How much of the dancing in Black Swan was actually done by Natalie Portman? It depends on who you ask.
Sarah Lane, the 27-year-old ballerina who was Portman's dance double in the film made headlines over the weekend with her claims that she was the victim of a cover-up. Not only was most of the dancing featured in the film actually hers, Lane says, but she was told to play along with the narrative that it was all Natalie, in order to help the actress win the Oscar. Here's what she told Entertainment Weekly:
Of the full body shots, I would say 5 percent are Natalie. All the other shots are me.The shots that are just her face with arms, those shots are definitely Natalie. But that doesn't show the actual dancing.
[The producers] wanted to create this idea in people's minds that Natalie was some kind of prodigy or so gifted in dance and really worked so hard to make herself a ballerina in a year and a half for the movie, basically because of the Oscar. It is demeaning to the profession and not just to me. I've been doing this for 22 years.... Can you become a concert pianist in a year and a half, even if you're a movie star?
Lane went public with her complaints following comments made by Benjamin Millepied, who served as choreographer on the film and is also Portman's fiance, in The Los Angeles Times, asserting that 85 percent of the film's dancing was performed by the Oscar-winner.
The film's producers responded Saturday evening in Portman's defense:
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.
So is Portman the Milli Vanilli of the Oscars? Regardless of who is in the right here, the truth is that Portman won the Best Actress Oscar, not the Best Actress Who Also Danced A Lot Oscar. Marion Cotillard and Jamie Foxx are too recent examples of actors who won Oscars for their work as performers (she as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, he as Ray Charles in Ray), even though neither did their own singing.
In her interviews promoting the film, Portman was never shy to qualify her recounts of intense training by saying that a double was in fact used for the film's complicated dance sequences. It doesn't discard her tireless work to get into good enough shape to believably play a dancer—inhabiting the role in a way that no other actress could without her training, or no other ballerina could without her acting skills. Portman didn't win her Oscar for being a ballerina; she won it for playing one.