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Ballet Encyclopedia

Tanaquil Le Clercq

born: 1929
died: 2000

Tanaquil Le Clercq was born the 2nd of October of 1929 in Paris. Her father Jacques Le Clercq, a French intellectual, named his daughter after the Etruscan Queen Tanaquil, a wise reader of omens. Since her mother was American, they moved back to the United States in New York City when Tanaquil was three years old. Before auditioning for the School of American Ballet, she studied ballet with Mikhail Mordkin until 1941. When she was twelve years old Balanchine offered Tanaquil a scholarship to the School of American Ballet and when Tanaquil was fifteen Balanchine asked her to dance with him in a choreography he made to be performed at a benefit for a Polio charity. In this ballet Balanchine was a character named Polio and Tanaquil was his victim who became paralyzed.

Tanaquil was only seventeen when she danced in the launch of Ballet Society, which later became the New York City Ballet. This made her the first dancer of his company to have been trained by him from an early age in the style that he wanted for his choreographies. Miss Le Clercq was also the one who defined the Balanchine Ballerina style with her long legs and beautiful lines. Allegra Kent, a young dancer at the time, recalled a story about Tanaquil and her very limber legs; she had arrived into class to find Miss Le Clercq with a bandage on her nose and asked her what had happened. She was then told by Tanaquil that she had just kicked her leg too high but that she was going to be fine. Also during her first year in the company Balanchine gave Miss Le Clercq a solo in his famous ballet The Four Temperaments and at the age of twenty-one Balanchine choreographed La Valse for her.

On Christmas day of 1952, Balanchine asked Tanaquil Le Clercq's hand in marriage and they were wed on New Years day making her Balanchine's fourth official wife. Miss Le Clercq also had a close relationship with choreographer Jerome Robbins and inspired his version of Afternoon of the Faun. She was Balanchine's ideal muse and Jerome Robbins' happiest inspiration during the 40's and 50's.

In 1956, at the age of 27, Tanaquil went on tour with the New York City Ballet in Europe. While in Copenhagen she fell ill and was brought to the hospital. There, they were told that their worst nightmare had come true; Tanaquil Le Clercq had contracted Polio and was paralyzed from the waist down. The most beautiful dancer of the New York City Ballet would never walk again. While in a Danish hospital that specialized in the treatment of polio she was visited by the Queen of Denmark.

Once Tanaquil was back in the United States Balanchine took a year off to take care of her himself. Tanaquil slowly got accustomed to her fate and started filling her time with new projects. Staying in their country home in Weston, she became a big supporter of their local library, even writing and publishing two books of her own. One was a cookbook filled with recipes collected from dancers and pictures of ballet called The Ballet Cookbook. The other was a story of a cat that was trained by Balanchine and took rehearsals with the New York City Ballet named Mourka: The Autobiography of a Cat. Tanaquil also loved photography and creating crossword puzzles, a few of which were even published by the New York Times. She occasionally taught from her wheelchair at the Dance Theater of Harlem, demonstrating with her hands, and coached the young dancers at the New York City Ballet that were now doing the parts she once had done herself.

She and Balanchine divorced in 1969 because he had fallen in love with his newest muse Suzanne Farrell. Even after the divorce they still kept in close contact and at the end of Balanchine's life Tanaquil visited him every day. Tanaquil Le Clercq loved Balanchine until the day she died. On the night of her last New Years in Weston there was a blue moon. She died of pneumonia in Manhattan on December 31, 2000 at the age of 71.

During her time on this earth she had inspired many people in many ways. In the 10 years she danced with the New York City Ballet, 32 roles were created for her in ballets by Balanchine, Robbins and others. The solo of the "soulful music lover" that she performed in Jerome Robbins' The Concert was taken out of the ballet after she was no longer able to dance it. The poet Frank O'Hara even wrote about her in the Ode to Tanaquil Le Clercq.

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