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Natalie Portman Ballet Dancing: Body Double Challenges Oscar Winner’s Whirling Performance

5 minutes read

Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Natalie Portman ballet dancing in Darren Aronofsky’s psychological film Black Swan.
Ramon Novarro Beyond Paradise

Did Natalie Portman do most of the fouettés in Black Swan? Or did Portman’s dance double and American Ballet Theatre member Sarah Lane do most of the dance sequences?

Lane told the Wall Street Journal that “I should specify the actual percentage of dancing that Natalie did. They are saying that it was 85-90 percent of the dancing but I can tell you honestly that it was about 5 percent of the on-screen dancing.”

Benjamin Millepied, the film’s choreographer and Portman’s fiancé, had told the Los Angeles Times that “85 percent of that movie is Natalie.” And now comes Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky, who has released the following statement through Black Swan distributor Fox Searchlight:

Here is the reality. I had my editor count shots. There are 139 dance shots in the film. 111 are Natalie Portman untouched. 28 are her dance double Sarah Lane. If you do the math that’s 80 percent Natalie Portman. What about duration? The shots that feature the double are wide shots and rarely play for longer than one second. There are two complicated longer dance sequences that we used face replacement. Even so, if we were judging by time over 90 percent would be Natalie Portman.

And to be clear Natalie did dance on pointe in pointe shoes. If you look at the final shot of the opening prologue, which lasts 85 seconds, and was danced completely by Natalie, she exits the scene on pointe. That is completely her without any digital magic. I am responding to this to put this to rest and to defend my actor. Natalie sweated long and hard to deliver a great physical and emotional performance. And I don’t want anyone to think that’s not her they are watching. It is.

Best Actress Oscar winner Natalie Portman has remained silent about the controversy.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Sarah Lane also explained in an e-mail that she earned “$4000 per week before taxes so after taxes it was about $2000 plus a little overtime” for six weeks and two days of work on the $13 million-budgeted Black Swan. Black Swan has taken in $281.57 million worldwide.

Ah, minor detail: the Black Swan DVD/Blu-ray comes out on March 29, that’s tomorrow. Surely, the beautifully timed fouetté controversy won’t hurt sales and rentals.

Since her Best Actress Oscar win last February, Natalie Portman has become embroiled in a few “controversies”: first, Fox News commentator and potential Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee denounced the “glamorization” of her out-of-wedlock pregnancy (Huckabee later backpedaled; Portman’s Black Swan is distributed by Fox Searchlight); then Portman publicly dissociated herself from flamboyant designer John Galliano after he was caught on video vomiting a whole slew of anti-semitic tirades.

Portman’s latest, perfectly timed for the March 29 release of the Black Swan DVD/Blu-ray, has pitted the Oscar winner against her Black Swan dance double, Sarah Lane, who claims that Portman actually performed “about 5 percent of the on-screen dancing” in the Darren Aronofsky-directed psychological thriller. If Lane’s story is true, some have wondered if Portman would have won the Best Actress Oscar had Black Swan dance-double percentages been made public back in January or February.

Personally, I think it would have made absolutely no difference. After all, a few years ago Joaquin Phoenix did his own singing for Walk the Line, but still lost the Best Actor Oscar to Capote‘s Philip Seymour Hoffman. Jamie Foxx and Marion Cotillard, on the other hand, had their voices dubbed in, respectively, Ray and La Vie en Rose; that didn’t prevent Academy members from naming Fox the Best Actor of 2004 and Cotillard the Best Actress of 2007.

That was clearly because Academy members felt that Foxx’s transformation into Ray Charles and Cotillard’s into Edith Piaf encompassed much more than just a singing voice. The same goes for Natalie Portman as the ballerina gone amok in Black Swan; Portman’s dramatic scenes, not her dancing, were the ones that counted toward her Oscar victory.

April 18 update: Natalie Portman has kept mum about who did what in Black Swan, but Sarah Lane, Portman’s ballet double in Darren Aronofsky’s psychological thriller, refuses to stop talking about the matter. The issue is reminiscent of the Mercedes McCambridge “demon voice” affair when William Friedkin’s The Exorcist came out in late December 1973. McCambridge initially received no credit for dubbing the voice of the possessed Linda Blair.

Although Sarah Lane told ABC’s 20/20 that “I definitely think [Portman] deserves all the credit that she got with the Oscar,” she also stated that “it really hurts for someone to say that they got a personal trainer and they became what I spent blood, sweat and tears doing every day, all my life, in just a year and a half.”

Lane isn’t directly blaming Portman. Instead, she focuses on Fox Searchlight’s Oscar campaign which apparently insinuated that Portman became a first-rate ballet dancer while training for her Black Swan role.

“I’ve been doing this for 22 years, and to say that someone trained for a year and a half and did what I did is degrading not only to me but to the entire ballet world,” Lane affirmed.

Black Swan director Aronofsky, fellow player Mila Kunis, choreographer Benjamin Millepied (who also happens to be Portman’s fiance) have all come to the Oscar winner’s defense.

Editor Andy Weisblum has mostly sided with Portman on the issue, telling 20/20 that “there are about 35 shots that are full-body shots in the movie. Of those 35 shots, 12 are Natalie, and then the rest are Sarah. But over the overall film, Natalie did a lot more than that.”

Weisblum quote: The Hollywood Reporter

Darren Aronofsky statement via

Natalie Portman Black Swan image: Niko Tavernise | Fox Searchlight.

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Beau -

The ballet world, including this prissy egomaniac, should be thankful for this film and all of it’s successes. It has pulled ballet up from the grave and sparked interest where there was practically none, much more so than Lane could ever accomplish. If I were an influential member of this art, I would sit little miss Lane down and tell her to grow up and STFU……and maybe even issue a few well-placed apologies. This woman is borderline delusional.

tonia -

Sarah is saying that of all the foot/feet shots and full body shots (she considers the REAL dancing), the majority of that is HER. WHICH IS TRUE!
Natalie danced 111 of 139 scenes, and Sarah 28. Of the 111 scenes that natalie danced they were mostly head or upper body shots. (waving her arms around in port de bras etc without showing her lower body,). Sarah’s beautiful dancing in the other 28 scenes were most of the footwork and full body shots – Dancing is a FULL-BODY ART FORM.
Articles are confusing what is REAL dancing (full body dancing) and what is dance-ish (upper body moving the hands around like most kids do).. It was altered by the director to look good on film and he did a good job with it but.. that doesn’t change the nature of WHAT IS REAL DANCE.So yes, SARAH did dance 90% percent of the footwork and full body shots, and natalie danced 85% of the TOTAL upper body!!
This would not be happening if the studio hadn’t endlessly hyped Portman’s dance study and the lie that she did almost all the dancing herself. She should have been honest-she did the acting, Lane did the dancing.
Once again the director’s statements are DISCREDITING Sarah’s role.


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