Today we’re watching ballet

Fair warning: I’m going to gush a bit. If you are a fan of ballet–or even just a good story–grab “Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq”. A superb documentary detailing the career of Tanaquil Le Clercq, the muse of George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, “Faun” provides interviews with some of her partners and friends as well as clips of her performances. Although I had known of her for years, I had never seen her dance, and it was a revelation. Le Clercq was blessed with a remarkable profile and long, long, LONG limbs she used to stunning effect during her short career. Her extraordinary beauty reminded me of the bust of Nefertiti–somehow far removed from the mere mortal–and her musicality was utterly unique.

She met Balanchine when she was fourteen, and the next year he selected her for the lead in a small ballet for a polio benefit. With Balanchine dancing as the personification of Polio, Le Clercq played the part of a young dancer stricken with the disease. The ballet had a happy ending, but Le Clercq’s story was more complicated. She became Balanchine’s fourth–or fifth, depending upon whether you count a common-law union–wife when she was twenty-three. Four years later, during a European tour, Le Clercq fell ill in Copenhagen–with polio. She would never dance or walk again. Their relationship, always turbulent, did not survive his infatuation with a new prima ballerina, and they divorced in the 1960s.

The photographs in the documentary–along with the performance clips–are stunning, but the most moving interludes are the conversations with her former partners. In particular, Jacques d’Amboise fairly vibrated when he talked about her. Her allure is undimmed, and “Afternoon of a Faun” is an extraordinary look at an extraordinary life. Must see.