Maria Tallchief died. perhaps the best-known American dancer in the field of ballet. I confess to not following that particular art-form, though I’ve seen a few ballets and was quite impressed with them. I want to honor Maria Tallchief here because she was a fellow Northern Oklahoman, born in Fairfax in the Osage Nation. I drive through the Osage countryside virtually every time I go back home, and in my opinion it’s among the most beautiful landscapes in Oklahoma.
The story of how a young girl from an Indian reservation in the 1930’s went from dancing at rodeos to the New York City Ballet is quite a tale.
From Sarah Halzack in the Washington Post:
Maria Tallchief, a dancer of electrifying passion and technical ability who forged a pathbreaking career that took her from an Oklahoma Indian reservation to world acclaim and who was a crucial artistic inspiration for choreographer George Balanchine, her first husband, died April 11 at a hospital in Chicago. She was 88.
The cause was complications from a broken hip sustained in December, said Kenneth von Heidecke, a choreographer and founder of the Chicago Festival Ballet.
Ms. Tallchief — born Elizabeth Marie Tall Chief — was of American Indian and Irish-Scottish descent. In a career that flourished from the 1940s to the 1960s at what became the New York City Ballet, she helped break down ethnic barriers in the world of dance and was one of the first American ballet stars in a field long dominated by Russian and European dancers.
After retiring in 1965, she settled in Chicago and taught at the Chicago Lyric Opera Ballet and founded the Chicago City Ballet.
When she received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1996, she recalled the pressure she faced as an American dancer. One impresario insisted that she Russianize her name to Tallchieva. “Never!” she said, although she was open to the concession of changing her surname to one word and to use Maria, a variation on her middle name.
From the start, her dancing was characterized by precise footwork and an athleticism that dazzled without being excessive. Her regality and grace won critical admirers, as well as the attention of Balanchine, who was consistently impressed by her musicality, which had been honed through childhood piano lessons.
Balanchine revolutionized ballet by creating sleek, streamlined works that demanded athleticism, speed and attack like no choreography before them.
Read the rest of her story, including how she broke into the ballet world and took it by storm: Maria Tallchief, ballet star who was inspiration for Balanchine, dies at 88 – The Washington Post.