A Comparative Study On The Red Shoes And The Black Swan
The Red Shoes (1948), Black Swan (2010) tell the story of Nina Sayers’ and Victoria Page’s struggles as young ballerinas. Vicky, Nina and the other older ballerinas are both cast as the leads in major productions. Vicky’s performance as the Red Shoes dancer is a huge success. However her director Lermontov fears that Vicky cannot rely solely on her human love. Nina, however, must embrace her sexuality in order to play the Swan Queen role. Nina struggles with her Black Swan identity and Vicky’s love life. These women lose control of the roles they play in their quest to be great dancers. Vicky and Nina’s struggles to balance their professional and personal lives lead to tragically ending their lives.
Both Nina and Vicky are committed dancers. Vicky is invited by Ballet Lermontov after Lermontov has asked Vicky a question: “Why are you dancing?”. He then asks Vicky a second question: “Why live?” Lermontov is impressed and believes Vicky has some potential. Vicky is however completely ignored by Lermontov when she arrives at the theatre. Vicky can’t let this stop her from following her dreams. She is determined to continue improving her dance skills. Nina is determined to excel in dance. She is committed to dance as her main focus and is devoted to it. Instead of making friends out with other kids, she stays home to learn dance moves. Nina’s mother gives up her career as a dancer in order to raise her daughter. Nina also works hard. Nina’s mother is strict and has complete control over her daughter’s life. Nina starts classes with Lermontov and doesn’t feel discouraged. She is determined to impress him and get noticed. Lermontov is now more impressed by her performance at London’s Mercury Theater. Vicky seems initially intimidated when Vicky spots him among the crowd. But she soon becomes completely absorbed in the role and loses her mind. Lermontov is able to recall her and allow her to join their company’s tour. He gives her part in The Red Shoes, Monte Carlo’s great production. He hopes she will do the same in London as in London.
Nina must also impress the director in order to be given the part. Thomas Leroy, director of Swan Lake, enters a rehearsal to talk about the new production and taps some ballerinas on their shoulders. Nina does NOT get tapped. Vicky’s name doesn’t get called as Lermontov appears to announce the names and locations of the Ballet Lermontov’s dancers. The director does call on dancers he does not want in the production. Nina watches the Swan Queen audition and realizes she won’t get the part, as her primary focus during practice was on the White Swan. So Nina decides to call Thomas and asks him for the Swan Queen part. Thomas first refuses to let her play the Swan Queen. Then, as she is about leaving, Thomas gives her a kiss. Nina is shocked and biting her lip at Thomas’s behavior. Thomas becomes deeply affected by Nina’s reaction. Nina is surprised when she gets the Swan Queen role.
Vicky is given the main role in The Red Shoes by Lermontov because unlike other actors, he believes and was impressed by Vicky’s performance at The Mercury Theater. Although she didn’t have to fight for Nina’s role, she did put in a lot of effort to achieve it. Vicky is still having trouble understanding the music and following its rhythms while she prepares. Lermontov knows the solution. Vicky is forced to listen at all meals during rehearsals of The Red Shoes. She is slowly becoming obsessed with her role in The Red Shoes, and she has to experience it every day. Vicky sees eating meals as a form of rest. To fully understand her character, she must work on it even when she is free.
Nina knows the Swan Queen’s role well and can sing the songs. But she must accept her sexuality as well as maturity to truly play the role. Nina is like a child within a woman’s body. It’s easy to see that Nina is innocent. She lives in a pink room with lots of stuffed animals and wears mostly pink. Thomas tells her that she must embrace her Black Swan side to be the Swan Queen. She has to be sexy, seductive, and she must do this. Thomas assigns her a fascinating task: touch yourself in a sexual manner. Nina seems to be able to have sexual pleasure, even though she isn’t very comfortable with it. Thomas sexually seduces Nina after he assists her with her part. While dancing, he passionately touches Nina’s neck and kisses her. She longs to experience more of Thomas’s affections and be more sexually active. Nina’s personal life becomes intertwined with her role. She must embrace her sexuality to fulfill her role. Her dark side causes her to lose her mind.
Vicky is not able to dance if she doesn’t embrace her sexuality. Lermontov says that no dancer is able to fully dedicate themselves to their careers if they are in a relationship. Vicky’s relationship is with Julian, the young composer who works at Ballet Lermontov. This angers him. Vicky and Julian may have fallen in love while Vicky learns the music to The Red Shoes. Lermontov continues to produce great ballets and Vicky gets the lead roles. Julian is infatuated by Lermontov’s belief that romantic relationships and love are the best way to dance. Vicky is distraught by Lermontov’s choice and must choose between her love to dance and Julian. She marries Julian and decides to stay with him, but not before she is able to dance like Lermontov wanted her to.
Both films demonstrate how dancers become lost in their own minds and fully commit to the role by using technical choices as well as montage sequences for ballet scenes. The stage is seen from the inside of the dancer’s eyes in both The Red Shoes as well as Black Swan. Many close-ups of shoes and faces of ballerinas can be seen. Vicky’s expressions and tension are clearly visible in close-ups. Vicky is able to see Lermontov in Grisha’s face at one point during The Red Shoes’ long dancing sequence. The image then becomes Julian. Vicky’s visions can cause Vicky to lose her mind. Nina also seems to be going insane when she plays the Swan Queen role. The Swan Queen is Nina’s vision of herself as a mixed-bird/human. In this performance, she seems to lose all sense of self. In both films, the main characters dance with terrifying mask-wearing monsters. These scenes show that the life of a ballerina is not easy. Nina is unable to control her Black Swan side.
The dramatic finale in The Red Shoes occurs when Vicky can’t control her red shoes any more. Lermontov convinces Vicky to return to Monte Carlo to take a vacation. Vicky doesn’t tell Julian and is shocked when he enters her dressing room the night before. Vicky now must choose between her two greatest passions – dancing and her husband Julian. Julian is aware that Vicky will prefer dance to her other passions and leaves. Vicky is excited to dance again and Lermontov tells Vicky to get on the red sneakers. By this he is suggesting that she embrace her dancing career and make ballet her main focus. The main character of Andersen’s fairytale, “The Red Shoes”, wears red shoes which allow her to continue dancing without stopping. Lermontov’s version tells the story that she has to remove her feet from her dance floor in order to stop it. Vicky’s tragic death comes when Vicky loses control of her red shoes. She is forced to jump onto the tracks whenever a train is near. Vicky’s passion for dance and her flawless performance in The Red Shoes lead to her life being completely taken over. Vicky, like Andersens’s heroine, is unable to balance her life with dance.
Nina is unable to see the Black Swan in herself and loses her mind. She notices women in her mirror who look darker than she does and begins to see them. Nina pulls black feathers off her back the night before Swan Lake premieres. She doesn’t try to stop this madness. Nina acts irrationally when anxiety and stress take control of her conscience. Lily, a fellow choreographer, threatens Nina with taking her Swan Lake part. She then kills Lily by stabbing her with a mirror. Nina doesn’t worry about consequences. The only thing that matters in her current life is her Swan Queen role. She considers herself the Swan Queen, and dances in the next act. After she murders Lily, she is able to identify fully with the evil in herself. However, Nina is not the one who kills Lily. Nina instead kills herself by stabbing herself. She commits suicide as Swan Queen, after becoming demented while preparing to play this part.
The tragedy of talented and young ballerinas who died in The Red Shoes and Black Swan is a reminder of the difficulties of being a ballet dancer. Because of the beauty and grace of ballet, many girls want to be a ballerina. It is not an easy job and can sometimes cause great suffering. Ballerinas may experience bleeding feet or emotional problems that lead to suicidal thoughts. The Red Shoes as well as Black Swan are two films that show the hardships faced by ballerinas. These films show that perfection is not possible and that balance between personal and professional life can lead to terrible consequences.