I heard ex-ballerina Alexandra Radius on the radio in an interview with Clairy Polak, our principal Anu Viheriäranta was interviewed for Het Parool and Ted Brandsen met a barrage of questions based on the film at the advance screening in De Balie. The general question is “Is it really like that?” The answer is “No, it isn’t”. Because the film paints a pretty exaggerated picture of reality. This opinion of the film is echoed elsewhere in the international ballet world. Too many clichés and too much sensationalism. There is indignation. Ballet deserves an honest portrait, because it is not a closed-off pressure cooker, where disturbed anorexia patients are out to kill one another and who neglect themselves to the point of bleeding under the leadership of an eccentric and tyrannical choreographer/director.
And yet it is precisely this raw, hard side of the ballet profession that attracts many outsiders. When the Dutch National Ballet commissioned photographer Dana Lixenberg to follow the company for a while on the occasion of our 40th anniversary, it resulted in a book called Offstage, with photos of nothing but exhausted dancers with hollow eyes. Not a single smiling face, none of the rapture that follows a successful performance, and not a trace of pleasure to be found anywhere. You would have thought it was hell on earth.
This picture is in stark contrast to the other image problem faced by the balletic art form; namely its frequent association with the sweet, pink dream world of ten-year-old girls. Scrapbooks, pink ballet shoes and fairytales – that sort of thing. “Ballet’s not for men”. I’ve seen this thought cross the mind of many a decision-maker from the business world sitting opposite me discussing sponsorship. After all, real men don’t wear tights. Ballet is something for little girls. It’s all rather prissy.
So I’m actually happy with this Black Swan and all the controversy in the wake of the film. Not only because of the ancient wisdom that any news, even bad news, is welcome, but also because the film forms a good counterpart to this sugary image. Yes, of course Black Swan is wildly exaggerated. But so are numerous Hollywood films set in the world of professional sport. And that’s exactly what usually makes them so great to watch – the endless training, the recuperation following an injury, and the possibility of losing always looming on the horizon. And then, after all the sacrifices, the film ends with a reward when the main character and underdog achieves the decisive score and wins the improbable championship. The message of these sports films is as simple as it is hopeful: every loser can be a winner the day after tomorrow. After all, what’s always intriguing is seeing two sides of the same medal.
No pain, no gain. No success without effort and no day without night. While they are opposing forces, they are inextricably bound together, and that is the literal theme of this Black Swan. The ‘white’ girl has to go in search of the black side of herself. I don’t know how it all turns out, as I haven’t seen the film yet myself. What I do know, though, is that my four-year-old daughter had her first ballet class on Saturday. She floated around the room in a pink leotard and pink ballet shoes. Pink – very, very pink!