Afternoons with a Faun

By | Mar 15, 2021 | No Comments

At the height of the yuppie craze in the 1980s, I was working at a small Sicilian restaurant called Baci (kisses in Italian) on the Upper West Side on Amsterdam Avenue. The Sindoni family, a tight-knit group of Sicilians, ran it as well as two other restaurants in the city. One of our regulars was Tanaquil Le Clercq, the former ballerina and quondam wife of the legendary Russian choreographer George Balanchine. She was once the principal dancer for the New York City Ballet but was stricken with polio during a 1956 tour of Europe from which she never recovered.

George Balanchine and Tanaquil Le Clerq
George Balanchine and Tanaquil Le Clerq

Bound on a wheelchair for most of her life, Tanaquil would come almost daily for lunch as she lived around the corner at the magnificent Apthorp—one of the most amazing and historic condominium apartment buildings on the Upper West Side of Manhattan—whose residents have included Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. Joseph Heller, Al Pacino, and Cyndi Lauper. She’d make the trek to the restaurant with the help of her assistant, then usually dine alone and have her favorite dish, which was Bucatini pasta with Sarde (sardines) sprinkled with pignoli nuts and raisins.

Tanaquil LeClerq
Tanaquil at a book signing for her ballet cookbook

She was an amazing woman, and I eagerly anticipated seeing her every day. She often regaled me with her stories of when she was a dancer and sometimes, but rarely, spoke of her relationship with Balanchine. This time, she was coaching, teaching young fledgling ballerinas the art and skills she had acquired, almost preternaturally, when she was their age. As a result of her kindness, allure, and humor, I came to love her.

When Tanaquil died of pneumonia in 2001, I was saddened as I thought she’d have more years as she was a fighter, especially having lost her ability to do what she loved most because it was taken away from her at such a young age.

When a PBS documentary was released on her life called Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq after her death, I was reminded of those special times I shared with Tanaquil.


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