30 October 2015

The Ballet Cook Book

Tanaquil Le Clercq is a legend. Not in the modern sense of "legend" but in that old-world, truly remarkable, lager than life, sadder than death, extraordinarily gorgeous, muse to many kind of legend.

First, and foremost, she was a dancer.  An extraordinary, ethereal dancer.  At the age of 12, she was offered a scholarship to the School of American Ballet by George Balanchine.  At 17, she would help launch the Ballet Society that would later become the New York City Ballet. At 23, she would become Balachine's fourth or fifth wife, depending on who's counting. 

When Le Clercq was 15, Balanchine asked her to be his partner in a dance he created entitled "Resurgence" for a March of Dimes charity benefit. He would play the role of Polio and she would be his tragic victim, paralyzed by the dreaded affliction. The dance might hardly be remembered if not for its prophetic nature.

In 1956, at the height of career, Tanaquil Le Clercq contracted polio and was paralysed.  She was 27- years-old.
Tanaquil Le Clercq 
with Corrado Cagli, Vittorio Rieti, and 
George Balanchine, by Irving Penn photo ©
Jerome Robbins choreographed one his most famous ballet's for Le Clercq. Afternoon of a Faun, taken from a Debussy prelude, is still being preformed. In 2013, Nancy Buirski completed a documentary Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq. It is one of the best sources for footage of Le Clercq dancing.

After her paralysis, she became an author penning the autobiography of Mourka, a cat Balanchine taught to "dance." 
In 1966 she compiled The Ballet Cook Book featuring stories and recipes featuring a who's who of the world of ballet from Sir Frederick Ashton to Vera Zorina. It has become one of the most collectible cookbooks on the market. Always a holiday treat, here is Le Clercq's family recipe for eggnog.



Great-Great-Grandmother Blackwell’s Eggnog 

12 egg yolks
1/2
cup sugar
1 1/2
cups bourbon whisky

3/4 cup St. Croix rum
1 quart heavy cream, whipped


Beat egg yolks and sugar until light and sugar has melted completely. Add whisky and rum and continue beating 3–4 minutes. Stir in the whipped cream and mix thoroughly. Place in refrigerator and chill until ready to serve.
Even the poet, Frank O'Hara found Le Clercq to be a muse.

 Ode To Tanaquil LeClercq
 

smiling through my own memories of painful excitement your wide eyes
stare
        and narrow like a lost forest of childhood stolen from gypsies
two eyes that are the sunset of
                                             two knees
                                                            two wrists
                                                                            two minds
and the extended philosophical column, when they conducted the dialogues
                in distant Athens, rests on your two ribbon-wrapped hearts, white
         credibly agile
                            flashing
                                        scimitars of a city-state

where in the innocence of my watching had those ribbons become entangled
        dragging me upward into lilac-colored ozone where I gasped
                 and you continued to smile as you dropped the bloody scarf of my life
                                                 from way up there, my neck hurt

            you were always changing into something else
            and always will be
            always plumage, perfection's broken heart, wings

            and wide eyes in which everything you do
            repeats yourself simultaneously and simply
                                            as a window "gives" on something

it seems sometimes as if you were only breathing
       and everything happened around you
because when you disappeared in the wings nothing was there
       but the motion of some extraordinary happening I hadn't understood
the superb arc of a question, of a decision about death

          because you are beautiful you are hunted
                 and with the courage of a vase
                         you refuse to become a deer or a tree
                 and the world holds its breath
                         to see if you are there, and safe

                                                  are you?
                     

Cats, cookbooks, ballet, poetry -- who could go wrong. If you are fond of ballet, do check out Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq.   PBS ran it several years ago and I think it might still be out there to download. I suggest making a big bowl of eggnog and gathering for a screening.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I didn't know she wrote a cookbook although a documentary. about her was replete with picnics, luncheons, and suggestions enjoyment of food food was.integral part of her life...thank you!

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