Described by one partner as “an elongated, stretched out path to heaven,” the late ballet dancer Tanaquil – known as ‘Tanny’ – Le Clercq (1929-2000) certainly cut a celestial figure: she was tall, she had legs that lasted forever, and a face that seemed cast in fine bone china. And she moved like magic, a woman born to this most physical but delicate of arts.
Watching De Clercq dance is not only what Nancy Buirski’s uneven documentary does to best effect, it helps you understand the movie’s otherwise restrictive emphasis on the men who became obsessed by her, primarily her discoverer and husband George Balanchine and the dancer/choreographer Jerome Robbins.
Starting as an account of an unlikely game-changer and shifting into an inspirational real-life survival story – Le Clercq lost her precious mobility to polio in 1956 – Afternoon of a Faun is primarily the story of a woman loved, desired, objectified and watched by men. That she was ultimately so stubbornly independent would seem to be Buirski’s motivating interest, but her movie is as transfixed by the heavenly object as the men are.