31 March 2011

In which the Melancholy Swan speaks out about the Black Swan controversy

Okay, to preface the following, the Melancholy Swan must reveal that she teaches art history and film at a small mid-western university when not in ballet class or doing barre exercises in the kitchen.

Black Swan is not a film about ballet.  It is the story of a young woman's psychological disintegration fueled by her quest for perfection as a ballerina.  Natalie Portman  portrayed a character, Nina and trained for a year to be able to even approximate the abilities of her character.  Portman could not do everything that Nina could and therefore a double was used who could perform the physical and technical aspects of ballet to be seamlessly blended with Portman's performance to create the character.  Like any stunt person or nude body double, Portman's double did not make the character.  She only filled in the gaps.

As with Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady*, there has been a fireball of smug schadenfreude about Portman's performance and the studio's claims that she performed the bulk of her character's dancing, when someone training for just one year could not possibly perform like an artist she portrayed.  Portman never claimed to have done it all (regardless of her fiancée's foolish defense) and acknowledged the use of a double for complicated dance scenes.  But apparently that is not enough for the dancer who was hired as the double.

Sarah Lane, who received multiple on-screen credits for her work has decided to destroy any chance she might have had for further film work by whining about not getting enough attention and that the studio's claims are an "insult to her discipline."  When hasn't Hollywood insulted artists, dancers, scientists, academics, by having actors pretend that they can do in a few weeks what takes years of sacrifice to master?  Lane did her job and Nina became a realized character.  Lane is now trying to destroy the character she so masterfully helped create by thinking that she was something other than a double.  She wasn't.  She deserves no more credit that what she received, studio bullshit be damned.  And she will never work in this town again.

I went to see Black Swan as a horror film set within the beauty and grace of ballet, and that is exactly what it was.  Nina's descent into madness through self-injury, anorexia, anxiety and hallucinations was created by Miss Portman.  The dance added verisimilitude but was not the focus of the film, nor was it the reason for Portman's numerous awards for her work.  Period.

*Julie Andrews portrayed Eliza Doolittle on stage, but was not chosen by the studio for the lead in the film.  Hepburn's singing was done by a "double" which was viewed by Andrews' fans with the same snark as the online ballet community (that I have seen thus far).  Andrews' got her revenge, since she won an Oscar for Mary Poppins.

22 March 2011

Melancholy Swan Shoe Timeline

Having read the Adult Beginner's explanation of the increasing cachet that comes from tattered, worn ballet shoes and inspired by Balletnerd's own shoe timeline, the Melancholy Swan has decided to create a timeline of her own.  Every month I will post an image of my shoes and how many classes I have worn them in. 

So here they are, after 3 beginner classes and 3 sessions with the New York City Ballet DVD.

20 March 2011

In which the Melancholy Swan has a substitute

Last class Jennifer told us that we were going to have Jason substitute for our next class and the moms were all a-twitter. In class last Thursday he had put us through rigorous barre routines (brilliant) and then turns and pirouettes! We did repeated releves where I realized just how weak my feet really are. We releves on just the right and then the left foot and I could barely lift myself once, let alone the eight times he was asking for!

I really enjoyed trying harder routines and moves and in this I had a partner in the loudest ballet mom. She's vary tall and a bit plus-sized like me and she loves drawing attention to herself. In the hallway she loudly announced how smelly her feet were from her pink ugg slippers and how lucky it was that her ballet shoes blocked the smell. She knew Jason and was joking with him a lot and showing how much more she knew than the rest of us. The Melancholy Swan realizes how bitchy that sounds, but I actually like her and was glad she was there because she wanted to try the harder stuff too. She was always first across in center work and I was happily right behind her. The Melancholy Swan is competitive by nature and I like having someone whose example makes me push myself a little harder.

Despite being spring break the latter part of this week the Melancholy Swan has been pretty damn melancholy, and once again, ballet class brought a period of exhilaration and excitement. I'm not sure if it is normal for someone in an acute depression to spin around the dining room at every opportunity, but it gives me hope that I'll pull out of this one a bit easier.

16 March 2011

In which the Melancholy Swan gets ahead of herself

This week the Melancholy Swan has been less melancholy.  The fact that it is spring break helps, but I find myself pointing my toes at every opportunity, and getting a cup of tea an opportunity for center work (while followed by a hopping corgi.)  I was reading old posts from Adult Beginner and caught myself wanting to respond to her posts as a fellow dancer.  A fellow dancer?  After only two ballet classes the Melancholy Swan is thinking of herself as a dancer!

The thought does make me happy.  I'm hoping that just like when they say the moment you get a cancer diagnosis you are a survivor, that when you start twirling around your dining room and counting the days until your next class you are a dancer.

I take my validation from this post by Lauren on her blog Hobo Mama

13 March 2011

In which the Melancholy Swan has an excellent point

That damned mirror (and how I looked in it) became such a focus of rumination that I nearly forgot how much fun class was on Thursday.  (I'm not the Melancholy Swan for nothing.)  I'd been practicing transitioning my feet from flat to demi-point to full point all week; when I brushed my teeth, while watching tv, standing in line at Starbucks, whenever I thought of it throughout the day.  It paid off in class and I got a lot of praise from our instructor Jennifer.  

I was doing great until we were working center.  I was so shaken by the mirror that I would forget the steps we were doing.  We "ballet walked" for three steps and then pointed for the fourth and pliéd with the leg extended or point for the forth and shift weight to forward foot while pointing back and raising arms to fifth position.  I kept forgetting which one we were doing and it threw me off. 

After class Todd was late picking me up so Jennifer waited with me before closing everything up. We were talking about yoga and the beginner adult classes and I mentioned that I stopped dancing as a child because it became increasingly clear that I would never have the proper "ballet body." I generally liken my shape to that of a corgi. The only feature that I have in my favor are my feet. I have square feet (toes almost the same length)and a high arch. Jessica nodded and said that she noticed in class that I had a excellent point.

So if I can just get the rest of me up to my feet I'll be fine!

Ballet Lesson by Lyn Hamer Cook

11 March 2011

In which the Melancholy Swan faces the mirror

The studio was practically empty last night.  The students and ballet moms were at a performance of Romeo and Juliet so there were only four of us in class tonight.  Somehow I ended up at the front of the barre (and the mirror), which was distressing.  When I don't see myself I forget what my body looks like and I just make the adjustment the teacher suggests.  I can just dance without seeing what I have become, what I so desperately don't want to be.

Photo from jonandmissy

07 March 2011

In which the Melancholy Swan recalls life as a tiny ballerina.

Well, not so tiny.  In fact I was already 4'5 and starting to develop the characteristics that lead to my early retirement from dance when I was given my first solo at the ballet recital.  While other girls were princesses or some-such pretty tutu-wearing characters, I was this guy.  Yes, I was Winnie the Pooh dancing to his song "Rumbly in my Tumbly."  My costume consisted of a red leotard with gold tights, a headband with round furry ears attached and (worst of all), a ovoid furry tail that was pinned to my bottom with a single safety pin inside my leotard.  This tail bounced and wobbled with every movement as I stuck out my belly and waddled around the stage.  The parents were enchanted!  Everyone wanted to bounce my tail!  It's charming when the dancer is 8 years old and not built like her tiny little classmates.  Not so much when she's 43 and can still feel that damnable tail.

04 March 2011

Day One

Last night I went to my first class at the Peoria Ballet Academy.  At first I was surprised that it was located in what was essentially a metal pre-fabricated building in an industrial area.  The interior was nice and I immediately flashed by to the classes I took as a child in Hollywood.  The studio was on Hollywood and Vine above a pizza parlor where a set of narrow stairs let up to hallways lined with piles of the vestiges of girlhood tossed casually on the floor and worn cubbyholes filled with grubby little shoes.

The Peoria Academy has the same feeling (but wider hallways).  The halls are lined with pink crocs (ugh), uggs or their cheap equivalent (ugh), hair brushes, brightly colored hoodies and garish backpacks and "dance" bags.  Tiny girls and coltish teens clomp by in tight buns and pink tights while music floats out under the doors of the studios.

Slowly the students in the Adult Beginner class gathered outside our studio and a loud clique of "ballet moms" filled the hallway physically and aurally.  Those of us not in the clique sat quietly together until class started.

I was so nervous but once we started at the barre I didn't really care about the clique or that I was wearing my lymphedema sleeve or that I was the biggest person in the room.  I just felt wonderful.  And when the teacher asked me to be in the first group when we started center work I didn't even hesitate.

I started the day in a terribly negative head space and left class exhilarated.  Too bad I have to wait an entire week to do it again.


This space will be a journal of my return to ballet after 30-odd years.  Through dance I hope to find peace, grace and finally become comfortable in my own skin.  I also want to finally leave the gaudy pink of the breast cancer ribbon for the soft pink of my ballet slippers.