Oklahoma-born dancer Maria Tallchief revolutionized the world of ballet by becoming one of the first-ever prima ballerinas hailing from the United States. She inhabited a space that was largely populated by European dancers and shocked audiences across the world while eloquently representing her Native American roots. Tallchief’s parents were Alexader Tall Chief, a member of the Osage tribe, and Ruth Ann Porter, a woman of Scottish-Irish descent. Ruth was an avid lover of dance and hoped that her daughters would live out her dream of performing. In order to enroll Tallchief at the best dance academy could find, Ruth relocated the entire family to Los Angles. Throughout her amateur career, Tallchief encountered amazing dancers and renowned teachers such as Anna Pavlova and David Lichine. She went on to travel all over the globe to dance at various theaters and steadily became a household name. In 1944, Tallchief met Geroge Balanchine while she was dancing for Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. She was 19 at the time, but this did not stop the 40-year-old choreographer from falling in love with her, and two years later they were married.
Later in her career, Tallchief became one of New York City Ballet’s principal dancers. While there, her expertise and beauty helped establish The Nutcracker as the ginormous success it was and continues to be. Despite Balanchine’s position as the co-founder of the New York City Ballet, Tallchief ultimately decided to divorce him, but stayed with the company for some time after. Before retiring, Tallchief traveled the world once again and momentarily returned to Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1954, where she was the highest-paid dancer that year. When her dancing career officially ended, Tallchief remarried and moved to Chicago where she began to teach at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. After just a few years there, Tallchief was able to open the first ballet school attached to the Lyric Opera. She was loved and admired by her students and left a long-lasting imprint on Chicago’s ballet community. In 2011, Tallchief passed away due to a difficulty that stemmed from a broken hip. She was mourned and celebrated by people all over the world. It is clear that her contributions to ballet will never lose their value.
On what would have been her 96th birthday, L’OFFICIEL remembers Tallchief’s beautiful memory through her most inspirational quotes on dance, art, and life.