America’s first Prima Ballerina; trained both as a pianist and as a dancer
b. January 24, 1925-
Maria Tallchief parents were Alexander Joseph Tall Chief of the Osage Nation and Ruth, her Scotts-Irish mother. Due to the discovery of oil on the reservation in some ways her life was more comfortable than many. However, she and her family suffered through the Osage Indian Murders. Her cousin survived only because she was visiting Tallchief, while her cousin’s family was murdered. A white local rancher named Bill Hale killed, or was responsible for the death of at least 18 Osage people over an aborted attempt to grab oil rights and land.
Over time her father became a verbally abusive alcoholic. While training with a local teacher in the area, Tallchief’s mother, Ruth, recognized both her and her sister’s talents. Eventually the family moved to Southern California, where they had the very good fortune, in a gas station, to learn of an excellent Ballet teacher; Ernest Belcher. She later studied under Bronislava Nijinska, and George Balanchine, whom she married.
Tallchief performed with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo from 1942 to 1947. She joined the Ballet Society (later the New York City Ballet). She was the NYCB’s prima ballerina for 18 years. Through her tours and television appearances with the American Ballet Theatre through 1965.
Tallchief contributed greatly to the fame and prestige of American ballet.
Exhibiting the family gift, Her younger sister, Marjorie Tallchief, 1927–, b. Denver Colo., was première danseuse with the Paris Opéra Ballet from 1957 to 1962. She also performed with many other companies, retiring in 1966.
TallChief was with the Chicago City Ballet in 1981 and served, as it’s artistic director until 1987. From 1990 to present she has been artistic advisor to Von Heidecke’s Chicago Festival Ballet.
She was named was named Wa-Xthe-Thomba (“Woman of Two Worlds”) by the Governor of Oklahoma
In 1996 She received the Kennedy Center Honors along with Johnny Cash, Jack Lemmon, Edward Albee, and Benny Carter
In 1996 Tallchief was inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame
In 1999 she was awarded the American National Medal of Arts by the National Endowment of the Arts in Washington D.C.
On November 7, 2006, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York presented a special tribute to Maria Tallchief
Tallchief is honored in Tulsa, Oklahoma, along with four other Native-American ballerinas (Yvonne Chouteau, Rosella Hightower, Moscelyne Larkin and Marjorie Tallchief), with a larger than life-size bronze statue entitled “The Five Moons” in the garden of the Tulsa Historical Society, Tulsa, Oklahoma.
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