February 7, 2011 / 1:33 PM / 7 years ago

Ballet-loving Russia roots for "Black Swan" Oscar

<p>Cast member Natalie Portman arrives at a screening of the film "Black Swan" at the closing night gala of AFI Fest 2010 in Hollywood, California November 11, 2010.Danny Moloshok</p>

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia is rooting for "Black Swan" to win at the upcoming Oscars, as the Hollywood melodrama finds resonance with ballet's master of heritage.

Starring Natalie Portman as the black swan ballerina in "Swan Lake" -- a ballet composed by Pyotr Tchaikovsky in the 19th century and treasured by Russians -- the film premiered in the capital late on Friday to enormous applause.

"I would be so happy to see a movie about ballet win," said Anastasia Volochkova, one of Russia's most famous ballerinas, who has performed in "Swan Lake" several times.

"What have we got in Russia? The Russian soul, Russian ballet, Russian vodka... Out of those, ballet is the most worthy because it has beauty, grace, fulfillment," she told Reuters as she flicked back her long blonde hair.

Directed by Darren Aranofsky, "Black Swan" has already made $120 million worldwide and grabbed five Oscar nominations, including best picture and Portman for best actress. The awards ceremony will take place on February 27.

"The movie will be better received here and in Europe than in the United States because we relate to ballet and this music," 20th Century Fox distributor Yekaterina Romanenko told Reuters as five ballerinas dressed as the black swan twirled to Tchaikovsky's music behind her.

Later, a male-female duo from the Kremlin Ballet Theater performed a short piece on a small stage near the screen.

Russia prides itself as the epicenter of the ballet world, which is little wonder considering the list of Russian stars reads like a who's who of ballet over the last 100 years, with names such as Balanchine, Pavlova, Danilova, Nuriyev, Baryshnikov and many others.

<p>Natalie Portman in a scene from "Black Swan".Fox Searchlight</p>

But critics say its rigid ideas about classical dance have also put a damper on innovation. Last month the U.S.-Russian modern ballet "Reflections" took a risk when it premiered to a sold-out audience at the Bolshoi.

The theme of ballet, however, is one that will always find appeal amongst Russians.

Business FM radio station has already placed "Black Swan" at the top of its weekly film charts, even thought the mass release in Russia doesn't start until February 10.

"Now it is the Russian film-goer's turn to come out of the dark cinema hall with tears in their eyes, and whisper that they have felt perfection," cinema news portal proficinema.ru wrote.

The film has even helped a ballet troupe from Voronezh, some 1,420 km (885 miles) east of Moscow, go to the United States on tour to perform "Swan Lake," a cultural magazine for the city said, adding that the film's popularity in the U.S. has drawn attention to Russian ballet abroad.

Russia's discerning ballet elite found Portman had many shortcomings in her actual dancing, but they applauded her for accurately depicting the harsh life a ballet dancer can face.

"There were many mistakes immediately visible to a ballet person," said prima ballerina Natalia Osipova, of Moscow's famed Bolshoi Theater.

"(But) she definitely deserves an Oscar," Osipova said, adding that Portman showed how "the ballet world is cruel, there is no human kindness there and unfortunately it is full of negativity."

(Reporting by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya; editing by Amie Ferris-Rotman and Paul Casciato)

nastassia.astrasheuskaya@thomsonreuters.com; +7 495 775 12 42

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