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Movie review: Keeping ballet alive in a creepy sort of way

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By Kirsten Laskey

When the credits appeared on the movie screen for “Black Swan,” I turned to my sister with my best “shocked and amazed” face. She whispered to me, “I’m glad I never danced in Swan Lake.”
Indeed. This classic ballet takes a complete psychotic turn in the movie. Yet, despite the horrible hallucinations and the terrible paranoia, “Black Swan” is fabulous. And I am not going nuts here.
The gist of the story is Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) gets chosen to be the star of the New York City Ballet’s production, “Swan Lake.” The catch is, while the pure Nina is a shoe-in for the White Swan, mastering the persona of the evil Black Swan is a challenge. So much in fact, that Nina’s sanity gets deeper and deeper in jeopardy.
It may be a warped version of a classic story, but the movie does ballet proud. It shows just how much work, blood, sweat and tears ballet dancers give to their art. I always thought ballet dancers were among the coolest people on Earth. They are so poised and lithe, delicate but strong. Plus, ballerinas always look beautiful.
Portman certainly fits the bill. The poor ballerina never stands a chance against her mental frailties and Portman never smiles in the movie, but the actress is gorgeous as a rising star in the New York City Ballet Company.
Not only does Portman look the part, but she does a fantastic job bringing her role to life. I can’t imagine it was easy. I read in a magazine that Portman trained heavily for a year to assume the identity of a professional dancer, plus she had to convey mental anguish and madness. Her performance is so strong you will remember it long after leaving the theater.
Portman isn’t the only one packing a punch in the film. Mila Kunis, as Lily, is perfect as the rebel dancer. She whips around the stage, her hair flying in all directions rather than being gathered in a neat and tidy bun. Also, she munches on cheesy hamburgers rather than nibbling on parched-looking grapefruit.
Another standout performance is that of Vincent Cassel. He plays the debonair art director with sleazy tendencies. His advice to Nina in nailing her performance as the Black Swan in “Swan Lake,” includes masturbation and seducing him.
It’s not just the acting that is superb in the film. I love the settings. From the gloomy, windowless rehearsal rooms at the ballet company to Nina’s Pepto-Bismol pink bedroom — all of it enhances the weirdness and creepiness of the story.
The story is very creepy. Nina’s hallucinations are filled with gore, violence and vice. Plus, she has an extremely over-bearing and over-protective mother, in addition to a perverted boss and backstabbing co-workers.
“Black Swan” is no happy story, but it is so well told that you will be riveted to the movie theater seat and haunted by its version of a centuries-old ballet.