Monday, 10 January 2011

No swans were harmed in the making of this movie

As an ex-ballerina, I have always found it impossible to adequately articulate what an impact ballet had on my life. Now I no longer have to try and explain it to people…I can just refer them to Darren Aronofsky’s new masterpiece, Black Swan.

I don’t know how Aronofsky knew all that detail about what goes on inside a dancer’s head and how psychologically bizarre a ballerina’s self-identity can become. It is an astonishing piece of work, and Natalie Portman surpassed herself on every level.

So, let’s talk about the makeup. Ballet, of course, involves a lot of fabulous face painting. I was doing stage makeup from the age of 10. This is actually where my love for makeup started. I used to practice at home and my friends would often ask me to help them out before shows. The lining of the eye for typical ballet makeup takes a lot of practice. It does look quite strange close up, as the aim is to significantly enlarge the eye by basically redrawing it. Of course the makeup for the swan queen in Black Swan is not ballet makeup at all, but for the film it works so well and has created a youtube tutorial sensation.

Black Swan Makeup designed by Judy Chin

Typically for full ballet stage makeup the whole face is covered in cake foundation or pan stick. The application is heavy and often the eyebrows are blocked out and redrawn slightly higher to compliment the enlarged eye. This facilitates projecting facial expressions from such a distance and in such harsh lighting. Black liner is applied below the lower water-line following the shape of the eye and extending quite far beyond the outer edge. White eye pencil is applied to the water line and between the water-line and the new lower eye line. Black liner is applied to the top eye line as well, and extends beyond the outer edge parallel to the lower line (think Egyptian, but less severe). The tear duct is amplified using a red dot or short red line, and red and white are applied between the black liner where it runs past the outer edge of the eye, thus completing the new, enlarged eye. Large false lashes are applied and a heavy coating of waterproof black mascara on the top and bottom lashes. Normally not much dark eyeshadow is applied to avoid ‘closing’ the eye. A lot of highlighter is applied on the brow-bone and sometimes even a white line is drawn under the new eyebrow. Lip-colour depends on the role, but is normally a medium pink. The cheeks are normally enhanced with a pink blush and a dramatic contouring under the cheekbones. A lot of powder is applied as the stage-lighting is very hot. Towelling off is required constantly throught the performance and touch ups are done between acts.

Cynthia Gregory, American Ballet Theatre

Moira Shearer in The Red Shoes

You can watch the trailer for Black Swan here:


  1. Have you seen this yet? Do you wanna see it with me?

  2. I saw it! Twice! Happy to go was that good