This film excerpt from American Masters — Tanaquil Le Clercq: Afternoon of a Faun opens with footage of Le Clercq performing in Concerto Barocco, a George Balanchine masterpiece, choreographed to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. The two lead female roles represent the lead violins of Bach’s composition, Concerto in D minor for Two Violins.
Tanaquil, who went by the name Tanny, was a young student at the School of American Ballet when she caught the attention of Balanchine. Her body, tall and thin, was unusual at the time for a ballet dancer, but Tanny’s talent and personality led her to become Balanchine’s muse. Tanny’s body type became what people call “the ideal” Balanchine dancer, according to Barbara Horgan, Balanchine’s personal assistant at the New York City Ballet for 20 years.
“It wasn’t an absolutely perfect classical body,” says Pat McBride Lousada, a former New York City Ballet member and contemporary of Tanny’s. “She had a very stylish, witty way of dancing. It was very individual. What’s interesting is that Balanchine — although he looked for wonderful classicism and he liked dancers who were able to do the steps wonderfully — he also went for people who had a strong personality on stage. Those were the ones that became his muses.”
Tanaquil Le Clercq was one of Balanchine’s muses.