Emmy-winning filmmaker Nancy Buirski spotlights Le Clercq’s ballet career, struggle with polio, and influence on George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and dance.
Of all the great ballerinas, Tanaquil Le Clercq (1929–2000), known as “Tanny,” was surely among the most transcendent. With a body unlike any before hers, she mesmerized viewers and choreographers alike as principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, and became a muse to both her husband George Balanchine and friend Jerome Robbins. Then, at age 27 and the height of her fame, Le Clercq was paralyzed by polio; she never danced again. Emmy- and Peabody-winning filmmaker Nancy Buirski (The Loving Story) brings Tanny’s poignant story to the screen for the first time in American Masters — Tanaquil Le Clercq: Afternoon of a Faun.
To illustrate Tanny’s personality, exquisite dancing and long, racehorse physique, which became the new prototype for Balanchine’s ballet dancers, the film uses photos, home movies and kinescopes, including a rare recording of her voice. American Masters — Tanaquil Le Clercq: Afternoon of a Faun also features new interviews with those who knew her, including fellow New York City Ballet dancers Jacques d’Amboise and Arthur Mitchell and friends Randy Bourscheidt (former president of the Alliance for the Arts), Barbara Horgan (Balanchine’s long-time assistant), and Pat McBride Lousada (former dancer). These first-hand stories combined with evocative music and archival footage reveal how one woman influenced an entire art form and sparked the creative imagination and adoration of two of its most prolific, renowned creators.
“Tanny was the nexus of inspiration, beauty and invention, suddenly turned into a statistic. I wanted to treat her dramatic experience as poetry and create an intimate film that captured this mood,” said writer, director and producer Nancy Buirski. “I’m thrilled Tanny will join Balanchine and Robbins — the men she inspired — as ‘American Masters.’”
“I’m eager for our viewers to discover Tanny and her inspiring life story,” said Michael Kantor, executive producer of American Masters. “Films like Nancy’s are what make the series unique. Masters are not just the names you know, but the creators, performers and industry titans who leave an indelible impact on our culture.”
A DVD will be available June 24 from Kino Lorber. The documentary had its world premiere at the 51st New York Film Festival and was an official selection at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival.
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.
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.