Known for her long limbs and leggy grace, Tanaquil Le Clercq was one of the most transcendent American ballerinas of her generation. George Balanchine’s fourth and final wife, Le Clercq was an inspirational muse for both Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, who choreographed Afternoon of a Faun for her in 1953. The ballet, described as “a chance encounter between two young dancers in a studio,” is dedicated to Le Clercq, who shines in this 1953 clip alongside partner Jacques d’Amboise.
This excerpt comes from “Tanaquil Le Clercq: Afternoon of a Faun,” part of the PBS American Masters series, and showcases the few rare clips that exist of her dancing. My favorite moment comes at 0:35 as Le Clercq starts her slow, one-legged descent on pointe, holding her leg in attitude to the back, completely parallel to the floor. Towards the end of the video you can hear d’Amboise, longtime partner and close friend of Le Clercq’s, narrating his love for Le Clercq over the music.
Le Clercq’s career came to a tragic close when she contracted polio on NYCB’s 1956 European tour. She was never able to dance again, yet her legacy lives on through the beautiful ballets created for her. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!