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Originally published Thursday, April 24, 2014 at 3:05 PM

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‘Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil LeClerq’: dancer, interrupted

in “Afternoon of a Faun,” the beauty and tragedy of ballerina Tanaquil LeClerq emerges.


Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review 3.5 stars

‘Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil LeClerq,’ a documentary directed by Nancy Buirski. 91 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. Varsity.

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She was, says dancer Jacques d’Amboise, “this elongated, stretched-out path to heaven”; a leggy wisp of a woman, with knowing eyes and a slash of a mouth, who danced as if blown by a gentle breeze. Tanaquil LeClerq, muse of both George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, is a name associated, in the ballet world, with great beauty and great tragedy: At 26, a star ballerina touring Europe with Balanchine’s New York City Ballet (NYCB) in the 1950s, she collapsed and was rushed to a hospital. The diagnosis was polio; she never danced again.

“Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil LeClerq” tells her story, through shadowy footage of her dancing, home movies and photographs of her quiet later life, and reminiscences of friends and colleagues. You wish there were more ballet clips, and that they were in better condition — you watch them through the blur of time — but the great dancer everyone called “Tanny” shines through. In Robbins’ exquisite “Afternoon of a Faun,” which opens the film, she’s mesmerizing, gazing at the camera as if it were a mirror and extending her endless legs to the sky; in Balanchine’s “La Valse,” she whirls, appropriately and chillingly, with a character called Death.

We learn that Balanchine, to whom LeClerq was married at the time of her illness, was haunted by that dance (and by another, created for a March of Dimes benefit some time before that European tour, in which Balanchine himself portrayed Polio and LeClerq a victim); that fellow NYCB member Arthur Mitchell “saved her life” by inviting LeClerq to teach, from her wheelchair, at his fledgling Dance Theatre of Harlem; that d’Amboise, to this day, tears up when talking of LeClerq and “La Valse.” And we see her, as a teenager, dancing an early solo for the camera; like a mosquito on pointe, she’s all uncanny angles and lines, with a barely tamed wildness. LeClerq, who lived her later years with a fierce independence, died in 2001; in this thoughtful, quiet film, she lives on.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com



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