Miyako Yoshida — when she was on, she simultaneously dynamic and a perfect exponent of refinement — and Johan Kobborg — apparently an ETERNAL schoolgirl-crush for me (“He is straight. I CAN FEEL IT IN MY BONES.” ~ sixteen-year old gothicsynthetic, in 1999) in an excerpt from Rudolf Nureyev’s staging of Raymonda for the Royal Ballet, as performed in the Royal Opera House’s re-opening gala in 1999.
Also for kameliendame — who has an eerie tendency to post videos and photos that I was on the verge of posting, and because I am older than she and have therefor almost certainly outdone her (if she is at all invested in such a worthy endeavor) in the Department of Crushes on Johan Kobborg (located just past the Ministry of Silly Walks, if anyone is curious) — and so shall be labelled slow on the uptake in pursuing a small sector of the internet niche which she deserves to own.
Johan Kobborg in Auguste Bournonville’s Napoli, with music by Edvard Helsted, as performed for the re-opening gala of the Royal Opera House in 1999.
Everyone needs more Johan on tumblr!
Ok so I have been thinking lately about what got me into ballet in the first place…. and I’ve come to the conclusion that I never really understood why the ballet world (please love yourselves and dont call it ‘fandom’, we are talking about High Art here) hated on Black Swan (the movie) so much.
When I saw the trailer I was completely hooked from the very first second. I kept watching it over and over again and I couldn’t wait for the movie to come out. When it did, I watched it in one single sitting…. and I was shaking afterwards. This coming from a person who had never thought anything about ballet in her life. Ofcourse I had the archetypical image of a skinny girl wearing a pink tutu in my head, but that was it. When I was finished watching the movie, I wanted to know everything. I immediately started looking for ballet videos on youtube (first ever video I saw: the four cygnets in act two of Swan Lake, I think of the Bolshoi. Ha I cant believe I remember this) and I watched them hours on end, clicking on every single video I saw in the recommendations bar. An entire new world opened before my eyes, and I was asking myself what the hell I had been doing with my life so far. From that day on, not a day went past where I didnt watch a video, read an interview, or just looked something ballet related up on Wikipedia (I remember reading every single entry on Petipa’s ballets in one day, thank the lord for Wikipedia tbh). So when I found out that most balletomanes actually despised Black Swan and couldn’t say a single good word about it, I was extremely confused. Had I missed something? Was I too much of a ballet noob to see what was wrong with the movie? I watched the movie two more times, and in my eyes, it just kept on getting better. I never once thought a single bad thing about ballet dancers while I was watching it. In fact, I came to admire them for their strength and ambition. I read in interviews how Natalie Portman trained for one year straight to get the ballerina physique, but that they did use a dance double for the full body shots. I remember thinking, well that makes sense. Not once did I think that you only need one year of training to become a full fledged professional. The whole discussion about how much Natalie danced and how much Sarah Lane danced was, in my eyes, incredibly tedious and obviously set up to get publicity for the upcoming dvd release. Darren Aranofsky never claimed that Natalie Portman was on the same level as professional dancers, only that she needed to LOOK like a professional ballerina. If he really thought she was on the same level as pros, they’d never hire Sarah Lane in the first place. I truly believe that Portman worked hard and put all her strength in getting the ballerina physique, but does that automatically mean the directors were claiming she was on a professional level? They were just pointing out all the extra effort she made to get in her role as Nina, and rightly so. And Sarah Lane claiming she didnt get the recognition she deserved… please. She was a dance double. Doubles almost never, ever, get recognised for their work: it’s not fair, but that’s Hollywood for you. And isn’t she a soloist with ABT or something? Isn’t that enough recognition? Does she REALLY need a hollywood star to mention her in her oscar speech to feel better about herself? I doubt it.
And lets not forget the impact this movie had on popular media- Veronika Part was invited to a famous American talk show, music video after music video with ballet dancers in them kept popping up, companies started using dancers in their commercials… I wont say Black Swan broke down the idea of ballet being elitist, but it certainly helped. I remember reading an interview with Diana Vishneva where she said ticket sales were soaring after the movie came out. And lets not forget the impact it had on individuals like me. Without Black Swan, I would never realised how much I love ballet.
The last time I watched it was four years ago, so I think when I watch it now, I will defintely see what’s wrong with it and why balletomanes were so worked up about it. The thing is, I get it. The character of Nina Sayers is a stereotypical one, the shy, mousy little balletgirl with low selfesteem, the control freak, the girl so obsessed with her profession she turns crazy in the end. These are all hurtful stereotypes and I know dancers are not like this. And yes, I also know there are a lot of mistakes on the whole, for example the missing of the balletmasters and so forth. But to focus on these mistakes is to miss the point entirely. Black Swan is a movie about a girl with a mental illness who wants to do her work as well as she can but can’t help to spiral out of control in the process - she just happens to be a ballerina. This is a movie about Nina, not about every ballet dancer in the world. The story focuses on the inner change that Nina makes as she’s exploring new territory - the responsibility of carrying a lead role, her relationship with her mother, her own sexuality. The ballet related theme serves as a background for her personality change, yet at the same time its intricately interwoven with said changes. But above all, its about breaking free. From her mother, from the rigorous routine of ballet life, from herself. We see how Nina turns from Odette to Odile throughout the movie - then changes back to Odette when she realises what she has done. And this is what makes this movie so incredibly good. Nina’s personal journey shows parallells to the journey she must make on stage, and at the end, these two journeys intertwine in the finale, where she reaches her final destination: perfection.