Maria Tallchief, one of America’s first great prima ballerinas who gave life to such works as The Nutcracker and Firebird, has died at the age 88.
Her daughter, Elise Paschen, revealed today that her mother had passed away in Chicago on Thursday.
Maria Tallchief danced with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo from 1942 to 1947, but her career was most associated with the New York City Ballet, where she worked from 1948 to 1965.
George Balanchine, the Russian-born dance genius, was not only the company’s director; in 1946, he became Maria Tallchief’s husband for some years.
Maria Tallchief told Women’s Wear Daily in 2003 that when she first worked with George Balanchine she thought: “I am seeing music. This is it! I was a musician myself, and I thought, <<I am in my place now>>. I knew that that’s the way I wanted to dance.”
She was one of five Oklahoma natives of American Indian descent who rose to prominence in the ballet world from the 1940s through the 1960s.
Maria Tallchief retired in 1965, when she started teaching the next generation of dancers.
“My mother was a ballet legend, who was proud of her Osage heritage,” Elise Paschen said in a statement.
“Her dynamic presence lit up the room. I will miss her passion, commitment to her art and devotion to her family. She raised the bar high and strove for excellence in everything she did.”
Maria Tallchief created roles in many of George Balanchine’s ballets, including Orpheus, in 1948, and Scotch Symphony, in 1952. She was the Sugar Plum Fairy in his original production of The Nutcracker in 1954.
In the 1970s, Maria Tallchief served as artistic director of the Lyric Opera Ballet in Chicago.
She later founded and was artistic director of the Chicago City Ballet.
In 1996, Maria Tallchief became one of five artists to receive the Kennedy Center Honors for their lifelong contributions to American culture.
Maria Tallchief was born Elizabeth Marie Tall Chief in 1925, on a reservation in Fairfax, Oklahoma, a small town about 60 miles northwest of Tulsa.
Visiting teachers gave her lessons, and her mother later moved the family to Los Angeles so that she and her sister could receive proper training.