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September 09 2010

The Horror and Beauty of Ballet. Ruminations on the apparent relationship between depictions of ballet dancers found in film and television and the horror genre, in anticipation of director Darren Aronofsky's upcoming ballet-themed psychological thriller The Black Swan. The Angel episode "Waiting in the Wings" appears as a featured example.

[ edited by brinderwalt on 2010-09-10 17:40 ]

Well, there is something horrific about the beauty of ballet. Aside from the unusual contortions the body has to make, you have to contend with the fact that there are certain body types that aren't ideal for ballet, that competition is fierce (like animals-in-the-National-Geographic-Specials-level of ferocity) which can basically scar anyone at a young age, and that basically, the only enemy you have in ballet is yourself.

I danced ballet more than half of my life right now. I can definitely say that the bodily torture is more of like a release-- before class you think about the pain, during class you curse the pain, but after class, it makes you feel alive. I stopped dancing a year ago and I miss the pain.

Ballet is psychological horror.
You've totally sold me on it csi_spy, where do I sign up ? ;)

(kind of reminds me of climbing in that respect, we used to say "leaving some skin behind" was part of the experience, almost like an offering. Probably true of everything really, if you want to be good at it)

Not sure about the specific thesis of the article. Fair enough, ballet crops up for the reasons mentioned (highly emotionally charged environment, competitive, physically painful etc.) but also surely because theatres and stages are rich environments for storytelling in general and horror/suspense stories in particular - they already have a mysterious, frisson of the unknown element, they're confined spaces (but very varied and flexible re: chases, cinematography etc.), they're more peopled by young women (traditional victims in horror/psychological suspense movies) than many other working environments and for a lot of writers they tick the "write what you know" box in spades so to me it's at least partly for practical reasons.

Also, brinderwalt, tiny thing but if you actually know (rather than just speculating) that 'Black Swan' is you might want to take that out of the blurb, maybe slightly spoilerish (from the trailer it seems like part of the suspense is over that very question).
Is it relevant that Yniversal Pictures used some passages from Swamp Lake as theme music for several horror pictures The Mummy, Secret of the Blue Room & so on?
Saje: Whoops! My mistake - the word supernatural 'twas a Freudian typo on my part, and nothing more (afaik, anyway...) :)

And csi_spy, speaking as a former ballet dancer myself with multiple current and former professional-level ballet dancers in the immediate family, I can definitely sympathize. To use my favorite analogy, being a professional ballet dancer is a lot like having to have the physicality of an olympic gymnast and the competitive spirit of a working actor while, at the same time, dealing with the body image anxieties of a fashion model - ie. hell incarnate.
Well, a lot of classical ballets are based on fairy tales, and as we all know real fairy tales have a strong element of horror. People, mostly beautiful young women being turned into animals or monsters, children being dispossessed of their homes, or almost getting eaten, or in fact getting eaten, evil witches and sorcerers and all that.

And then there's the obsessiveness that it takes to succeed and the physical toll that ballet takes on its practitioners. I've read that there is a real problem with anorexia among dancers to try to maintain the right body type, and the NY Times magazine a few years ago did a story on the permanent damage dancing en pointe does. Since then I've never been able to watch pointe being done without feeling horrified. The horrific elements of the "Red Shoes" and apparently this film I think are metaphoric of the real psychological and physical transformation ballet demands of dancers.

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