MariaTallchief: “One word for her: Grand”

The acclaimed American ballerina, Maria Tallchief, died last Thursday, April 11, 2013, in Chicago at the age of 88.

Associated Press reported that Tallchief was one of five Oklahoma natives of American Indian descent who rose to prominence in the ballet world from the 1940s through the 1960s.

After she retired in 1965, Tallchief began a new career as a teacher.

Tallchief danced with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo from 1942 to 1947 but was best known for her work with New York City Ballet from 1948 to 1965.

George Balanchine married Tallchief in 1946 when he was 42 and she was 21 and they divorced in 1950 on the grounds that she wanted to have children but he did not, according to Balanchine’s biographer, Bernard Taper.

Tallchief created roles in many of Balanchine’s ballets including Orpheus in 1948 and Scotch Symphony in 1952.

Jacques d’Amboise, a former New York City Ballet dancer who partnered with Tallchief in many performances, said she was the Mount Everest of dance.

He told AP: “She was the perfect representative of the American ballerina. There is one word for her: Grand. She was absolutely grand.”

Tallchief was born Elizabeth Marie Tall Chief in 1925 on a reservation in Fairfax, Oklahoma.

Visiting teachers gave her lessons, and her mother later moved the family to Los Angeles where Maria and her sister, Marjorie, continued their training.

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Maria Tallchief, Scotch Symphony, New York City Ballet, photo © Walter Owen, courtesy NYCB Archives