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Expressing Character's Emotions through the Dance Scenes in Black Swan

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The dark stage gets lit up in an instant, each corner of the seemingly endless stage is filled with light. You have no time to contrate on intricacies of lighting as your eyes are drawn to the two dancing figures at centre stage. The male dancer has an aura of power and dominance, towering over the small figure of the female dancer. The female dancer in question is the swan, representing purity. They continue to chase after each other as the music swells to a crescendo. The chase ends, the fall into an embrace. Title fades in, “The Black Swan.”

This is the opening shot of Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 The Black Swan. A psychological horror film themed around being pushed to your absolute limits for one moment of recognition in the name of art. While the story is very good and the whole movie is executed wonderfully, the dances are in another ball park. Every emotion is summed up in these dance scenes, that’s one of the reasons our protagonist struggles to be the “black swan” in the movie. The scenes are few and far between so I’m going to have to milk them for all they’re worth.

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Let’s start with the end. Arguably, the most famous shot in the whole film is the last one! It opens with high tension already as we are just getting off our protagonist, Nina Sayers, messing up the last part of the second act. She returns to her changing room, still in shock at her mistake. Due to the pressure of the production and her being the lead role, she sees her competitor dressed as the black swan and sitting in her chair. Nina in a delusional haze fights this hallucination and wins in the end by slamming her rival into a mirror, ending her life and the fight. Now that she has “become” the black swan, she goes back on stage for the third and final act as the black swan. She delivers the dance of a lifetime.

Nina swepts into frame, eyes blazing red from a combination of tears and the heavy black makeup next to her eyes. In this moment she is not playing the role of the black swan. She IS the black swan. Her dance moves express a subtle sensuality, something that has never been expressed by Nina. The red eyes and light on the stage compared to the audience in the shadows really makes this scene stand out as a truly dark and emotional scene.

In my opinion, the real kicker out of this whole movie is the part right after this. Nina goes backstage on a high from the round of applause from the second act. As she enters, the memories of her fight become fresh in her mind once again. However, we are treated to a surprise. It turns out Nina didn’t fight anyone, instead she seems to have slammed her body into the mirror and has a shard of glass embedded into her stomach. She can’t do anything about it as the third act is starting. She enters the frame, entering into a playful back and forth between the two male love interests. As the music draws to a close, Nina rises to a tall platform and we can see from her eyes for a moment. She looks between the white swans two lovers and then, for the first time in a long while, she breaks character. Nina looks at her mom, the one that forced her dancing lifestyle onto her when she didn’t know any better. The music in the background becomes muffled and time slows down as her vision enhances on her mother, it becomes clear that her mother is crying. In shock at the state her daughter is in due to her. This part only lasts a second and yet there’s so much emotion in it.

The whole scene screams sorrow. Bitter sorrow through Nina and her mother’s expression. Sorrow for herself, how she let herself slip to this much of a low and yet she’s at the height of her career. Sorrow for her mother, how she never meant for Nina to go this deep.

Nina snaps back into reality, her eyes flicker to the hidden mattress beneath the stage. The white swan leaps to her death in the play as Nina leaps to her’s. A sigh of relief passes through her. As her fellow dancers crowd around her, she bleeds profusely unable to speak because of it. Nina’s dance director kneels next to her, wiping the sweat from her forehead. Telling her she did amazing! He then realizes to his horror her major injury. As he yells for help, the screen fades to black.

This hands down is my favourite scene in the whole movie. It sums up what Black Swan is all about. Without context you can see Nina’s desperation to be perfect and how the ending is the climax of her psychosis, her delusions for the first time has physically hurt her and in a major way. Almost all dance scenes in Black Swan has some kind of negative emotions because Nina’s perception of her art form is distorted. Instead of doing it to let out something, dance is the reason she’s holding back.

Black Swan is a prime example of how one can express emotion through dance. Even if that emotion is the primal need to be perfect born from your mother forcing you to live her dreams and holding back praise. The movie does not have a happy ending, but it is a good ending for Nina. She finally feels perfect. That was her goal in the end and she achieved it. The dances are carefully woven with subtle expressions and feelings. Each dance, while having a shadow of sadness, have a special aspect about them.

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