Unrequited Love in Tanaquil Le Clercq’s Afternoon of a Faun
Several days ago I found myself watching a documentary, it was one of those rare stories that mixed promise, tragedy, and unrequited love. Nancy Buirski’s Afternoon of a Faun is follows the life of Tanaquil Le Clercq, a young ballet dancer with the American Ballet, as she becomes a Balanchine muse and eventually his wife. When Tanaquil’s develops polio, her life is changed forever; she’s left immobile and sent to a treatment facility in Warm Springs, Georgia. Buirski’s depicts a devoted Balanchine as a devoted husband who desperately sought the best care for his wife, he truly believed Tanny, as she was called, would dance again. This would never happen, in fact, Tanny spent the rest of life in a wheelchair.
The story of Tanny offers insight into a relationship that she chose not to pursue; Jerome Robbins loved her. In the documentary, a narrator reads excerpts of Robbins’ letters and it’s clear he was in love with her. The film opens and closes with archival footage from Afternoon of a Faun, Le Clercq and Robbins dancing. I can’t help but wonder, what if Tanny had chosen Jerome Robbins? These two choreographers were in love with Tanny and she chose George Balanchine, yet as she lay stricken with polio, letters from Jerry brought her the most comfort. Why is that? What did her friendship with Robbins give her?
The correspondence between Tanny and Jerome Robbins hints at the complexity of their relationship, his passionate letters were revealing. I found their relationship mesmerizing, the love that could have been explored yet wasn’t; Robbins never measured up to Balanchine in the eyes of Tanny. We all know that Balanchine, eventually left Tanny for Suzanne Farrell; but her relationship with Robbins spanned decades.
The New York Public Library holds Jerome Robbins’ personal correspondence, I do wonder why it hasn’t been published. Robbins spent much of his life infatuated with Tanny, these feelings must have been a source of confusion for him. The documentary offers us just a glimpse into their lifelong attachment, I do hope that a biographer decides to research their relationship further, interview friends as well as colleagues and seek permission to publish their letters. It’s a project worth exploring for the right researcher.
My own relationship with ballet is one reason this documentary resonates with me (a ballet dancer is a main character in my manuscript). It is heartbreaking to see her career end so suddenly but learning Tanny carved a place for herself in this world is inspiring. She lived decades longer than doctors expected and went on to teach at the Dance Theatre of Harlem. This film is a fascinating look at Tanaquil Le Clercq’s life.
Nancy Buirski’s interview here.
Film website: http://www.afternoonofafaun.com
New York Public Library Jerome Robbins Dance Division: http://www.nypl.org/locations/divisions/jerome-robbins-dance-division