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Will 'Swan' Goose Oscar?
As members of "A Chorus Line" understand, everything is beautiful at the ballet.
Obviously, they haven't seen "Black Swan."
Multinominated for Academy Awards-- with leading lady Natalie Portman poised to make her pas de deux with Oscar this Sunday -- "Black Swan" offers a portal into ballet at its blackest.
It is "The Red Shoes" at its bloodiest, dripping crimson on deformed fetes.
But everything has been beautiful at the ballet for at least one of the movie's cast members -- an Israeli corps dancer with the Pennsylvania Ballet.
And whereas at the movie's core, Portman portrays her dual and dueling "Swan Lake" characters of Odette/Odile as the good, the bad and the ugliest of evil, Amir Yogev has kind words to say about his fellow sabra, with whom he worked on the shoot when a passel of pre-picked company members packed up their point shoes for a trek to SUNY Purchase to participate in scenes when it was filming there early last year.
"She was wonderful to all around her," playing not the star but an ensemble member with an engaging esprit de corps, he recalls.
Yogev was featured in the class scene early on, in which the director (Vincent Cassel) castigates the cast while announcing tryouts for a revisionist version of "Swan Lake."
Feeling like a movie star? The Kibbutz Tzuba-born danseur who soars onscreen says he enjoyed the experience -- it was, he said, as much fun as one would imagine being part of a Hollywood project would be -- but he isn't ready to give up his day jetes.
The 23-year-old Yogev has been raising the barre since he was born, though he stepped gingerly into glissades.
"I got into ballet gradually; there was no facility to learn on the kibbutz," he recalls.
His kibbutz, just outside of Jerusalem, specialized in producing bulletproof glass, ironically preparing him for a stint in a movie that shoots from the hip.
But if ballet proved not to be paradise, it wasn't home either. That he would find at the age of 16, moving to New York to study at the American Ballet Theater School.
"I remember at first talking to my parents -- hypothetically -- of what would they think if I left the kibbutz to study in New York."
Their response? "We'll see," he says.
They can see him now on screen; "Black Swan" has come to Israel, where Yogev's parents remain.
And they remain his most fervent supporters, if at first hesitant to see their son go from his rural surroundings to the big time.
Not that they knew nothing of New York. "Actually, they were born in America," he says of Joan and David Yogev, "and moved to Israel in the early '80s."
The former student at the Jerusalem Rubin Academy of Music and Dance was no rube with dance shoes when he arrived.
"I had been in the States before; my grandmother has relatives in Maryland," where he landed on visits.
His turning point came turning his shoes in different geographical directions, seguing from sophisticated ensembles in New York to San Francisco to Miami to Pennsylvania, where he began as a PBC apprentice last season and was promoted to his current role for the 2010-11 year.
A seasoned dancer now, did he offer advice to neophyte Portman? "I was right across from her," he says, but didn't get a chance to converse with her.
Not that she had time for swapping anecdotes of Jerusalem or games of Jewish geography. Screen time with the ballet scream-queen, yes, but no time off for tales of Tel Aviv.
"She was working 12-hour days, with a lot of coaches; I could see the intensity in her," says Yogev.
He could also see her seizing the moment, "the transition of character; she was acting so much with her eyes. She became a different person," going from white to "Black Swan."
It was as if they had dredged "Swan Lake" and come up with the dregs of black-hearted emotion. "I've seen the movie three times," he says, marveling at her twisted triumph.
"I was shocked the first time I saw it," he says of the film that takes a swan dive into the abyss. "I didn't know it would go to such extremes."
"We are normal people," Yogev says, referring to ballet dancers, although he acknowledges that Portman's "character does exist. But it's not really realistic."
Still, says Yogev, "the movie is cool, and it puts ballet back before the public."
He says he wouldn't mind one day going back to Israel, where the dream job would be being part of the classical Israel Ballet as performer and teacher.
In the meantime, there is that Oscar party to prepare for this Sunday. Will Portman -- who carried it off onscreen -- carry Oscar home with her?
"Of course!" exclaims Yogev, ready for his own chance to carry himself with poise in his own company's upcoming project.
It's as if scripted by Hollywood: "Swan Lake," which PBC will perform March 3 to March 12 at Philadelphia's Academy of Music.
Just watch out for those shards of glass.