By Dirk Sonniksen | June 19, 2014
Director: Nancy Buirski
Writer: Nancy Buirski
Excepted at an early age to the School of American Ballet, Tanaquil Le Clercq rose quickly to become a shining star in the world of dance. Her subsequent tutelage by George Balanchine would further elevate Le Clercq’s status and her relationship with Balanchine would figure prominently into her story. But they say the brightest stars burn half as long, and so it would seem with “Tanny,” who was struck down with Polio in 1956 while on tour in Copenhagen. Considered one of Balanchine’s more influental “muses,” dancer and choreographer were now faced with a rather apocalyptic situation.
Married to Balanchine at the onset of her illness, the two struggled with the reality that Le Clercq would likely never walk again. This proved difficult for Balanchine as he was in the habit of discovering and conveniently marrying his dancers, and having a star and wife that was no longer able to walk must have discrupted his routine considerably. If Balachine was put out, Tanny was devastated. With dancers having such a short window of success due to physical demands, it was obvious that Le Clercq’s career was over. And so began Tanaquil Le Clercq’s journey of healing and reinvention, a road that would appear to be fraught with heartache, but one that would ultimately see Le Clercq discovering other avenues of expression.
The strain of Le Clerqc’s illness eventually took its toll on the marriage and she and Balanchine were divorced. Now on her own, LeClercq turned to friends like Jerome Robbins, Patricia McBride, and others for companship as well as traveling extensively with the hope of starting anew without the ballet. Later in life, Le Clercq would team up with Arthur Mitchell and the Dance Theatre of Harlem where Le Clercq would teach. Her love for the ballet would once again take flight as Le Clercq learned to use her hands, arms, and upper body to simulate dance moves.
Afternoon of a Faun is a film that beautifully chronicles the life of Tanaquil Le Clercq and it’s also an excellent historical glimpse into the world of ballet. We learn of the founding of the School of American Ballet, New York City Ballet, the Dance Theatre of Harlem, as well as the pivotal players of our tale, namely George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Arthur Mitchell, Allegra Kent, and Patricia McBride Lousada, a close friend of Le Clercq. Through interviews and footage we are shown the rigors of the world of dance and the dedication required to excel in a tight-knit group of artists with a limited shelf life. While Tanaquil Le Clercq is certainly the focal point of the documentary, she also proves the perfect vehicle to showcase a rather lofty art form in a more down-to-earth manner.