Since I’m basically too busy to think about anything else, I thought you might like a taste of the chapter of my Balanchine book that I finished on Monday. It’s about Balanchine’s fourth wife, Tanaquil Le Clercq.
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It was Balanchine’s practice, if not his destiny, to fall in love not with creatures of flesh and blood but with fantasies of his own devising. Like most such romantic idealists, he was aroused by pursuit and disillusioned by capture, and no sooner did he marry his latest muse and capture her essence in a new ballet than he started looking elsewhere for inspiration. With Maria Tallchief, the gap between appearance and reality was especially wide, for she was no evanescent Osage sylph but a hard-working, hard-headed professional who scrubbed her own floors and played poker after hours with the men of the company. “I don’t need a housewife,” Balanchine complained to a close friend. “I need a nymph who fills the bedroom and floats out.” It wasn’t long before he found one, right under his nose.
Long-legged and long-necked to the point of gawkiness, with delicately chiseled features and a gamine smile, Tanaquil Le Clercq, known to all as “Tanny,” was a Balanchine ballet come to life. “Like a lean Giacometti, she reflected modern art,” wrote Allegra Kent, who danced with her in Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15. Born in 1929, she was the first great dancer to have studied exclusively at the School of American Ballet, and by the time she made her professional debut in The Four Temperaments, she was fully formed. Tallchief enviously described her as “a coltish creature who still had to grow into her long, spindly legs. Those legs went on forever–it seemed as if her body could barely sustain them. She had the long, willowy look of a fashion model, dressed stylishly in long skirts and sweaters, and had a lovely presence….Tanny didn’t have a formal education, yet she was articulate, witty, and chic.” A few of her performances were filmed, and in them one can see “the scissor legs, the vehement energy, the regal spine, the expansive upper body, the wit, the chic, the joy in movement” to which her friend Holly Brubach paid tribute after Le Clercq’s death in 2000. Jerome Robbins fell in love with her at first sight, and for a while they were all but inseparable. Balanchine teamed them to memorably comic effect in Bourr