A world-famous ballerina’s rise above a devastating illness
“Protopopescu has told the story of Le Clercq with grace, weaving in the background of some of the most influential people in her life, all of whom are worthy to have their own stories told. Protopopescu allows the reader to peer through a keyhole into Le Clercq’s world, a place that few of us were privileged to be.”—Jacques d’Amboise, author of I Was a Dancer
“Protopopescu has interviewed a number of Le Clercq’s friends, fellow dancers, colleagues, and students, including several from the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and from these many voices has woven together the picture of a multifaceted woman whose long life was ultimately defined by the tragic ending of her dancing career when she developed polio. A welcome addition to the literature on the early years of the New York City Ballet.”—Lynn Garafola, author of Legacies of Twentieth-Century Dance
“Richly filled with insider information about the world of classical ballet, Dancing Past the Light tells the poignant and inspiring story of how the noted ballerina, paralyzed in mid-career, lived a full life. Her story also provides new insight into the artistic contributions of George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, giants of twentieth-century ballet choreography.”—Nancy Reynolds, coauthor of No Fixed Points: Dance in the Twentieth Century
“What makes Dancing Past the Light so universally relevant is Protopopescu’s re-creation of a complex, creative woman in all her paradoxes and facets. Le Clercq's life was dominated by artistic geniuses—as well as a formidable mother—but her determination to be her own person could not be vanquished.”—Joel Lobenthal, author of Wilde Times: Patricia Wilde, George Balanchine, and the Rise of New York City Ballet
“Dancing Past the Light is absolutely fascinating, packed with remarkable details and photos I’ve never seen before, and very well written. It does great justice to Le Clercq and all the people who were part of her life.”—Stephanie White, former soloist, Grand Ballet Classique de France
“Through Protopopescu’s writing, one understands why Le Clercq became representative of the ideal Balanchine dancer. The story of Le Clercq’s life after her illness is equally enthralling. Reading Dancing Past the Light, one becomes thoroughly acquainted with the person within this amazing artist.”—Laura Smeak, former soloist, Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève
Dancing Past the Light cinematically illuminates the glamorous and heartbreaking life of Tanaquil “Tanny” Le Clercq (1929?2000), one of the most celebrated ballerinas of the twentieth century, who became paralyzed with polio at the height of her brilliant stage career.
Born in Paris, Le Clercq became a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet at age 19 and a role model for aspiring dancers everywhere. Orel Protopopescu recounts Le Clercq’s intense marriage to the company’s renowned choreographer George Balanchine, for whom Le Clercq was a muse, the prototype of the exquisite, long-limbed “Balanchine ballerina.” Enhanced with a wealth of previously unpublished photos, personal letters, and sketches by Balanchine, this book offers an intimate portrait of Le Clercq’s dancing life and her relationship to the man who was both her mentor and husband. It delves into her friendships with other dancers as well, including a longtime rival for her affections, choreographer Jerome Robbins.
Tragically, Le Clercq contracted polio while on tour in Europe at age 27, never to dance again. This book offers a rare account of how Le Clercq grappled with the worst fate imaginable for a ballerina and reinvented herself as a writer and dance teacher. It also highlights Le Clercq’s little-known legacy as a pioneer of racial equality and disability rights in the arts, from participating in the company’s first interracial pas de deux with Arthur Mitchell in 1955 to her involvement with Mitchell’s Dance Theatre of Harlem later in life, where—teaching from a wheelchair—she kept alive the dances she’d loved.
With insights from interviews with her former friends, students, and colleagues, Dancing Past the Light depicts Le Clercq’s extraordinary capacity to find joy in the dark moments of her dramatic life. Readers will be inspired by Le Clercq’s determination to take what many saw as sad limitations and build from them a mighty legacy.
Orel Protopopescu is an award-winning author, poet, and translator based in New York. Her books include What Remains, A Thousand Peaks: Poems from China, and Thelonious Mouse.
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