Nancy Buirski gives us a beautiful, heart-wrenching film documenting the life, love, and work of ballerina Tanaquil Le Clerq. A muse to both Balanchine and Robbins, Le Clercq contracted polio at the height of her dancing prowess. Although she survived, she lost the use of her legs and lived the rest of her life in a wheelchair. A captivating presence, Tanaquil Le Clercq haunts the film through archival performance footage, interviews with colleagues and friends, and the various letters she wrote and received.
I was completely engrossed in this film. All of the interviews are wonderful, but I found Jacques d’Amboise’s accounts particularly earnest and poetic. He recounts how all the dancers lined up to get the polio vaccination before going on a European tour, and Tanny stepped out of line, opting to wait, fearing the side effects of the shot would make the flight to Europe too uncomfortable. Arthur Mitchell recounts how further into the tour, Tanny complained of feeling miserable and stiff all over.
At times the film became a hard to watch for me. Memories of my own injury in Europe, having to leave my company, and wondering if I would ever dance again began to flood my mind as echoes of this experience surfaced in the film. Jacques d’Amboise reaches into the heart of the matter when he asks who a dancer becomes when they are unable to dance. To have dancing wrenched from a dancer’s life unexpectedly is a peculiar type of tragedy.
Arthur Mitchell’s extending of a teaching offer at Dance Theatre of Harlem to Tanny provides a certain resolution. How wonderful for the students at DTH to learn from Tanaquil, one of the great ballerinas of the 20th century. Arthur Mitchell attributes the technique and performance of DTH star Virginia Johnson to the tutelage of Le Clercq while we are treated to clips of Johnson’s brilliant dancing of Mitchell’s Creole Giselle.
AFTERNOON OF A FAUN Trailer:
Dance documentaries provide new insight into events we may have heard or read about, but allow us to participate and understand more fully the experiences that have shaped the dance community. Another recent dance documentary I’m not sure I mentioned earlier is Miss Hill: Making Dance Matter, which documents the life of Martha HIll. I was treated to a viewing of this brilliant film while at ADF this summer. It really illuminates many aspects regarding the genesis and development of modern dance training in the United States in ways that I had not previously thought about. Trailer is below, enjoy!