American Masters A series examining the lives, works, and creative processes of outstanding artists. Tue, 22 Jul 2014 20:11:19 +0000 en hourly 1 Dorothea Lange: Video: “Migrant Mother” Photo Series at the Library of Congress Mon, 07 Jul 2014 15:03:37 +0000 knightc View full post to see video)

Migrant Mother, the iconic photo representing America’s Great Depression, is part of the body of work Dorothea Lange created while working for the Farm Security Administration. Many of Lange’s photographs of migrant farmers, sharecroppers and Dust Bowl farmers from that period are held today at the Library of Congress. While researching the film  American Masters — Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning, director Dyanna Taylor — Lange’s granddaughter  — visited the Library of Congress to discuss Lange’s photos with a curator at the library.

Migrant Mother is just one of a series of photos Lange shot at a pea pickers’ camp in California. It was a stop she almost didn’t make. She had passed the sign for the camp while driving home from another assignment, and after some miles of thinking about it, turned her car around to visit the camp. The story of the photo is discussed in Taylor’s very first visit to the Lange collection at the Library of Congress, which was filmed for Picturing America (July 2011), a program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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Dorothea Lange: Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning Tue, 24 Jun 2014 17:08:29 +0000 knightc (View full post to see video)
Her celebrated photograph Migrant Mother is one of the most recognized and arresting images in the world, a haunting portrait that came to represent the suffering of America’s Great Depression. Yet few know the story, struggles and profound body of work of the woman who created the portrait: Dorothea Lange (May 26, 1895 — Oct. 11, 1965).

American Masters — Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning premiering nationwide Friday, August 29 at 9-11 pm on PBS (check local listings) explores the life, passions and uncompromising vision of the influential photographer, whose enduring images document five turbulent decades of American history, including the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and World War II Japanese internment camps. Peabody- and five-time Emmy award-winning cinematographer Dyanna Taylor — the granddaughter of Lange and writer/social scientist Paul Schuster Taylor — directs and narrates this intimate American Masters documentary.

Taylor, who learned to see the visual world through her grandmother’s eyes, combines family memories and journals with never-before-seen photos and film footage to bring Lange’s story into sharp focus. The result is a personal documentary of the artist whose empathy for people on the margins of society challenged America to know itself.

The film features newly discovered interviews and vérité scenes with Lange from her Bay Area home studio, circa 1962-1965, including work on her unprecedented, one-woman career retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Showcasing more than 800 works by Lange, her first husband Maynard Dixon and second husband Paul Schuster Taylor combined, American Masters — Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning reveals the camera as Lange’s first muse and the confluence of artists at work and in love. Explaining the impact of these relationships on Lange’s life and documentary photography style, filmmaker/narrator Dyanna Taylor demonstrates the challenges of balancing artistic pursuits and family.

The documentary weaves Lange telling her own story with new interviews of family, friends and colleagues, including Lange’s son Daniel Dixon; Lange’s goddaughter and biographer Elizabeth Partridge; Richard Conrad, Lange’s assistant for the MoMA exhibit; photographer Rondal Partridge, Lange’s assistant and son of photographers Imogen Cunningham and Roi Partridge; Becky Jenkins, Maynard Dixon’s granddaughter; Dr. Margot Taylor-Fanger, Paul Schuster Taylor’s daughter; and many others.

“My grandmother’s photographs grew out of her depth as a person. Ever since I began my career in filmmaking, I’ve wanted to make a film which would express the true breadth of her work and the ways she perceived the world,” said Dyanna Taylor, whose past work on American Masters films includes Ernest Hemingway: Rivers to the Sea and F. Scott Fitzgerald – Winter Dreams. “During my young years, as we spent time together, she taught me how to see, to understand that nothing is as it appears at first glance.”

“We are fortunate to have a family member, who is also a talented filmmaker, telling Dorothea Lange’s remarkable life story in a way that no one else possibly could,” said Michael Kantor, executive producer of American Masters.

A DVD will be available September 9, 2014, from PBS Distribution. The film’s companion book, Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning (Chronicle Books) by Elizabeth Partridge, is available now.

Launched in 1986 by series creator Susan Lacy, American Masters has earned 26 Emmy Awards — including nine for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series since 1999 and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special — 12 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards, and many other honors. Now in its 28th season on PBS, the series is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET. WNET is the parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21, New York’s public television stations, and operator of NJTV. For more than 50 years, THIRTEEN has been a partner with the tri-state community, using its rich resources to inform and inspire the passionate people of New York and the world to better understand and address the issues that challenge our diverse communities.

To take American Masters beyond the television broadcast and further explore the themes, stories and personalities of masters past and present, the companion website ( offers streaming video of select films, interviews, photos, outtakes, essays and other resources. American Masters is also seen on the WORLD channel, a 24/7, full-service multicast channel featuring public television’s signature nonfiction documentary, science and news programming, broadcast in nearly two-thirds of the United States.

Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning is a co-production of Raven Rouge, Inc., Katahdin Productions and THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC’s American Masters for WNET. Dyanna Taylor is producer, writer and director. Roberta Grossman is producer. David Leach is editor. Jami Sieber and Evan Schiller are original score composers. Susan Lacy, Michael Kantor and Lisa Thomas are executive producers.

American Masters is made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Rosalind P. Walter, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Rolf and Elizabeth Rosenthal, Jack Rudin, Vital Projects Fund, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation, and public television viewers. Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning is made possible by the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Cal Humanities.

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Tanaquil Le Clercq: Watch a Star Ballerina in Action Thu, 05 Jun 2014 21:31:37 +0000 knightc Watch star ballerina “Tanny” (Tanaquil Le Clercq) in action in these five fantastic gifs showing off her technique and flair. All footage is from performances she gave with the New York City Ballet.

1. Spotting turns in George Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco.

Tanaquil Le Clercq Concerto Barocco gif

When a dancer rotates her body in a turn, she’ll usually keep her head and focus in a fixed place, lagging behind the body’s rotation for as long as possible. This is called “spotting.” One of the benefits to spotting is that it prevents a spinning dancer from getting dizzy!

2. Falling with composure in George Balanchine’s Symphony in C.

Tanaquil Le Clercq Symphony in C

Tanny’s cool composure while falling backwards in Symphony in C captivated Jerome Robbins and sealed his decision to join George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet. “Tanny Le Clercq made me cry when she fell backward and I thought, ‘oh boy, I want to work with the company,’” said Robbins.

3. Fancy footwork in Lew Christensen’s comic ballet, Con Amore.

Tanaquil Le Clercq in Con Amore on Red Skelton show

Tanny executes quick footwork in the New York City Ballet’s appearance on the Red Skelton television show in 1954.

4. Strutting her stuff in George Balanchine’s Western Symphony.

Tanquil Le Clercq in Western Symphony ballet

Tanny flirtatiously struts her stuff en pointe (on pointe shoes) in George Balanchine’s Western Symphony, which she performed the last night she ever danced in 1956. The next morning she was hospitalized in an iron lung, paralyzed by polio.

5. Afternoon of a Faun: Jerome Robbin’s dedication to Tanaquil Le Clercq

Tanaquil Le Clercq and Jacques d'Amboise in Afternoon of a Faun ballet
Jerome Robbins created the romantic pas de deux (duet) on Tanny in 1953. Above, she partners with Jacques d’Amboise, who described the experience of dancing with Tanny this way: “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.”

See more of Tanaquil Le Clercq’s dancing in American Masters — Tanaquil Le Clercq: Afternoon of a Faun, premiering nationally Friday, June 20, 10-11:30 p.m. on PBS (check local listings, New York metro area at 9 p.m. on THIRTEEN).

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Tanaquil Le Clercq: Online Sneak Peek Screening with the Film Director Thu, 05 Jun 2014 18:20:17 +0000 knightc Tanaquil Le Clercq: Afternoon of a Faun preview with filmmaker

Sign in to the free online sneak peek screening.

On Thursday, June 19 at 8:30 pm EST, join American Masters and the filmmaker of Tanaquil Le Clercq: Afternoon of a Faun, Nancy Buirski, for an extended preview (the first 20 minutes!) of the film, co-hosted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

The online preview takes place one day before the national television premiere on Friday, June 20 on PBS (check local listings).

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Tanaquil Le Clercq: Polio and Famous People Who Survived It Thu, 05 Jun 2014 16:25:33 +0000 knightc View full post to see video)
The career of ballerina Tanaquil Le Clercq, featured in American Masters — Tanaquil Le Clercq: Afternoon of a Faun, was cut short by polio, which left some of her limbs permanently paralyzed. The film excerpt above shows archival footage of “iron lungs” that enabled people severely paralyzed by polio to breathe. Le Clercq survived the early stage of her polio in one of these machines. Polio was prevalent worldwide up until the mid-20th century and has largely been eradicated for the past 40 years thanks to a vaccine developed in the 1950s. Today, many people are unaware of what the disease is, although as of 2014, polio has come back in several countries, particularly in Syria, Pakistan and Cameroon.

What is Polio?

The iron lung ward at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital in Downey, CA, circa 1953.

The iron lung ward at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital in Downey, CA, circa 1953.

Also known as infantile paralysis because it mostly affects children under the age of five, polio is a viral, infectious disease spread by humans that can inflame the central nervous system. While the infection normally causes no symptoms, some people have suffered its worst symptom, paralysis. When breathing muscles are affected, polio can lead to death. In the U.S., there were major epidemics in 1916 and in the 1940s and 1950s. Children and adults paralyzed by polio often lost movement in their breathing muscles and were kept alive by being placed in an “iron lung,” or negative pressure ventilator, which served to contract and expand their lungs to intake and expel air. People often recovered use of their breathing muscles over time. Some experienced full recovery, while others would need to use a wheelchair or crutches for the rest of their lives.

Famous Polio Survivors

Among the famous survivors of polio are President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who contracted polio in 1921 at the age of 39 and used a wheelchair thereafter, though he attempted to hide his paralysis during public appearances. Tanaquil Le Clercq, the New York City ballet soloist who contracted the disease in 1956 at the age of 27, at first needed to be placed in an iron lung, but she recovered to a point where she could move freely using a wheelchair. Actress Mia Farrow contracted polio in the 1950s at the age of nine and used an iron lung while hospitalized for eight months before recovering. Other polio survivors include actors Alan Alda and Donald Sutherland; musicians Itzhak Perlman,  Neil Young and Joni Mitchell; and photographer Dorothea Lange, who like Tanaquil Le Clercq, is the subject of an American Masters film in 2014 (Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning).

Tanaquil Le Clerq’s First Brush With Polio

George Balanchine and Tanaquil Le Clercq in rehearsal studio. Photo courtesy August Films.

George Balanchine and Tanaquil Le Clercq in rehearsal studio. Photo courtesy August Films.

As recounted in American Masters — Tanaquil Le Clercq: Afternoon of a Faun, in 1946 the choreographer George Balanchine was asked to make a dance for a March of Dimes fundraiser in New York City. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had founded the nonprofit charity in 1938 to combat polio and help those who had contracted it. Children were encouraged to donate a dime to the charity, hence its name. Balanchine, then Le Clercq’s mentor and later her husband, created “Resurgence” in which the ballerina dances a grim pas de deux with the figure of polio.

“In that version it [the dance] had a happy ending,” explains Randy Bourscheidt in the film, “but she [Tanny] was the girl Balanchine selected from the School of American Ballet to dance the role of the victim, and most incredibly, he danced the role of polio.”

Unlike the role of the young woman she played in “Resurgence,” Tanny would not recover to dance again.​

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Tanaquil Le Clercq: Video: Respect for People with Disabilities – Humor and Comebacks Thu, 05 Jun 2014 16:03:41 +0000 knightc View full post to see video)

The dancer Tanaquil Le Clercq lived her life fully after being partially paralyzed by polio at the age of 27. She taught ballet classes at Dance Theatre of Harlem and wrote a cookbook as well as a children’s book. Her legs and one hand may not have functioned as they once did, but everything else about her continued to thrive, including her wit.

“She had an astonishing sense of humor about her physical condition,” says her friend Randy Bourscheidt in an outtake interview from American Masters — Tanaquil Le Clercq: Afternoon of a Faun. He tells a story illustrating how people with a visible disability are not always shown the respect they deserve, and how humor is always a good comeback.

Le Clerq, in a wheelchair, and Bourscheidt faced a long line at a New York City movie theater, so they approached the manager to ask if they could go to the head of the line in order to secure a place that would accommodate them.

Bourscheidt describes what happened: “Looking at me over her head, he said ‘Does she get out of the chair?’ and from below him she said, “Yes, and she talks, too!”

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Tanaquil Le Clercq: Watch Le Clercq in New York City Ballet Repertoire Thu, 05 Jun 2014 14:44:03 +0000 knightc 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

(View full post to see video)
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


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

(View full post to see video)
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.

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