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The passion of performance is the foundation of the brilliantly disturbing Oscar award winning film, “Black Swan.” Natalie Portman performs as the lead ballerina in the performance of “Swan Lake,” which examines the dark side of perfection in the context of high level performance.
These two aspects of top level performance are important to examine as mental skills. Passion is critical to any performance. A performer must enjoy their event. When we consider how challenging it is to perform at a top level — the passion to do the hard work is critical.
Passion for a young performer does not usually start with a child being passionate, but rather it starts with the event being fun. In order for young performers to develop they must be having fun. Fun is the foundation for passion. When kids are having fun in their event, they will continue to choose it over the competing opportunities of their lives. For the “Swan Lake” performer this was her driving force.
When a performer develops passion for their event, nothing else is ever so interesting. Nothing else captures their attention. They focus and they practice because this is the driving force of their life. As one passionate performer recently told me, “All I think about is the violin.”
While passion can be the driving force of performance, perfection can be the distortion of the passion. There is no doubt all performers strive to be their best. They work hard to make their routine flawless. They practice to get the music intonation right. Passionate performers create an image in their mind for how it should be. They work and strive to reach that pinnacle of performance. In most situations this is the drive that creates great performers.
However, perfection can also be the underlying force that erodes the passion in performance. Usually this is started by an outside force like parents or coaches who manipulate the young performer by playing on the performer’s emotional health. The focus of the destructive force is put on the essence of the young performer instead of on the behavior or actions of the performer. This is when the coach or parent attacks the personality of the young performer as it is tied to the performance.
These coaching or parenting attacks may sound something like this.
“You really are not worthy of that role, you can’t do it right.”
“When I did that event, I really worked hard at it. I wish you would learn how to do it the right way and quit being such a lazy person. You only practice three hours a day. You will never amount to anything.”
This style of parenting and coaching melds the performance and personal development of the young performer. The young performer starts to think they are doing this for their coach or parent and they lose their personal passion for their event.
In the “Black Swan,” Natalie Portman’s character is driven by the perfection her mother instilled in her because the mother was not able to complete her own ballet career. Portman’s whole sense of self was driven by her “Black Swan” role and escalated her use of self mutilation as a motivator to push herself to perfection in her ballet performance. The tragedy is, she obtained perfection and lost her life.
In the film, the Portman character died. In many instances young performers lose their way when their desire for performance perfection is distorted by their parents and/or coaches.
The passion of performance should lead young people to a sense of happiness and fulfillment. Distorted perfection can lead to childhood disaster and even death. This powerful movie is disturbing in its examination of the underbelly of the development of young performers. The movie forces the viewer to examine their personal values of performance and perfection.
Dr. Wilson is a performance consultant in Hardin County. He is the owner of the Wilson Center for Performance. He is also the performance consultant for the Louisville Lightning Professional Indoor Soccer Team. He can be reached at TheWilsonCenter7@aol.com.