One of the opening scenes of this movie shows Tanaquil dancing with Jacques d'Amboise. This really captured the essence of the film for me. Graceful effortless dancing, with emotional depth in an unusual and creative setting. Thus we are led into the story of Tanaquil Le Clercq, her upbringing in Paris and New York, disappearance of her father and with a strong mother.Enter a genius father/mentor figure in George Balanchine and the future unfolds. The story is told with original photos and film footage. Personal interviews with Tanaquil's collaborators and close friends give us a 360deg picture of her development. Jacques d'Amboise, Jerome Robbins, Arthur Mitchell, Barbara Horgan and Patricia McBride gives us the inside information on an artist that embraced her craft and inspired others.We are informed of the inspiring but difficult relationship with Balanchine. One interview with Balanchine might be of interest to Canadians. The interviewer was a reporter with the CBC (smoking his trademark cigarette) who went on to be the first separatist premier of Quebec - Rene Levesque! When Tanaquil comes down with polio, it is a bitter pill, considering her earlier performance at a polio benefit. This really heightens the sense of tragedy that seems to go part and parcel with great artistic achievement. However, she was not defeated and continued to lead a meaningful and vibrant life.
While part of me might have wanted more gossipy details at certain points in the film, overall this is a worthy tribute. Ms. Le Clerc was already in a wheelchair when I started going to the NYC Ballet, so I never got to see her dance. The archival videos of "Tanny" in this documentary are revelatory. And there are wonderful contributions from Jacques d'Amboise and Patricia McBride as talking heads. The film reinforces what I have felt for the past 40 years: that being alive during George Balanchine's (and Jerome Robbins's and Lincoln Kirstein's) life was akin to having Mozart across town. I had SEVEN subscriptions to NYCB in the 70's and 80's, and its repertoire and dancers have made my aesthetic what it is today.
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 na?ve 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.