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Flash Report 2, 1-7:
LeClercq Laid to Rest
Ballet World Bids a Ballerina Adieu
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2001 The Dance Insider
On what was apparently
the anniversary of her wedding to George Balanchine, and as the
leading lights of the ballet world looked on, legendary New York
City Ballet ballerina Tanaquil LeClercq was laid to rest Friday,
in a humble ceremony at St. Ignatius of Antioch Church on the Upper
West Side of Manhattan. The seminal ballerina passed away on New
Year's Eve, at the age of 71, of pneumonia.
Those turning out to
mourn "Tanny," as friends and colleagues knew her, included a somber
Suzanne Farrell, who succeeded LeClercq as Balanchine's last muse.
Appearing with a dark red poncho over her shoulders, her long blonde
hair falling free, Farrell, as she sat in a pew towards the front
of the church, looked crestfallen. Arthur Mitchell, another former
NYCB star and the founder of Dance Theatre of Harlem, broke up in
tears and reached for his handkerchief as LeClercq's coffin was
removed from the church, while 71 bells tolled to mark the years
she was on this Earth.
Also bidding farewell
to the ballerina who dazzled audiences with her eternal wit, sophistication,
and idiosyncratic beauty until polio ended her career in 1956 were
Edward Bigelow, Balanchine's former right-hand man; legendary star
Jacques d'Amboise; John Taras; NYCB ballet-master-in-chief Peter
Martins; principal dancer Darci Kistler; former NYCB and current
White Oak dancer Emily Coates; former NYCB principal Lourdes Lopez;
Ballet Review editor Francis Mason; and Joy Williams Brown and Nancy
Norman Lassalle, who studied with LeClercq at the School of American
In a brief but moving
sermon, the Reverend Stephen S. Garney, vicar of Calvary Church,
noted that "When she saw she could no longer dance, Tanny soon revealed
that she had other gifts up her sleeve," teaching younger dancers,
and writing books, "all with that irrepressible spirit and horror
at pretension. She was not conventionally religious, she gave unconventional
dinner parties, had an unconventional cat, and didn't care for the
New York Times, which she thought was too conventional."
Reverend Garney then
quoted Frank O'Hara's Ode to Tanny, penned in 1960, in which, said
Garney, the writer caught her "great beauty and abhorrence to affectation."
"Because you were beautiful,
you were hunted, and with the courage of a vase, you refused to
become a deer or tree, and the world held its breath, to see if
you were there, and safe." Concluded Garney: "Now, of course, Tanny,
The reverend also praised
LeClercq's "courage and fortitude," and noted that in times of trouble,
she often went to bed holding a small crucifix.
At an intimate post-funeral
reception at the School of American Ballet, there was more reflection
from the ballerina's old colleagues and school-mates.
"She's the reason I'm
here," said Nancy Reynolds, who heads the Balanchine Foundation,
and who recalled LeClercq as her first ballet instructor, "a 21-year-old
gorgeous teacher." Of her personality, Reynolds remembered most
of all "her wit. She was terribly clever and amusing, and hated
pretension." As a performer, she said, LeClercq "was unique -- with
this incredible sophistication. Even as a young girl, she never
looked like a young girl.... She had a Frenchness," particularly
in her cheekbones, "and this beautiful head of hair, that always
fell in a pageboy, and she could be terribly witty but also touching."
Originating the role of the Ballerina in Jerome Robbins's 1956 "The
Concert," Reynolds said, LeClercq "was so high-strung funny. She
was so willowy and gorgeous, so for her to be funny" was truly unique.
Joy Williams Brown, who
still possesses a letter LeClercq wrote when she was ten years old,
when asked what she recalled of LeClercq, pointed out, "As we know,
the dancers who mean something, even in the beginning you know it
right away. Tanny was always a presence. She was right on top of
everything, even at the age of 10." Nancy Norman Lassalle, who also
studied with LeClercq in the classes of Anatole Oboukhoff and Pierre
Vladimiroff, encountered LeClercq even earlier, at King Coit School:
"She always had this immense quality," Lassalle said, even before
she reached ten.
And, said Brown, "Tanny
looked exactly the same at the age of nine or ten as these many
years later," particularly in her face and in the way she carried
herself. "Her body never changed; the spark; the intelligence."
Added Lassalle: "The
one thing she had about her was a real womanliness."
"She wasn't funny per
se," explained Brown, "she was just right on."
Earlier this week, Francis
Mason and Zippora Karz sent the DI their reflections on LeClercq.
Mr. Mason is a longtime ballet scholar and critic, and the editor
of "Balanchine's Complete Stories of the Great Ballets," among other
books. Ms. Karz is a former New York City Ballet soloist, who now
teaches dance in Los Angeles and stages ballets for the Balanchine
"Tanaquil LeClercq, a
great glamorous ballerina, was also a typical American girl. Robbins
adored her as did Balanchine. Side by side they made unrivalled
roles for her. I do not believe Robbins ever made better ballets
after the ones he made with Tanny. She was the real muse, the adorable
girl and superb dancer who took him out of himself and inspired
great things. Her spunk as a performer came from a personal energy
and charm so strong that in her illness it was transformed into
gallantry and consideration not just for herself but for other individuals.
It's an old bromide that the dancers who create the original roles
in ballets are unrivalled. For me, that is only true of LeClercq
and Tallchief, whose personal elan was so caught by Balanchine and
Robbins as to be unduplicatable. There are rare films and tapes
of LeClercq but 'Concerto Barocco' with Diana Adams and the 'Western
Symphony' filmed in Paris in 1956 just before polio ended her career
so tragically are absolutely essential. One look at those films
will tell you that Tanaquil LeClercq will always be with us."
Zippora Karz wrote:
"I did work with Tanny
during the Balanchine Celebration, but what I would say about her
from me personally dates back to my SAB years. Back in 1983 I performed
for the workshop performance the lead in 4th movement 'Western Symphony,'
Tanny's part. Suki Schorer staged it and picked me for that part.
I remember Suki having a small group of us to her house to watch
the videotape of the original cast. I had only seen pictures of
Tanny and was always so in awe of her tremendous beauty and glamour.
I was quite freaked to say the least to be dancing a role created
for her; I certainly was not the glamour woman type, especially
at 17 years old. Well, what a life-changing moment it was to see
her perform 'Western.' I was prepared for Hollywood aloofness and
sex appeal, and what I saw was pure unabandoned joy and energy and
fun. Sure, she was sexy and glamorous, and had the most beautiful
technique and legs to match, but it was her personality I just fell
in love with. One viewing of Tanaquil LeClercq and I will forever
think differently about what it is to be a dancer and a performer.
I did try to tell her on occasion how much she inspired me, but
how do you ever really convey to another person just how deeply
they impacted the way you think and work? She certainly did for
"I have another story
that involves my mother. My mother attended the Juilliard School
of Music dance program in 1956-1959. While she was there as a modern
dance major she read an article about Tanny being stricken with
polio and subsequently ending up in a wheelchair. It was that story
that inspired her to pursue a career as pediatric and geriatric
physical therapist, which she has practiced for the past 38 years.
Though she never met Tanny personally, her heart was so deeply touched
she has held that memory her entire life."
To see photos of Tanaquil
LeClercq, please go to http://www.archivesmhg.com/Personalities/L/Leclerq/TLQ-15.html.
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