Is There a Blackout on Black Swan’s Dancing?

March 2, 2011

Do people really believe that it takes only one year to make a ballerina? We know that Natalie Portman studied ballet as a kid and had a year of intensive training for the film, but that doesn’t add up to being a ballerina. However, it seems that many people believe that Portman did her own dancing in Black Swan.


I think there has been a propaganda of omissions in the media that has reinforced that belief. Here are what I consider two glaring examples:


First, in the video of special effects that was going around the internet, a certain crucial three seconds has been deleted. When the video was first released a couple weeks ago, it showed, among its many techno-alterations (mirror double takes, gore enhancement, adding skin rash, puppet legs, etc.) a more unusual special effect: face replacement. Toward the end of the  video, the Black Swan starts a manège of piqué turns from a distance. When she gets close enough to see her face, you could see a dancer’s face being swiped over by Natalie Portman’s face. If you paused the video, you could recognize the first face as Sarah Lane’s. This swiping moment was identified in the video as “face replacement.” Then, with Portman’s face, the dancer finishes her piqués, goes into fouettés, and by this time has big black wings that she swoops up and back in her final, triumphant arch back.


The day before the Oscars, I looked at this video on several sites so that I could show this moment of face replacement to my son, who’s a film guy. And it wasn’t there. It had been deleted. When I tweeted about this, someone tweeted back that it had only been there for one day before it was pulled.


(Click here to see the Black Swan special effects video minus face replacement.)


Second, at the Oscars, Natalie Portman thanked about 20 people (including Mary Helen Bowers, the former NYCB dancer who trained her for that year). But Sarah Lane’s name was not among them. I wonder, was this Portman’s forgetfulness in the heat of the moment? Or was this omission, and the deletion from the video, planned by the studio’s publicity machine?


Sarah Lane is not just a dancer who happened to be the right size. She’s a real ballerina at ABT who was our cover story in June, 2007. Last December, we interviewed her about her hard work for Black Swan (click here) and she told us about face replacement. But was she prepared for credit replacement?


We hear rumors that people are calling the box office of ballet companies asking if they can see Natalie Portman in Swan Lake. I don’t know if this is true, if audiences are really that clueless about ballet training. I wish they were asking if Sarah Lane will dance Odette/Odile (and I hope she does soon).


It seems to be far more accepted that your run-of the-mill movie star needs help singing rather than dancing. When Natalie Wood starred in West Side Story in 1961, I think it was common knowledge that her singing was done by soprano Marni Nixon. But maybe I’m wrong. Did the studio try to hide this fact? Does anyone know?


Please email me at [email protected] if you have an opinion.


Sarah Lane, photographed by Steve Vacariello for
Dance Magazine