Last week, unprompted by me, "the Brit" put on a documentary called “Afternoon of a Faun” about the famed ballerina, Tanaquil LeClercq. As it happens, a few days earlier, I had been reading about Balanchine, founder of the New York City Ballet, who... it turns out... was Tanaquil’s mentor, choreographer and eventual husband. I don’t know if these things happen to you but subjects tend to spring up on me like that - in the span of a week I’ll hear something mentioned, or read it in passing and then someone else will mention and then I’ll come across it again and…anyway, it’s as if the universe wants me to know about the subject right at that moment. Anyhow, I’m glad I listened this time because “Tanny’s” is a beautiful, inspiring and tragic tale and her dancing is honestly some of the most beautiful ballet footage I’ve seen. Talk about a Monday Muse...
Born in Paris to an American mother and a French father, Tanny won a scholarship to the prestigious School of American Ballet in 1941 at the ripe old age of 11. She was soon taken under the wing of George Balanchine (the father of American Ballet) and quickly progressed through the ranks - eventually becoming a principal dancer for the New York City Ballet in her late teens. By 1952 she and Balanchine were married, she was 23 and he was 48. Balanchine began to feature Tanny heavily in productions and started to create ballets specifically inspired by her for her to perform.
with George Balanchine
In the most heartbreaking twists of fate, three weeks after her 27th birthday, while on tour in Europe with the NYCB, Tanny began to complain about not feeling well. A day or two later she was diagnosed with Polio, quarantined and put into an iron lung for several weeks. She eventually returned to the states but despite Balanchine's best attempts at rehabilitating his muse, Tanny would never fully recover - She never walked, or danced, again. Balanchine rather obviously, in my humble opinion, soon turned his attention to a younger up and coming prima ballerina and hastily divorced Tanny. Though I will point out that he never did remarry and they remained close throughout his life.
Years later she was convinced by a dancer friend to start teaching ballet at his school in Harlem. The hope in her story is that she went on to live a full life even though she was confined to her wheelchair. She died in 2000 at the age of 71.
I highly recommend watching the documentary if you are a fan of ballet or are curious about her story. It's a reminder that life can change in an instant and so often does.