“Onstage, she looks as regal and exotic as a Russian Princess; offstage, she is an American as wampum and apple pie.”
This is how TIME magazine described prima ballerina Maria Tallchief in 1951. Considered as the most celebrated Native American women of the 20th century, Maria Tallchief was the first American dancer in history to achieve international recognition and fame!
Born on January 12, 1952, in Fairfax Oklahoma, Tallchief developed interest in the arts and high culture from a really young age. Her father, Alexander Tallchief, was a member of the Osage tribe, and her mother, Ruth Porter, belonged to Scots-Irish heritage.
Her family used to call her Betty Marie, she learned to play the piano and danced in toe shoes when she was only four years old.
Her parents were determined to have her daughter receive proper guidance and instruction, so they moved to Beverly Hills, California when was a teenager. There she got enrolled in the dancing school of Bronislava Nijinska, a well-known Russian ballerina and choreographer, where she decided to devote her life to the pursuit of a career in ballet.
Tallchief moved to New York City after graduating from high school. She secured her place in the famed touring troupe the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her colleagues suggested she should take the stage name “Tolchieva,” in an attempt to hide her ancestry and to give the impression that she was Russian.
However, she refused and instead chose to replace her first name with the graceful-sounding “Maria.”
In 1943, she performed her first solo in the Chopin Concerto, a ballet choreographed by her old teacher Nijinska. After that, Tallchief became so popular that the Ballet Russe endorsed her as the “beautiful dancing Osage.”
In 1944, ballet master George Balanchine became her muse and was so enchanted by her performance that he eventually proposed to her for marriage. They both got married in August 1946.
After a year, Tallchief was invited to perform in the prestigious Paris Opera for some time as a guest artist. This marked the first time in over a century that an American ballerina performed on that stage- it was historical!
In1949, her performance in the title role in the classic Russian ballet Firebird, earned her international fame. One critic wrote about here, “she preened, she shimmered, and she glorified speed and airy freedom.”
While her career continued to prosper, the pressure to shine in each performance burdened heavily on Tallchief. On the other hand, Balanchine’s consistent demands only fueled the tension between their career and personal life. In 1950, she finally decided to part ways with her husband, but the two remained in contact professionally. Even after their breakup, Balanchine choreographed many of her greatest performances, including Swan Lake (1951), Serenade (1952), Scotch Symphony (1952), and The Nutcracker (1954).
Tallchief was given the title of “Princess Wa-Txthe-thonba” (The Woman of Two Standards) by the Osage Tribe Nation. The Oklahoma State Senate even declared a day in an honor of Maria Tallchief on June 29, 1953.
Tallchief’s career got another breakthrough when she appeared on the cover of Newsweek magazine on October 11, 1954. The cover story was centered on her career, her salary of $2,000 per week. Newsweek declared Tallchief as the highest paid ballerina in the world.
Among her long list of honors, the most significant one was in 1996 when she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and also received Kennedy Center Honor that same year. She passed away in 2013.
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Maria Tallchief was being discriminated against several times because of her Native American ancestry, but she didn’t lose hope! She continued working towards her dreams and eventually became one of America’s most popular and widely celebrated ballerinas.
In honor of Native American Heritage Month in the U.S, Google doodle is celebrating Maria Tallchief America’s Prima Ballerina today by dedicating her aesthetically pleasing and elegantly-sounding Doodle on the search page.
So, why do we stay back? To honor the Legendary Native American Ballerina, the Hayvine team has compiled 17 Maria Tallchief quotes that best describe the ever-lasting relationship between Maria Tallchief and Ballet:
-“From your first plie, you are learning to become an artist. In every sense of the world, you are poetry in motion. And if you are fortunate enough… you are actually the music.”- Maria Tallchief
– “If anything at all, perfection is not when there is nothing to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”- Maria Tallchief.
– “Dance from your heart and love your music, the audience will love you in return.”-Maria Tallchief
– “To me there’s nothing more glorious than the human voice.”- Maria Tallchief
– “From your first plie you are learning to become an artist. In every sense of the world, you are poetry in motion.”- Maria Tallchief
– “[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
“I think it is an innate quality that Indians have to dance. They dance when they are happy, they dance when they are sad. They dance when they get married, they dance when someone dies.”- Maria Tallchief
“The Nutcracker absolutely was our staple every year. We even took it out to California in the summertime, and danced it at the Greel Theatre with great success! Why not? Christmas in summer.” -Prima Ballerina Maria Tallchief in an interview in September 1994.
– “Above all, I wanted to be a prima ballerina who happened to be Native American, never as someone who was an American Indian Ballerina.” – Maria Tallchief
– “I don’t mind being listed alphabetically. I do mind being treated alphabetically.”- Maria Tallchief