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How much actual dancing did Natalie Portman do in 'Black Swan'? [Updated]

March 28, 2011 |  6:30 am


It's no secret that Natalie Portman had a dancing double for her Oscar-winning performance in "Black Swan." It clearly would have been impossible for a ballet neophyte such as herself to learn some of the advanced techniques in less than a year. But in a development that strikes us as very "Black Swan"-ish, Portman's double has risen up and attacked her, suggesting that the star didn't perform as much dancing as audiences -- and academy voters -- were led to believe.

Sarah Lane, a soloist with New York's American Ballet Theatre who served as Portman's dancing double, said in a recent interview with EW.com that the actress performed only 5% of her full-body dancing scenes. In a number of cases, she said, Portman's face was digitally superimposed onto Lane's body in post-production. (A collection of behind-the-scenes clips posted on YouTube appeared to corroborate parts of what Lane is saying, but the clips were taken down over the weekend at the request of the movie's distributor, Fox Searchlight.)

The dancer's account somewhat contradicts what Benjamin Millepied -- the movie's choreographer and Portman's fiance -- said in a Times interview last week. Millepied stated that Portman performed the vast majority of her own dance moves, claiming that "85% of that movie is Natalie."

In response to all of the back-and-forth, Fox Searchlight has released a statement saying: "We were fortunate to have Sarah there to cover the more complicated dance sequences and we have nothing but praise for the hard work she did. However, Natalie herself did most of the dancing featured in the final film."

[Updated] Darren Aronofsky, the director of "Black Swan," issued a comment to EW.com defending his leading lady: "There are 139 dance shots in the film. 111 are Natalie Portman untouched. 28 are her dance double Sarah Lane... 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."

Who's telling the truth? As reported in Dance magazine, Lane was apparently called by a Fox Searchlight producer, asking her to stop giving interviews until after the Oscars.

Is there a corporate cover-up afoot? Or is this a big deal about nothing? After all, so much of movie acting today involves digital enhancement, stunt doubles and clever editing. Weigh in on the discussion in our poll or in the comments section.


SwanBenjamin Millepied on "Black Swan" and Natalie Portman

ABT dancers offer their perspectives on "Black Swan"

Beyond "Black Swan": Underrated dance movies that deserve a second chance


-- David Ng

Upper photo: Natalie Portman -- or is it Sarah Lane? Or both? -- in a scene from "Black Swan." Credit: Fox Searchlight

Lower photo: Portman in "Black Swan." Credit: Fox Searchlight

Comments () | Archives (26)

It sounds to me like the real problem is between Sarah Lane and Benjamin Millepied.

Next will see Portman dancing the LEAD role in Gisèle made in a movie! Wonder who will be her double or, as Portman say: She trained so hard, now she can do whatever pro dancers can do. So let's see it!

Months ago I read an article in a dance magazine with Sarah Lane. Ms. Lane commented about how film making is different than rehearsing or performing, where she would have to do multiple takes, and the same choreography over and over and over. It was interesting to see how seamless the editing and effects were to integrate Ms Lane and Ms Portman. For people that don't understand the film making process there can be a large discrepancy in of how much a part was used or not used in the final product. Further, there is no doubt that Ms Portman trained for the part, but training to be a ballerina and training to get the shots needed are two different beasts. Ms. Lane was paid to do a job and so was Ms. Portman. Dance double, body doubles, stunt doubles are all the same technique in film making.

Why did they ask Sarah Lane to stop giving interviews? When there are stunt men in action flicks it's understood that they are professionals who make the actor look good in the final product. What are the producers of Black Swan trying to hide? Why is it so important for us to believe that NP is responsible for 85% of the dance shots? They hyped Natalie Portman as a ballet prodigy as part of the marketing for this film. Did they think that would help their Oscar chances? Let's say she did more like 10% of the shots. What then? Does she not deserve the Oscar? I for one don't believe the 85% figure. All that boyfriend did was draw attention to this. Sarah Lane gave her interview back in December. He stirred the hornet's nest. He has no sense of loyalty to his own profession. Which apparently he has switched to being Natalie Portman's man.

I was a dancer for 10+ years and i wasn't hardcore about it. i didn't train everyday for a massive amount of hours. I did classes for 2 hours like 2 times a week and i was praised in my dance company. Another girl at my dance company had siblings who have been dancing since they were five and were amazing. She started dancing with them when she turned 17 and in a year she was in advance pointe ballet classes and won many competitions within that year. She pretty much became our up-and-coming ballerina in a year, so it's definitely possible for someone to become a dancer within a year. It's not just training that matters, it depends on natural talent and raw determination. determination can make all the difference really.

Movies have stunt doubles and other special effects, but Natalie Portman misled people to think that she did all the dancing. You know why? The DANCING is what impressed people so much, and she was basically given so many awards based on the idea that she became an awesome ballerina. Her acting is fine in the movie, but it pales next to Annette Bening's performance in the The Kids Are All Right. The Oscar should be for acting, not dancing.

If Natalie Portman thought her acting was enough to win the Oscar, she would have at least thanked Sarah Lane during one of her numerous wins and speeches. She thanked her fiance at every turn and even thanked makeup and wardrobe. It was cruel to leave Sarah Lane out.

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