"Even on the street waiting for the bus, stand like ballerina."

Happy Birthday, Maria Tallchief!

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MariaTallchief2jpgElizabeth Marie Tallchief is a Native American Ballerina who was born in Fairfax, Oklahoma on January 24th, 1925. From an early age, Maria Tallchief (or Betty Marie, as her parents called her) was interested in dancing. She describes her childhood self as being "shy, docile and introverted." She enjoyed nothing more than running around outdoors and playing with animals. She was enamored of music from the age of three. When she was eight, her family moved to Beverley Hills, where Marie could pursue her passion: a career in dance.

In Los Angeles, Maria studied with choreographer Bronislava Nijinska, who taught her a personal philosophy and discipline: "When you sleep, sleep like a ballerina. Even on the street waiting for the bus, stand like ballerina." The lesson resonated with Maria, who took the advice to heart.

 

Rudolf Nureyev and Maria Tallchief in Flower Festival

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Maria's aptitude and grace got her a featured soloist role at the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in New York City. Russian choreographer George Balanchine immediately saw her potential and the two fell in love. "Very often you are in the right place, at the right time, but you don't know it. I knew it when I met Balanchine and I knew this was the way I wanted to dance." Balanchine wrote many of his most well-regarded works for Maria. They also worked together at the New York City Ballet, where Balanchine was the principal choreographer and Maria became the first American "prima ballerina" from 1947 - 1960.

Maria collaborated with her ballerina sister Marjorie Tallchief and with many other groups but it was her performance in Balanchine's Firebird at the Paris Opera that exposed her talents to a global audience in 1949. 

Maria was the first American-born woman to dance both at the Paris Opera in France and at the Paris Opera Ballet in Moscow. Her beauty and movements impressed critics everywhere and people who had been cynical about her Native American heritage were won over by her skills.

 

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The Dying Swan (1952)

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Maria Tallchief won many awards and honors over the span of her successful career. In 1996, Maria received the Kennedy Centers Honors and in 1999, the National Endowment of the Arts presented her with the National Medal of Arts. She was extremely proud and stayed true to her Native American heritage, leading Governor of Oklahoma to honor her achievements and national identity. Maria was named the "Wa-Xthe-Thomba" or the "Woman of Two Worlds".

Since retiring from dance in 1965, Maria founded the Chicago City Ballet with her sister, and was asked to serve as the artistic director to Von Heidecke's Chicago Festival Ballet. She was one of the subjects in the 1989 documentary Dancing for Mr. B: Six Balanchine Ballerinas, in which she played herself. A PBS documentary about her life and art, entitled Maria Tallchief, was directed by Sandra Osawa and was released in 2007.

Along with four other Native American ballerinas, Maria Tallchief was honored in a bronze sculpture called the "Five Moons". It stands in Tulsa, Oklahoma to this day.

 

 

 

 

Interview Extract with Maria about Firebird

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Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Friday, 24 January 2014
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