don't like to edit too much. It's just what it is," says Shafi. "I usually can do the editing on the train ride home."
Many people see dance and choreography as separate pursuits, or view choreography as a dance career's second act. For some dancers, however, performing and choreographing inform one another. "That's just the kind of choreographer I am. I feel things so deeply in my physicality. I have to do it to know it," says Jodi Melnick, who is a prolific performer of her own work. She also maintains an active practice as a performer for other choreographers: Throughout her career, she's worked with Trisha Brown, Twyla Tharp, Tere O'Connor and Donna Uchizono, to name a few.
Though a dual career can be fulfilling, simultaneously inhabiting the roles of dancer and choreographer requires focus, organization and a great deal of energy.
New York City is getting an embarrassment of riches this week—riches of the Emerald, Diamonds and Rubies variety. The Bolshoi Ballet, Paris Opéra Ballet and New York City Ballet will be sharing the stage at Lincoln Center to present George Balanchine's Jewels in celebration of the iconic ballet's 50th anniversary.
One of the many stars we're excited to see is Olga Smirnova, our June 2014 cover girl, who will be performing the lead in "Diamonds" as well as the role of Bianca in Jean-Christophe Maillot's Taming of the Shrew next week.
I have always been extremely dramatic. I think "extremely" might even be an understatement. As a child, I was constantly in costume. Never clothes. Always a costume.
When I was 8 we moved into a new house, and took a home video to send to my dad's family. My siblings were performing a song for the camera. I desperately wanted to join them, but they got annoyed and said no. In the video I run out of the room crying hysterically, and you can hear my dad saying, "It's okay, Sam, you can dance for the camera later."
This is followed by about 45 minutes of me dancing. Music changes, style changes, costume changes, the works. Dance was, and still is, the best way I know how to express myself.