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Of all the great ballerinas, Tanaquil Le Clercq may have been the most transcendent. With a body unlike any before hers, she mesmerized viewers and choreographers alike - her elongated, race-horse physique became the new prototype for the great George Balanchine. Her unique style, humor and authenticity redefined ballet for all dancers who followed. Amazingly, she was the muse to not one great artist but two; both George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins loved her as a dancer and a woman. Balanchine married her and Robbins created his famous version of Afternoon of a Faun for Tanny. Tanaquil Le Clercq was the foremost dancer of her day until it suddenly all stopped. On a tour of Europe, she was struck down by polio and paralyzed. She never danced again.Written by
Director, Nancy Buirski
Even those with little or no interest in ballet will be moved by "Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq," a documentary about one of the finest dancers ever to grace the stage, one who, like Lou Gehrig, was struck down by a disease of unspeakable awfulness in the prime of her life (though, unlike Gehrig, she managed to live to almost 80 despite her illness).
A favorite pupil of famed choreographers, George Ballanchine and Jerome Robbins, Tanaquil, or "Tanny" to her friends. stood out from her ballerina contemporaries due to her unusual tallness and angular frame. The film chronicles her rigorous, sheltered youth, her tumultuous marriage to Ballanchine, her phenomenal success on the stage. And, then, just as she was on the top of the world professionally, tragedy - of a particularly cruel nature for a person used to making a living and perfecting her art with her body - befell her in the form of a severe case of polio, a case so severe, in fact, that she was forced to endure time in an iron lung and ultimately to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair.
Through an abundance of stills and kinescope recordings, we get to see a great deal of Tanaquil's work. These are supplemented by interviews with those who knew Tanny both on a professional level and as personal friends. Most poignant are the recitations of the letters Tanny wrote at the height of her illness, many of them from a rehabilitation center where she was receiving treatment. Her resolve and inner strength, along with her almost naïve hope for the future, pour forth in great abundance from the writings.
One thing that strikes us most in Tanny's post-polio life is her determination to remain independent in the face of her disability. And, indeed, the movie ends on a high note, as we learn that Tanny spent the better part of her life imparting her priceless wisdom and insight to young dancers from her wheelchair.
The movie provides an inspiring portrait of an inspiring person.
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