When Wendy Perron, the editor of Dance Magazine, wrote a post on her blog recently lamenting that Natalie Portman, in accepting an Oscar for her role in "Black Swan," had neglected to thank Sarah Lane, the American Ballet Theatre soloist who was her dancing double, she had no idea she would set off a firestorm both in and outside the ballet world.
Speaking at a luncheon in Sarasota Tuesday intended to raise scholarship funds for the Carreño Dance Festival's August workshop for students, the editor of America's most respected dance publication said she was merely trying to make the point that "the people who do the real dancing should get the credit."
"But people really wanted to believe Natalie Portman had done all the dancing," she said.
Moreover, Fox Searchlight, the studio behind the movie, apparently wanted the public to believe that too, Perron added. When she tried to link to a Youtube video she'd seen highlighting the special effects from the movie that showed a turning Lane morphing into Portman through a technique known as "face replacement," she found Fox had pulled all such videos from the web via a copyright claim and denied anything called "face replacement" even existed.
As the Wall Street Journal and Entertainment Weekly joined the fray and Darren Aronovsky, the movie's director, tried to tally the number of frames of each woman in the film, fans raged on the Internet, claiming "Natalie Portman's a liar!" or "Sarah Lane's an ambitious egomaniac!"
While Perron said she wasn't thrilled to see the diviseness, the fact that the issue became of such interest to people both in and outside of the ballet world proved her belief that – contrary to the declaration in a recently-released book – ballet is not dead, but "alive and thriving."
Former dancer Jennifer Homans' "Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet," released in 2010, concludes by declaring that the art form has become stagnant and irrelevant since the death in 1983 of George Balanchine, perhaps America's most influential choreographer. That is a contention Perron systematically dismissed in her remarks Tuesday.
"I think some people who loved Balanchine so much can't really see what's happening now," she said, carefully avoiding naming Homans, who trained at Balanchine's School of the American Ballet.
On the contrary, Perron sees much that is encouraging about how the ballet world is evolving. There is greater exchange and collaboration, between companies, styles and countries; there is still plenty of great choreographic talent, and Youtube, social media and other technologies have brought ballet into the lives of those who might otherwise never be exposed, Perron maintained.
"This thing of 'Black Swan' being in the mainstream is a good thing," she said. "That people got so hot and bothered about it, in a way, that's neat because everyone's really into it. It shows people are curious."
Still, she hopes no one believes you can become a ballet dancer in a year -- a myth Perron said was Lane's main objection to not receiving credit -- but that it takes years of training, dedication and singlemindedness.
"In fact," Perron concluded, only slightly tongue-in-cheek, "the logic would seem to dictate that it might be easier to get a good dancer and teach her to act."
CARRENO DANCE FESTIVAL SUMMER INTENSIVE WORKSHOP
Instruction on the stage of the Sarasota Opera House, August 4-27 with a culminating "Festival of Stars" performance with pre-professional dancers and faculty.
August 4-20: Junior advanced dancers, ages 12-15 (tuition $1,300)
August 4-27: Pre-professional dancers, ages 16-19 (tuition $1,800)
Faculty: Jose Manuel Carreno (American Ballet Theatre); Katrina Killian (School of American Ballet); Loipa Araujo (Ballet Nacional de Cuba); Renat Imaev (ABT teacher); Ricardo Bustamente (San Franciso Ballet); Gennadi Saleviev (soloist ABT); Shir Lee Wu (program director); Robert de Warren (master teacher).