Saturday, May 3, 2014

Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq

After Vivian Maier, it was unlikely that we'd see a better, or even nearly as good, documentary, but the non-documentary stuff coming out has been uninspiring at best. I couldn't convince The Flower to come, since she's decided she's seen enough ballet-based documentaries. (That would be one, apparently: 2012's wonderful First Position. She liked that, but, yeah, she's picky.)

I was unfamiliar with "Tanee La-Clare" as she was most often referred to here, but the trailer hinted at some dark disaster that struck her down at the height of her career. Murder? Blacklisting? Gaining 6 ounces?!

Nope. None of those. And I won't spoil it.

But it's a doozy.

The story is told in old filmed footage of her performances (and just hanging around) and it appears some stock footage is thrown in there, with oral histories of the people who knew and loved her. Ballet documentaries are always so full of drama, and this is no exception, with old feelings welling up from 60 years ago.

So, how's it rate?

1) Subject matter: Well, if you are interested in ballet, I have to imagine this is a big deal. Le Clercq apparently was the inspiration for George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, whom you also presumably are familiar with. (I was vaguely aware of Balanchine, though I know Robbins from his stage plays that were turned into movies.)

Even if you're not, well, here's a story of an usual, strong woman who faced terrible indignities and cruelties in life, with considerable grace. So quit whining.

2) Presentation: Just a hair long. When we learn the terrible news of Le Clercq's fate, the footage is stock: Ballerina legs, plieing over and over again to some discordant music. Yes, it's horrible and ironic. No, we don't need to see stock footage, and you don't need to pound that chord 20 times.

Maybe someone more into the dance thing would've needed the time to recover from the shock, but I was more interested in what happened next than wallowing in it.

This is a relatively minor point, though. There really isn't much padding in this film. And just when you think it's gonna run long, it's over (at about 90 minutes).

3) Spin: Well, I can't really speak to that. How big was Ms. Le Clercq? She was tall, but that's neither here nor there. The movie kind of banged on the "she's so beautiful" drum a whole lot, which I didn't really see. She was elegant and lovely, sure, but there were prettier girls in the same classes (at least IMO).

Now she clearly, clearly had no small measure of charisma. Somewhat ironically, perhaps, I think the movie would've been better served by a somewhat less infatuated view. It's actually fairly late on before I really got the sense of the depth of her charisma (to say nothing of her character).

But I'm not a ballet-person. Maybe it's obvious to such.

I was rather interested in the George/Tanaquil/Jerome love triangle. La Clercq's true love appears to have been Balanchine, a classic alpha male, aloof and brilliant, but for a brief moment willing to turn a girl into the center of his white-hot attention.

Meanwhile, Robbins, who was probably much the same in many regards, was way more beta when it came to Le Clercq. He poured out his heart, and she reciprocated, at least in writing, while keeping him at arm's length. But then, she's heartbroken when he's not there for her in her time of need. (Their relationship seems to have closed on a rocky note.)

But again, a relatively minor point: It's a good, interesting story well-told.

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