Kurt Froman on Training Natalie Portman to Dance

But his funniest, most interesting words are about Mila Kunis:

“Mila, and I mean this in the best way, she is such a loud-mouthed kind of broad. You know exactly where you stand with her, if she’s not happy with something. All she wanted to do is smoke cigarettes and drink coffee, where it was like, “Come on Mila, we’ve got to work!” And Natalie was like completely the opposite, in a way. She never complained once…

“Mila was the further behind in terms of training. She’s not — she doesn’t have a really good sense of her body, she’s not really a dancer or whatever.”

It’s funny, but I know exactly what he means about not having a good sense of your body… something I never knew about myself until I started trying to to dance.

Anyway, this is from an interview in Front Row Magazine, by Peter Simek, with Kurt Froman (former NYCB dancer- turned – Movin’ Out lead dancer and choreographer for Billy Elliot on Broadway.) Apparently, the interview with Froman was originally published around the time the movie came out, but these excerpts didn’t make the final cut. Simek decided to publish them now in light of the current who danced what controversy. Btw, you all probably already know this, but Sarah Lane gave an interview to 20/20 about said issue. Froman gave the interview a long time ago, without knowledge that this would become a controversy, so it has the air of truth. Scroll down to the bottom to read exactly what he said about Portman.

But I also find it really interesting what he said about training Kunis. At least at the beginning, their intention was to make her like a real Odile – marked by virtuosity. Froman choreographed while Millepied was busy with a prior commitment and that’s what he was trying to go for with Kunis – to make her as believable as a virtuoso as possible. But then when Millepied returned, he changed everything, making Kunis’s character more about her sex appeal, and her sexual comfort level with herself (as opposed to Odette / Portman’s lack thereof). So then they added things like Kunis’s dancing with her hair down, being so comfortable with herself that she didn’t care about messing up, etc., and they took out the virtuosity. This, he said, was okay because it went along far better with what Aronofsky wanted than what Froman had been trying to train her to do. I just find that interesting, because that was one of the parts of the film where I had the hardest time suspending disbelief – that the company director would seriously consider replacing the lead with a seemingly ditzy girl who thought it was funny when she couldn’t do a series of turns without nearly falling over. Of course everyone keeps pointing out that the movie wasn’t about dance but about sexuality, madness, etc. And they’re right. It’s just interesting to me that initially the film seemed to be a little more about the actual ballet than it ended up. Makes me wonder if things were changed after everyone realized how impossible it was to make a couple of very good actresses believable as high-level ballerinas.

Sorry this is all I’ve been blogging about lately! It’s definitely not all I care about. But I’ve returned to practicing law and so am now trying to juggle three things: my job, my book, and this blog. I apologize if it’s slow going from time to time. I definitely plan to cover as much NYCB and ABT as I can this summer!

5 Comments

  1. Stephanie Phillips

    I love reading this stuff Tonya :) No need to apologize here!

  2. Tonya, I’ve read your great blog, the articles, the back and forth………………………….and what I’ve come up with is this: If you’re a professional artist, and hollywood comes knocking at your door in any way, GET A MANAGER, GET AN AGENT, GET SOMEONE IN SHOW BUSINESS TO REPRESENT YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I read the story of how Moira Shearer did “The Red Shoes”. Interestingly, after the director gave her an initial quote, she went and got an agent, thereby multiplying her salary fivefold!
    What I think is more amazing than all the deception in this scenario, is that none of the professional dancers were advised by anyone to seek representation before they made a deal, it seems. Where was ballet co. management in all of this? And why couldn’t they get anyone’s back?………………………………………..wow. It seems Gelsey is more relevent than ever, ya know? The more things change….!

    • Hehe – thanks Jeff! I would so love it if Hollywood ever expressed interest in my book! Don’t worry – I’d definitely get help from an agent if something like that ever did manage to happen to me. Yeah, the dancers should have had agents. The whole thing is so weird – Lane apparently wasn’t told not to talk until after she’d already said something to Glamour magazine? I’d think if the producers were really concerned about anyone talking, they’d have put it clearly in everyone’s contracts. It is unsettling that she’d be told not to talk – anything that smacks of a constraint on a First Amendment right is very unsettling to me, to make an understatement… I guess they asked her not to talk only until after the Oscars were over.

      The whole thing is also made a bit ridiculous by the lack of actual dancing in the film. I remember thinking when I exited the theater – hey, they had Sarah Lane. Why in the world didn’t they use her???

  3. What a PR coup it would be if Lane danced Swan Lake this spring . . .

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