Through incredible dedication + an unmatched work ethic, Maria Tallchief rose through the ranks of the ballet world to emerge as the United State's first major prima ballerina. She brought an astounding level of energy and athleticism to ballet that ~ coupled with her technical prowess ~ helped to revolutionize the art form.
As a Native American in a field largely dominated by Russian dancers, Maria broke the typical ballet mold. She was instrumental in popularizing the old-world art form in the US and left a legacy of extraordinary ability, dedication + innovation.
breaking racial + artistic barriers | first major American prima ballerina
three big moments
1944 | the great Russian choreographer, George Balanchine, joined Ballet Russe, changing the course of Maria's life forever by creating leading parts for her
1954 | became the highest paid prima ballerina of her day
1996 | received celebrated Kennedy Center Honors
from | to
talented dancer + pianist | America's first prima ballerina
January 24, 1925
Elizabeth Marie Tall Chief
~ Osage family name: Ki He Kah Stah Tsa ~
nickname | also known as
Betty Marie | Oklahoma's Firebird
~ Woman of Two Standards ~
United States of America
Alexander Joseph Tall Chief + Ruth Porter
half siblings: Alexander, Frances, Thomas + Gerald
grew up in
Fairfax, Oklahoma + Colorado Springs, Colorado + Los Angeles, California
Beverly Hills High School
married to | divorced from
Henry D. "Buzz" Paschen Jr. | George Balanchine + Elmourza Natirboff
Elise Maria Paschen
~ stepdaughter ~
influenced by | worked alongside
Alexandra Danilova | George Balanchine
in her spare time
April 11, 2013
Dance Magazine | Wikimedia Commons | public domaincollapse bio bits
"The Nutcracker absolutely was our staple every year. We even took it out to California in the summertime, and danced it at the Greek Theatre with great success! Why not? Christmas in summer."Conversation Piece: Prima Ballerina Maria Tallchief | september 1994
"To me there’s nothing more glorious than the human voice."Conversation Piece: Prima Ballerina Maria Tallchief | september 1994
"From your first plié you are learning to become an artist. In every sense of the word you are poetry in motion."Conversation Piece: Prima Ballerina Maria Tallchief | september 1994
"[W]e didn't concentrate only for an hour and a half a day on what was being taught. We lived it, and I was beginning to understand just how hard I was going to have to work if I wanted to be a dancer."Maria Tallchief: America's Prima Ballerina | april 2005
"If anything at all, perfection is not when there is nothing to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."Maria Tallchief: America's Prima Ballerina | april 2005
"Very often you are in the right place, at the right time, but you don't know it."Prima Ballerina Maria Tallchief Remembers Her Roots | may 2008
Tallchief as Eurydice in Balanchine’s “Orpheus"
In this beautifully photographed + posed picture, Maria is dressed as the Greek Eurydice in George Balanchine's choreographed ballet "Orpheus".
The estate of George Platt Lynes | the George balanchine Trust | New York City Ballet Archives
Maria Tallchief + Nicholas Magallanes in The Nutcracker
For the New York City Ballet's production of The Nutcracker in 1954, Maria was the prima ballerina + thus had the lead role of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Before Maria's take on the role, The Nutcracker ballet was practically unknown. She brought a poise + gravitas to the part that helped propel the work to a Christmas classic ~ still performed far + wide to this day.
Walter E. Owen | Dance Magazine
Maria Tallchief and Erik Bruhn from the front cover of Dance Magazine
Maria + Erik pose for a photoshoot for Dance Magazine. Erik Bruhn is a Danish danseur who performed alongside Maria in Moscow, Russia.