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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 Ballet.

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." O'Hara wrote:

"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, you are."

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 Trust.

Said Mason:

"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 me.

"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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