Black Swan DVD review

Out now on DVD, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, much like its subject matter, is thrilling and darkly majestic, featuring an incredible performance from Natalie Portman as its tormented protagonist. 

Set in the brutal yet beautiful world of ballet, Daren Aronofsky’s psycho-thriller leads us on an intoxicating and at times terrifying journey through the psyche of a principal working at a New York ballet company, as she grapples with her dual role as the swan queen.

In a career defining performance, Natalie Portman excels as the troubled Nina Sawyers, whose life is consumed by dance. After years toiling in the chorus, Nina is finally given her chance in spotlight when the company’s chauvinistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) chooses her as the lead in a new version ofSwanLake, replacing his bitter has-been star, Beth (Winona Ryder).

Graceful, delicate and innocent; Nina perfectly embodies the role of the white swan, yet the ballet’s principal must also capture the essence of the evil Black Swan. This demands a wild, alluring and sensual sexuality which Nina lacks, yet the company’s newest member Lily (Mila Kunis) effortlessly embodies.

For Nina to dance both sides of the swan queen, she must let go of her inhibitions and embrace her sexuality (to achieve this, Thomas demands relentless training and masturbation). As Nina attempts to embrace her dark side with reckless abandon, her initial rivalry with Lily morphs into a twisted friendship.

In her unrelenting pursuit of perfection, Nina becomes so absorbed with her character and performance that artistic breakthrough fuses with mental breakdown, and Aronofsky’s distorted use of mirrors become powerfully symbolic of her fracturing mind and personality.

 As her paranoia intensifies, the realms of fantasy and reality dissolve and we become complicit in Nina’s terrifying hallucinations. Her reflection continues to stare back after she has turned away, paintings writh and shriek before her eyes, she imagines horrific self-harm, embarks on a sexual tryst with Lily and begins sprouting feathers.

Although demanding to watch at times, Portman’s award-winning transformation into the swan queen is nothing short of stunning. She endured ten months of gruelling and immersive training to help her deliver a virtuosic performance worthy her ensuing Bafta and Oscar glory. The film’s intricate ballet sequences are delivered and captured beautifully, as Aronofsky’s floating camera tracks his subject’s every movement to thrilling effect.

With costume design playing an integral role, it fell to Amy Westcott to create the company’s elegant attire, with Rodarte’s Kate and Laura Mulleavy collaborating on the hauntingly beautiful outfits featured the final performance, when Nina surrenders completely to the black swan and performs the role to tragic perfection.

Provocative, powerful and visually arresting, Aronofsky’s Black Swan is a creature of intense beauty; as elegant and mesmerising as it is seething and ferocious.

Curiouser and Curiouser … The Scottish Ballet presents ‘Alice’

Right now, Glasgow’s Theatre Royal is home to Alice; the Scottish Ballet’s version of the fantastical tale by Lewis Carrol. I took Mum as a Mother’s Day present at the weekend and its safe to say we were both blown away by choreographer Ashley Page’s inventive and colourful take on the story!

Page uses Charles Dodgson’s (aka Caroll) obsession with photography to literally frame Alice’s adventure as the gorgeously styled White Rabbit (danced with pinpoint precision by the nimble Laura Joffre) pops out from a huge old-fashioned camera to tempt an inquisitive Alice to follow her, with the fabulous Tomomi Sato giving a spirited performance as the mischievous lead.

In an intriguing twist, Page makes Charles (Adam Blyde) a character in his own plotline as he attempts to guide his protagonist through the bewildering world of wonderland. This was a decidedly darker and seductive retelling of the story, which explored the relationship between Charles and Alice. The pair’s duets were both beautiful and disconcerting, and Charles tries to keep a hold of the young girl who continues to grow further away from him. 

Along the way, little Alice encounters a host of crazy characters ranging from friendly, to menacing and beguiling. The louche Caterpillar languishes on a giant toadstool before whisking Alice through a dynamic tango, the Gryphon and Mock Turtle are washed-up, end of the pier entertainers, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee are bickering school girls and Humpty Dumpty is a squat, Lee Bowery-esque baby in yellow rompers and a fried egg hat who tries to explain the Jabberwock’s poem to Alice.

As the Queen of Heart’s executioner, the faceless Jabberwock which prowls the stage dragging a bloody axe is  menacing and tormented, portrayed through a powerful performance by Gabriel Barrenengoa.

By far, my favourite part was the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, played out on a huge, chequered table among oversized china, with Lalya Harrison standing out as the adorable sleepy Dormouse dressed in pyjamas. The characters’ topsy-turvy choreography was quirky and fun to watch, with its lighthearted humour proving a good antidote to more sinister episodes.

Suitably surreal, the production was enhanced by the clever use of visuals and psychedelic yet minimal sets designed by Anthony McDonald and, of course, the costumes were glorious, especially the Cheshire Cat (Lucianna Kaizzi) in a sexy corset and stocking-style tights!

I’ll admit I’m no expert when it comes to ballet; my interest was rekindled after watching Black Swan and I fell in love with the idea of ‘story ballet’ after watching The English National Ballet’s version of Cinderella, but I loved the Scottish Ballet’s version of Alice. The dancing was beautiful to watch, especially Alice’s solo performances and her tender duets with Charles. There was also a lot of vibrance and energy in parts which were both bizarre and hypnotic, making sure the audience were as confused and intrigued as Alice herself.

All in all, the Scottish Ballet’s tumble down the rabbit hole is a visual treat for the senses: psychedelic, surreal and deliciously dark!

Alice plays at the Theatre Royal until Saturday 22nd, then travels to Edinburgh, Inverness, Aberdeen and Cardiff.

Check out https://writerrebelle.wordpress.com/2011/03/09/key-fashion-trend-ballet-our-latest-love-affair/ for more on ballet and fashion.

Key 2011 Fashion Trend: Ballet – Our Latest Love Affair

 

With the exception of Natalie Portman, Darren Aronofsky’s mesmerising Black Swan may have lost out during the awards season, yet its magnificent costume design by Amy Westcott and cult New York fashion label Rodarte perfectly captured the fashion zeitgeist.

The imagery of the ballerinas and their costumes has been a perpetual source of inspiration for fashion designers, and in terms of trends for SS’11, ballet is once again taking centre stage. We witnessed its influence back in September, when a host of designers sent ballet-inspired creations down their SS’ll catwalks.

The structure and flow of ballet costumes was reflected in dresses with fitted bodices, tight waistlines and pleated skirts either flared out just above the knee or billowing down to the floor to replicate the graceful movements of ballerinas onstage.

        

Chloe’s artistic director Hannah MacGibbon was clearly inspired by the exquisite art form as the label’s latest collection was awash with soft, natural hues, velvet bodies and billowing sheer skirts with plisse and satin trims, while her models took to the catwalk in gorgeous ballet flats. At Lanvin, the essence of ballerina’s movements was captured through sweeping, volumous skirts while Julien Macdonald mimiked the contruction of a tutu with layers of fine fabrics used in dresses with Flamenco-style hemlines which flowed down the catwalk.

      

Erdem was another designer who chose to build his collection around the classic ballerina silhouette with tiny waistlines above full and floaty knee-skimming skirts done in lace and white shoes with ribbons tied up the calves like ballet slippers. For those looking for a less feminine edge to the trend, Christopher Kane gave us his take on the ballerina style in eye-catching pops of acidic pink and orange.

                                 

                                                           

David Koma provided the most literal nod to his inspiration when it came to presenting his SS’11 collection, opening to the familiar lilting notes of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Taking his cue from the story of the beloved classic ballet, he began with his Odiles dancing down the catwalk in flared thigh high skirts and fitted bodies with linear edges, instilling  both the white and black incarnations of the character with undertones of sexual appeal. He followed with monochrome pieces depicting the princess in transition, and closed, of course, with the all-black Odette, updated in leather.

 

While ballet costume design clearly impacts on the creations of top fashion designers,Giles Deacon is returning the favour by designing the costume for Swan Lake’s Odile to mark the English National Ballet’s 60th anniversary this month. While they have been publically scraping over the spoils of recognition for their work on the film version, Amy Westcott and the Rodarte twins have set the bar high with the stunning outfits Natalie Portman wears as her character Nina makes the transition from innocent white swan to its dark, dangerous and sexually charged twin.

As she completes the exceptionally danced and choreographed piece Nina literally sprouts feathers, as in her mind she has finally killed off her fragile side to become the black swan; it could only be done in film and looks incredible!

As the popularity of Black Swan has suggested, it’s not just the world of fashion that has become captivated by the most delicate form of dance; the ballet aesthetic has hot-footed it to the beauty counter as well, with the public going head-over-heels for pretty pallettes of pink from Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel. Later this year will see the release of Pina, Dance, Dance, Otherwise We Are Lost, a 3D film about choreographer Pina Bausch from indie film director Win Wender.

Ballet’s long and illustrious history is set to be showcased through literature and exhibitions dedicated to the art form; Jennifer Homans, a former ballerina has published Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet in which she sets a case for ballet as the central art form to every civilisation, and The Proud Gallery in London is showing its first exhibition dedicated to ballet. There’s also plenty of opportunity to see the real thing for ourselves, as The Royal Ballet and Scottish Ballet will be retelling the magical tale of Alice in Wonderland throughout April and May, and the The Royal Ballet are also dancing Romeo and Juliet at the O2 Arena in June with superstar dancers Carlos Acosta and Tamara Rojo as leads.

BBC4 is currently showing a documentary following the English National Ballet as they prepare for their own production of Swan Lake. While it demonstrates the enormous amount of time, work and commitment put in by all those involved in the process and proves a fascinating insight into that claustrophobic and competitive world , for me it detracts from the magic of watching a ballet production in its entirety. What fascinates me most about ballet is the poise, elegance, grace and beauty shown in the dancers perfectly controlled movements and the pinpoint precision of the mesmerizing chorus and the overall ability to tell a story in such a beautiful way without any words at all. In a world dominated by film, TV and mass media in general, its nice to observe a narrative solely told in movement and music.

As far as fashion’s concerned, I’m really excited about the fun, feminine and romantic ballerina trend and can’t wait untill summer when I can waft around in a tight body suit under long pleated skirts with billowing layers of chiffon worn with cute ballet pumps and my hair done up in a messy ballerina bun. (Okay so given Glasgow’s temperamental weather I probably won’t be doing this but hey, a girl can dream!) It’s a look that’s simple and elegant, achieved in soft materials and floaty fabrics kept minimal in natural tones and clean lines. See below for some high street inspirations!

    

Left to right from top to bottom: Dress Mango £79,90, Dress Mango £99.90, Skirt Topshop £35, Dress Topshop £150, Satin Pleated Skirt Rare £20, Bodysuits American Apparel £65, Ballet Flats Topshop £18, Coral Dress Topshop £35, Shoes Ted Baker £90

All catwalk images are courtesy of Style.com