Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Master's Muse by Varley O'Conner

I simply cannot turn away from a classic. This time I come to you with a book written around ballet. It is the story of the beautiful and vivacious Tanaquil leClerq who was the principal ballerina of the New York City Ballet in the 1950s. I had to remind me that this is not a memoir because the voice of Tanaquil that speaks to us in the book feels like it is the real deal. Apparently Tanaquil was very reserved during her lifetime and some who knew her even felt that the book should not have been written, to respect the wishes of the reticent ballerina. But I am very happy to have read about this quite unique personality.

So if Tanaquil was the Muse, who was the Master? It is George Balanchine, the master choreographer who gave us 'The Nutcracker'  and the american ballet in its current form. Having studied under soviet master's and having performed for the Czar, he emigrated to the US and changed the world of ballet altogether by modernizing it while preserving its old world charm. He had the likes of Igor Stravinsky composing for him and the incomparable Jerome Robbins working with him and the support of many patrons who loved the art. The New York State Theater was designed to Balanchine's specifications. Tanaquil was his fifth and final wife counting the one common-law wife whom he never married. Each of his previous wives were prima ballerina's at the time and all marriages ended in friendly terms. I assume mostly because they all loved dancing and revered Balanchine's skills as a dancer, teacher and choreographer. He wrote ballets for each of them in their time. Tanaquil is considered the ultimate Balanchine ballerina with the perfect physique and dancing skills to translate Balanchine's visions onto the stage. At the height of her career she was struck down by polio and was bound to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. She loved Balanchine despite his many dalliances and through their divorce. He loved her in his own way too it seems even after she had polio. He had taken a year off to take care of Tnaquil and continued to be solicitous till he died despite being extremely busy choreographing, producing and performing ballets across the world.

Sometimes it felt to me like the real Tanaquil is hiding behind her abiding love for George Balanchine. But regardless of the wheelchair I could see a strong personality in her own right who had affected the people around her with her charisma and willpower maybe as much as Balanchine. Reminded me a lot of Scarlett O'Hara of 'The Gone with The Wind'. Tanaquil was named after a Roman Empress and was the product of a French father and an American Mother. Loved the name too! Didn't like the title that much. Tanaquil leClerq can stand on her own without the master.