June 5th, 2014
Tanaquil Le Clercq
Watch Le Clercq in New York City Ballet Repertoire

American Masters – Tanaquil Le Clercq: Afternoon of a Faun shows Le Clercq (Tanny) performing with George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet in some of his most memorable ballets, including The Four Temperaments, Symphony in C, La Valse and Western Symphony, and in Jerome Robbins’ Afternoon of a Faun. We also see Tanny and Jacques d’Amboise rehearsing George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, for which Tanny was the original Dewdrop. Tanny began her career at the prestigious company as a soloist at the age of 15. Learn about the New York City Ballet repertoire and dancers’ admiration for Tanny, below.

The Four Temperaments

Tanaquil Le Clercq performing Choleric in Balanchine's Four Temperaments

Premiere: November 20, 1946, Ballet Society; October 25, 1948, New York City Ballet
Choreography: George Balanchine
Music: Theme with Four Variations [According to the Four Temperaments], for string orchestra and piano (1940); commissioned by George Balanchine
Original Cast: Beatrice Tompkins, José Martinez, Elise Reiman, Lew Christensen, Gisella Caccialanza, Francisco Moncion, William Dollar, Georgia Hiden, Rita Karlin, Mary Ellen Moylan, Fred Danieli, Todd Bolender, Tanaquil Le Clercq

George Balanchine first cast Tanny at the tender age of 15 in the original role of Choleric in The Four Temperaments, created for the Ballet Society, the precursor to his New York City Ballet. In the film, Jerome Robbins praises Tanny for being a “wild last of the four [temperaments].”

Afternoon of a Faun – Watch Film Excerpt


Tanaquil Le Clercq and Jacques d’Amboise in “Afternoon of a Faun,” an excerpt from the American Masters film (the still image above features Francisco Moncion, who originated the ballet’s male role).

Premiere: May 14, 1953
Choreography: Jerome Robbins
Music: Claude Debussy
Original Cast: Tanaquil Le Clercq, Francisco Moncion

This is the ballet for which American Masters — Tanquil Le Clercq: Afternoon of a Faun is named. Jerome Robbins choreographed the pas de deux for Tanny, with whom he shared a deep friendship. Any romantic feelings they may have had for each other had no outlet since Tanny was devoted to George Balanchine, whom she married in 1952. In written correspondence, Robbins refers to both Tanny’s physicality and her feminine allure.

“Tanny had a quality about her that made me think of a young animal coming into its own, like a gauche young colt soon to become graceful thoroughbred,” wrote Robbins.

About the subtleties in her performances, Robbins wrote, “She had a terrific sexuality underneath with the possibility of that which was much more interesting than the obviousness of it. There was a kind of aura about her.”

Tanny’s frequent partner Jacques d’Amboise acknowledges a transference of love when performing with her, saying, “How can you not love the ballerina you dance with? I mean there you are feeling the heft of her and the sweat of her and the taste of her and the dance with her in love pas de deux.

Symphony in C

Tanny-Ballet-SymphonyC-Split

Tanaquil Le Clercq (center) in “Symphony in C;” image from archival footage in “American Masters — Tanaquil Le Clercq: Afternoon of a Faun.”

NYC Ballet Premiere: October 11, 1948
Choreography: George Balanchine
Music: Georges Bizet’s Symphony No. 1 in C major
NYC Ballet Original Cast: Maria Tallchief, Nicholas Magallanes, Tanaquil Le Clercq, Francisco Moncion, Beatrice Tompkins, Herbert Bliss, Elise Reiman, John Taras

In American Masters — Tanaquil Le Clercq: Afternoon of a Faun, we see Tanny performing in Symphony in C and hear the influence her performance had on Jerome Robbins’ decision to join New York City Ballet. In an archival interview Robbins recalls, “I saw her performance of Symphony in C. And it was at a time when everyone was dancing it so rapturously that I absolutely fell in love with it. Tanny Le Clercq made me cry when she fell backward and I thought, oh boy I want to work with the company.”

Later in her life, Tanny admitted her insecurity when she saw a revised version of the ballet, wondering whether Balanchine made changes because he didn’t like the way she had performed the steps.

La Valse

Tanaquil Le Clercq in La Valse. Photo taken in 1951 by Walter E. Owen (1896-1963).

Tanaquil Le Clercq in La Valse. Photo taken in 1951 by Walter E. Owen (1896-1963).

Premiere: February 20, 1951
Choreography: George Balanchine
Music: Valses Nobles et Sentimentales (1912) and La Valse (1920) by Maurice Ravel
Original Cast: Vida Brown, Edwina Fontaine, Jillana, Patricia Wilde, Frank Hobi, Yvonne Mounsey, Michael Maule, Diana Adams, Herbert Bliss, Tanaquil Le Clercq, Nicholas Magallanes, Franciso Moncion

The waltz rhythms of Ravel’s La Valse sets Balanchine’s choreography in motion. According to the New York City Ballet website, the mood of the ballet is “superficial gaiety mixed with an uncertain feeling of impending catastrophe.” In the film’s archival footage, Tanny dances the soloist role of a woman who is seduced by the figure of death before falling lifeless to the floor.





Western Symphony – Watch Film Excerpt


Premiere: September 7, 1954
Choreography: George Balanchine
Music: Traditional American melodies
Original Cast: Diana Adams, Janet Reed, Patricia Wilde, Tanaquil Le Clercq, Herbert Bliss, Nicholas Magallanes, André Eglevsky, Jacques d’Amboise

Depicting the Old Wild West in music and costume, Balanchine’s “American” dance uses traditional ballet vocabulary but adds gestures of American folk dance. In American Masters — Tanaquil Le Clercq: Afternoon of a Faun, we see Tanny performing Western Symphony with Jacques d’Amboise​. This ballet and Afternoon of a Faun were two of the last dances d’Amboise performed on tour with Tanny before she fell ill. In the film, fellow New York City Ballet dancer Arthur Mitchell describes his own last night performing Western Symphony with Tanny in Copenhagen, hours before polio would paralyze her.

Salinger

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