ABT dancers offer their perspectives on ‘Black Swan,’ starring Natalie Portman


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“Black Swan,” the new psycho-sexual thriller set in the world of ballet, follows the downward emotional spiral of a young dancer whose inability to separate art and life leads to horrific and bloody consequences.

The movie, directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Natalie Portman, is seen as a top awards contender this year. Critics have been sharply divided, with some praising the extreme, sometimes campy depiction of lunacy while others have been turned off by the same.


‘Black Swan’ takes a wildly subjective approach to the heroine’s descent into madness. A number of reviewers have compared it to Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion” and other in-her-head portrayals of emotional repression and paranoid insanity.

The setting is a fictional ballet company based at Lincoln Center. Aronofsky, who directed Mickey Rourke in ‘The Wrestler,’ went to some lengths to create convincing dance scenes, hiring consultants from the New York ballet community, including dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied.

What do people in the dance world think about the film? The Times recently invited Gillian Murphy and David Hallberg -- two principals in New York’s American Ballet Theatre -- to see the movie and offer their assessments. The dancers, who are regarded as among the top in the profession, both have ample experience performing “Swan Lake,” the Tchaikovsky warhorse that is at the center of the movie.

Question: As principals in a major New York company, what was your reaction to the movie’s dark depiction of the ballet world?

Gillian Murphy: I thought the extreme nature that it presented was shocking, but it was intentionally that way. I thought the movie was brilliantly conceived and imaginative.

David Hallberg: It’s from a well-respected director, so there’s a comfort in that. And I’m a fan of his work. It’s always interesting to see where someone will take it. I was, interestingly, quite stressed throughout the film, especially near the beginning of the end, because it became such a thriller.

Click here to continue reading our conversation with Murphy and Hallberg on ‘Black Swan.’


-- David Ng

Photo (top): A scene from the movie ‘Black Swan.’ Credit: Niko Tavernise / Fox Searchlight

Photo (bottom): David Hallberg performing in an American Ballet Theatre production of ‘Swan Lake.’ Credit: Gene Schiavone / American Ballet Theatre


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