Even before her recent foray into the movie business, Alexandra Blacker had a mighty impressive resume.
The 23-year-old St. Petersburg native has studied ballet with some of the most prestigious companies in the world, dances with the Los Angeles Ballet and runs her own dance studio.
But outside the ballet world, audiences are most likely to be impressed by Blacker's role as "assistant to Ms. Kunis." That's how she's billed in the closing credits of Black Swan, one of the most popular and critically praised films of the year.
It doesn't sound like much, but Blacker's role in the film was crucial. Over the course of several months, she worked with Mila Kunis, one of the film's stars and a ballet novice, and trained her to dance like a professional in a key scene in the movie.
Blacker grew up in St. Petersburg and attended St. Petersburg High School for a couple of years before leaving town to study ballet. Her parents, Michael Blacker and Jacqueline Jones-Blacker, have been residents of the Old Northeast for 16 years. That's where Alexandra grew up.
Now the young ballet dancer has even ended up with a very brief role in the film.
"I worked with her in Los Angeles, and my work was supposed to be done before filming started," Blacker said by phone over Christmas break. "But by the time Mila was supposed to go to New York to start filming, our friendship had grown, and she said, 'There's no way I can do this without you.' "
So Blacker accompanied Kunis to New York, and was on the set for most of the filming.
When director Daron Aronofsky needed some extra dancers in one scene, he tapped Blacker to make her cinematic debut. She's recognizable, even though only on camera a few seconds.
Aronofsky, who also directed Pi and The Wrestler, called on Blacker and other dancers on the set to help make the film look more authentic. "He was so concerned that he got the ballet part just right," Blacker said. "He was so into asking us about all the ballet aspects. And as a ballet dancer watching it, I thought he captured it."
The film, a Gothic psychological thriller, revolves around a naive and inhibited ballet dancer (Natalie Portman) who's about to play her major role, in Swan Lake. The choreographer demands that she tap into the dark side of her personality in order to play the evil black swan. Portman becomes fascinated with Kunis, a star dancer who's carefree and mischievous.
"Natalie had already been working with another teacher for months," Blacker said. "Mila lives in L.A., and they were looking for someone to teach her how to look like a dancer. They called the Los Angeles Ballet, and they knew I had the studio, so they suggested me."
The next day, Kunis, best known for her role as Jackie Burkhart in That '70s Show, was at Blacker's studio.
Kunis has only one dance scene in the film. Her character is dancing a solo in a major New York production, so it was essential that she appear flawless. Blacker said Kunis pulled it off beautifully.
Thanks in part to the way Kunis, Portman and Aronofsky depicted the art form, she said, ballet companies around the country may see a boost in attendance.
"The whole ballet world is buzzing about this movie," Blacker said. "And when you walk around New York, you overhear people talking about it, and they say, 'I've never been to the ballet, but now I think I'm going to see The Nutcracker.' "
Marty Clear is a freelance writer who specializes in performing arts. He can be reached at email@example.com.