There’s something about filmgoing that makes one willing to suspend disbelief right off the bat. It’s almost contractual, this deal we make with filmmakers to surrender to the world they create as soon as we buy our ticket.
Maybe that’s why the accusations of American Ballet Theatre ballerina Sarah Lane against Academy Award-winning "Black Swan" actress Natalie Portman have produced such a backlash. Ms. Lane told Entertainment Weekly that Ms. Portman only did five percent of the dancing in the film, and that Portman was “stiff,” and “can’t move her body.”
No one but Ms. Lane seems to care that Ms. Portman did not do every fouetté and pirouette in the film. After all, the Oscar was for Best Actress, not best dancer. Ms. Portman has made no secret of the fact that she had a dance double for the film.
But co-star Mila Kunis has come to her defense, saying that Lane was merely a “safety net” for those times when she and Portman couldn’t pull of the steps on their own. Director Darren Aronofsky even had his editor count the number of shots featuring Portman’s actual dance moves. (The final count: 111 out of 129 shots are Portman. That’s more like 80 percent than the five percent alleged by Lane.)
We’ve been down this road before with another smash hit dance film, “Flashdance.” In 1983 it was Jennifer Beals who stood accused of not doing her own dancing. In that case she had two body doubles: A female French dancer named Marine Jahan, and a male hip hop dancer, who went by the name of Crazy Legs. Even a cursory look at the movie shows the obvious difference between Ms. Beals and her doubles.
In ‘Black Swan,’ there are two complicated longer dance sequences that used digital face replacement effects; technology has made cinematic sleight of hand much more deft.
In the end, Ms. Beals remained the biggest star, the dancers faded into relative obscurity, and people didn’t care that the break dancing back spin, limber high kicks, and supercharged pirouettes were not hers. The same sentiment goes for Portman now. Reportedly, Ms. Lane was miffed that Portman did not mention her in the Oscar acceptance speech.