THE BLACK SWAN – Don’t Save The Drippings

By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

THE BLACK SWAN, opening Friday in San Francisco at the AMC Metreon and Sundance Kabuki, is a straight-up en pointe disappointment. The screenplay by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin is a total pratfall. Its almost starry highs are dashed on the rocks by its feather-headed absurdities. And no amount of passionate attachment to Swan Lake the ballet or to its tempestuous composer Pyotr Iliych Tchaikovsky can warm-up the underdone thighs of this Holiday turkey.

NATALIE PORTMAN – as “Nina”. Photo, Niko Tavernise

Swan Lake is the great barometer of every Classical ballet company. Without it, you can’t pay the bills or sustain a subscription list. Portions of the score, particularly the haunting strains of the opening of Act II (“By a lake”) are among the most well-known in all of Tchaikovsky’s music. The plot of Swan lake is complex and sits on the highest plane of elevated reality. After all, a handsome and eligible young prince suddenly in love with an innocent girl (Odette) who is a swan by day and a woman by night requires much suspension of disbelief. For the devoted fans, not so much. Odette is under the spell of a devilish villain, “Rothbart”, and there are no rescuer winged Fairies in sight. All that’s required to break the spell is for Prince Siegfried to keep his promise of fidelity up to and presumably way-after their march down the aisle. If he falters, if there is even a shade of lust in his heart for anything else on two legs, then the spellbound girl will be trapped in her feathery guise forever. Agreed. He’ll be back tomorrow. (Maybe with his mother’s engagement ring?) Even those who’ve never seen the complete ballet can anticipate the outcome of this promissory note.

ODETTE / ODILE – Natalie Portman in The Black Swan.
Photo, Niko Tavernise

Back at the Palace. Enter the fatal temptress (Odile) – the (wicked city) Woman In Black. The Prince is suddenly bewitched, very bothered and bewildered. She looks so much like the odd and fluttery girl down by the lake. It’s just that – this one is so aggressive, so fiery in her unabashed and brazen expression of desire. With a girl like that, the Prince – whose time has come to extend the dynasty – will make his mum, the Queen, a GrandMum in no time. BAM! Prince Siegfried is all at once exposed as a two-timing bastard! Odile has seduced him away from his promise to Odette – who has magically witnessed their whole lurid exchange. Her hopes are shattered, the spell remains in tact. Now it’s back to the lake – where she can risk getting her neck broken, like her unfortunate cousin “Monday” in San Francisco – or, perhaps, she can find another escape route to peace and eternal love.

Natalie Portman – Vincent Cassel – Barbara Hershey
Photo, Niko Tavernise

The Black Swan attempts a way-out stretch on the basic plot and character outlines of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Apply those structures to a story about a notable New York ballet company producing Swan Lake – then The Black Swan sort-of makes sense. The music is mystical, filled with longing, and packed with opportunities for virtuosic displays of dance, high drama, special effects, and fashion. The Choreographer, “Thomas Leroy” (Vincent Cassel), reflects the controlling egoiste, “Rothbart”. He has just announced that the senior diva, “Beth Macintyre” (Winona Ryder) will not be dancing this new and exciting, out-of-the-box production of Swan Lake. Instead?! The lovely “Nina Sayers” (Natalie Portman) will take on the dual roles of Odette and Odile. He and everyone else knows that Nina will be incredible as “Odette”. Nina and the Choreographer know that she’s a dishrag in the Sex & Seduction Department. She’s on watch, on probation, until something can be done to change that energy.

What to do, what to do?

MILA KUNIS – as “Lily”. Photo, Niko Tavernise

Enter the ideal Black Swan. “Lily” (Mila Kunis). She’s introduced as a ballerina “from San Francisco”. She’s a conniving, vicious bitch. (Did the writers have anyone in mind?) She’s going to be Nina’s “Alternate”. And, oh, does she have the attention of the Choreographer. As the rehearsals progress, Tom is becoming more demanding and more frustrated with Nina’s frigid “Odile”. His solution?! What will get her inner fire going? Masturbation! Lots of it.

I know. I know-I know-I know. But! It heats-up her performance. Opponents of such practices take note: her perfect pink feet begin webbing between her toes and black quills sprout from her arms. And then, on the track to unleashing these long pent-up inner demons – who shows up in the privacy of her room but “Lily” who has now turned into a lesbian vampire-type (since she can appear and disappear) and is really into oral sex. Well, duh! End result – there’s enough carefully mapped-out tongue, hand, and feather action to make the viewer disconnect from the film and simply wait for it to swan dive. And it eventually does. As with the finale of the Ballet – Nina/Odette (convinced she’s reached her ultimate climax) flings herself off the set’s “cliff” and dies. The End.

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at:


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