an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me | Advertise | Follow me:

Glimpses #4: Re-inventing Tanny

Now that truth and privacy have been banished from our culture, it’s not astonishing (or, apparently, actionable) that Varley O’Connor should have co-opted a chunk of a singular artist’s life and “novelized” it.  Tanaquil LeClercq was not a heroine in a middle-brow tale.  She was a unique, fascinating, and—for those, like me, who saw her dance—unforgettable ballerina who was dealt the worst hand imaginable—paralysis.  She was, for the period O’Connor covers, the muse and wife of the New York City Ballet’s George Balanchine, the supreme choreographer of the twentieth century.  Do we really want to know the couple’s pillow talk?  Or the lady’s with others, plus the gentleman’s own obsessions?  Or witness their slow-motion uncoupling?  O’Connor hasn’t the daring, the flair for fantasy, or the writing chops to bring off a vivid romance novel.  Her attribution of the one she’s written to a pair of revered artists is, to my mind, exploitive.  (The Master’s Muse, Scribner, May 2012)

© 2012 Tobi Tobias


  1. Norton Owen says:

    How lucky you are to have seen her dance! For others like me who were not so fortunate, an excerpt from “La Valse” with Tanaquil LeClercq and Nicholas Magallanes may be seen on Jacob’s Pillow Dance Interactive through this link: It’s one of the very few glimpses of LeClercq available online, and I hope your readers will check it out!

  2. Barbara Palfy says:

    I haven’t read it. Should I? Can it be any more exploitative, overwrought, and underwritten than Adrienne Sharp’s “White Swan, Black Swan: Stories” of 2001?

  3. Martha Ullman West says:

    Amen, sister. But the non-fiction accounts of artists’ lives also violate their privacy–think of Meredith Dane’s biography of Margot Fonteyn or several biographies of Nureyev. There is, however, an excellently written fictional account of Nureyev’s life called “Dancer,” by Colum McCann, which may be the best biography out there.

  4. I, too, loved Tanaquil LeClercq’s dancing, and was very saddened by her cruel fate.

    As to this rip-off book, let’s just hope that it has low, low sales.

    Congrats on your Pulitzer finalist win.

    Wonderful news!

  5. Ann Ilan Alter says:

    I haven’t read the novel, but I confess it wasn’t on my list of must reads in the next few months The worst is that so few people know the difference between the fictional and the real so that such novels are seen as “real” as though this has historical veracity. I agree that it is exploitative, but even more disturbing is that it is a distortion that is self-serving for the writer. But what about the public? Don’t we as readers deserve better?

  6. Let’s hope Boris Eifman doesn’t get his hands on a copy.

  7. Alice Helpern says:

    This book sounds worse than the screenplay for “Black Swan.” This is total trash.

  8. Joel Wapnick says:

    I’ve read it, I think it’s great, and not at all what you think it is. If you haven’t read it, you are writing out of ignorance. And if you have, you know damn well that your description of it is a gross misrepresentation.

    For O’Connor’s side of the story, have a look here:

  9. Penny Frank says:

    My husband and I were very friendly with Tanny for a few years when she and I were both teaching at Dance Theater of Harlem. Tanny was one of the brightest, wittiest people i have ever had the pleasure of knowing, and never bored you with her past life. She dealt with what she had to now, gave a hell of a ballet class from her wheelchair, and wonderful parties from her home at the Apthorp. To have her reduced to some trashy soap opera character would break my heart.

  10. IN RESPONSE TO JOEL WAPNICK: Thank you for your Comment. I must tell you, though, that I’m offended by your suggestion that I might review a book without reading it.

  11. Paul Parish says:

    Pithy pithy, pithy . . .

  12. I saw it by chance at the library and started to read it. I thought it was strange that none of the jacket comments came from dancers. Now I know why. I never saw T.L. dance but as a dance lover, I find this “novel” bogus and offensive. I do not recommend it.

  13. I read it at Barnes & Noble (without buying it) in an afternoon. I found it deeply offensive, badly written and invasive. As for Joel Wapnick’s remarks, he is a personal friend of O’Connor’s and did not know Tanaquil Le Clercq. Fortunately, a documentary is being made about Le Clercq and I hope it will neutralize O’Connor’s stupidly speculative fiction. It was unethical for her to write it.

Speak Your Mind


an ArtsJournal blog