Penn Dancers Bring Talent to 'Black Swan'
For the last five years, College of Liberal and Professional Studies student Adrianna de Svastich has been taking night classes part time.
However, it was her day job that got her involved in an Oscar-nominated film.
De Svastich, a full-time professional ballet dancer with the Pennsylvania Ballet, was selected by Black Swan producers to portray one of the film’s company dancers.
College sophomore Lillian Di Piazza — an apprentice with the Pennsylvania Ballet — was also chosen as an extra. Both participated in the filming process during their time off from ballet rehearsals.
“It was very, very rewarding,” de Svastich said. “We were all fortunate to have this opportunity.”
Di Piazza said she felt particularly inspired by Black Swan star Natalie Portman’s performance and is currently taking an acting class at Penn to help make her stage presence more “believable to the audience.”
“I just wanted to learn a little more,” she added.
In the film — nominated for five Oscars — protagonist Nina Sayers, played by Portman, works for a fictitious ballet company in New York and is chosen for the principal role in “Swan Lake.” But the stress of the role causes her to isolate herself, as she begins to lose touch with reality.
While de Svastich and Di Piazza said being on the same set with Portman and director Darren Aronofsky was very exciting, both acknowledged that the film depicted the dance world in a hyperbolic fashion.
“The movie hit upon certain things that were very true” and helped bring ballet to “the mainstream,” de Svastich said. But for the most part, she added, “it’s a bit of an exaggeration.”
“Dancers as artists struggle with themselves so much,” de Svastich said. However, she said, “we’re still normal people too.”
Di Piazza said dancers who isolate themselves from social activities — similar to Portman’s character — are referred to as “bun heads.”
And while this cloistered existence used to be the norm for many dance professionals, more dancers are beginning to branch out of the dance world during their careers to prepare for life after they retire from ballet.
As Di Piazza and de Svastich prepare for the future beyond dance, they hope to use their education at Penn to help them decide which career would be best for them.
“I don’t think I’d be able to do anything that wasn’t in some way artistic.” Di Piazza said.
De Svastich plans to use her history degree to go into research.