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date: 27 September 2020

Abstract and Keywords

By paying particular attention to the role of the dancing body in Black Swan (2010), this chapter interrogates the status of virtuosity and performance in a film that insists on the horror of transformation. Swan Lake is significant in dance history for introducing the fouetté turn, the modern mark of female virtuosity in ballet from the late nineteenth century onward. Director Darren Aronofsky relies upon filmic techniques to invoke the dismantling effects of ballet technique, demonstrating how the pursuit of virtuosity narrates a story of the attainment, surpassing, and failure of technique. He does so by drawing upon lowbrow “body genres” (Linda Williams) to depict an otherwise highbrow art form. Black Swan portrays artistic ambition through a ballerina’s (and Odette/Odile’s) erratic transformation from human to animal. Mirroring, doubling, and reversibility (Vivian Sobchack) are tropes for Nina (Natalie Portman) and her alter-ego. Embodied by Nina and Lily (Mila Kunis), self and other perform a necessarily entangled pas de deux, one in which the seemingly perfect image of the other simultaneously haunts and motivates the dancer, a figure for whom psychological control diminishes as artistic control accrues.

Keywords: Black Swan, Swan Lake, ballet, virtuosity, body genres, reversibility, female ambition, technique, performance

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