Ballet horror beyond Black Swan

The pretext for Italian director Dario Argento’s 1977 flick Suspiria is the arrival of a ballet student at a European academy run by a secret coven of witches. Dance isn’t the point—the eerie prog rock soundtrack by Goblin, a lush, restricted color scheme and elaborate production design fuel an expressionist gorefest—where beautiful women are violently mutilated.



Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary


Guy Maddin’s 2002 silent film is stylized in black, white, and shots of monochrome color, but the editing is paced for a contemporary audience. Set to a Gustav Mahler score, the Dracula story is performed by ballet dancers. Unconstrained by the demands of voice acting, they do potent work, particularly Royal Winnipeg Ballet ballerina Tara Birtwhistle, a veritable Greta Garbo as main character Lucy. The dance vocabulary is simple to a fault, but the excerpts I’ve seen make me eager to watch the whole film—I’ll bet it hangs together as a complete work of art.

Suspiria’s overall stabbiness and the silent-film facial intensity of Dracula remind me of this scene from The Fountain of Bakhchisarai, starring two great Soviet ballerinas, Maya Plisetskaya and Galina Ulanova. Plisetskaya’s rash, passionate Zarema stabs her romantic rival; Ulanova’s martyr-like Maria dies a most elegant death. I remember it being more violent: a mistake I’ll attribute to the dancers’ dramatic power.


Peeping Tom


Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell, creators of Black Swan predecessor The Red Shoes, are the masterminds behind a genuinely warped film from the point of view of a murderous voyeur. One of his victims is Red Shoes ballerina Moira Shearer. Like a precious few from Hollywood’s Golden Age, her acting talent was on par with her dance talent, and it’s a shame she didn’t appear more often onscreen. The entire film is available legally on YouTube.

One Response to “Ballet horror beyond Black Swan”
  1. Heather says:

    The Guy Maddin film is worth checking out. It’s beautifully shot. It is indeed less about the actual ballet. He is much more focused on imagery. Hey, it’s Heather K! Good to see you the other night.

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