Tallchief, Maria

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1925-01-24
Death 2013-04-11
Americans
English

Biographical notes:

One of the first American born ballerinas to become an international star, Maria Tallchief, enjoyed a notable career as a dancer with the New York City Ballet and went on to distinguish herself as a teacher and a director of other dance companies.

Born Berry Marie Tall Chief on January 24, 1925, Maria grew up in Fairfax, Oklahoma on the Osage Indian reservation until the family moved to Los Angeles in 1930. Her family also included a sister, Marjorie (who became a ballerina as well), and a brother, Jerry. Her early life consisted of both piano and dance lessons, and Maria later chose between ballet and a career as a concert pianist. In 1942, when she was seventeen, Tallchief joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, where she was dancing principal roles within a few years. Ballet master and choreographer George Balanchine, who was associated with the company at the time, cast the young dancer in new works and revivals of his earlier pieces, including Ballet Imperial and Night Shadow. The two married in 1946 and Tallchief joined Ballet Society, the subscription venture launched by Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein that would become the New York City Ballet. It was Tallchief's acclaimed performance in the title role of Balanchine's version of The Firebird (1949) that helped to establish and solidify the new company's reputation. Although the couple divorced in 1952, Tallchief would remain connected with the company as a dancer intermittently through 1965. It was during the early 1950s, however, that she created principal roles in a wide range of Balanchine's most important new productions, including Scotch Symphony (1952), The Nutcracker (1954) and Allegro Brilliante (1956). In her later career as a dancer, Tallchief appeared with several other companies, including American Ballet Theatre and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, as well as companies in Chicago, where the construction business of her third husband, Henry "Buzzy" Paschen, Jr., was based. In 1974, Tallchief founded the Ballet School of the Lyric Opera in Chicago and served as its teacher and as artistic director of the Chicago Lyric Opera, and its successor company, the Chicago City Ballet, from 1975 to 1987. Tallchief received numerous awards, including the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors (1996). She also published an autobiography, co-written with Larry Kaplan, entitled, Maria Tallchief, America's Prima Ballerina (1996).

From the description of Maria Tallchief papers, 1948-2005. (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 179622172

Maria Tallchief was born Berry Marie Tall Chief on January 24, 1925 to Alex Tall Chief and Ruth Porter Tall Chief. Later she changed the spelling of her last name to Tallchief. She grew up in Fairfax, Oklahoma on the Osage Indian reservation until the family moved to Los Angeles in 1930. The family also included a sister Marjorie (also a ballerina who danced mostly in Europe) and a brother, Jerry. Her early life consisted of both piano and dance lessons, and Maria later chose between ballet and career as a concert pianist.

In 1942, when she was 17 and just graduated from the Beverly Hills High School, Tallchief joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and was dancing principal roles within a few years. George Balanchine, who was associated with the Ballet Russe, was enchanted with the young American dancer when he first saw her. They were married in 1946. In 1947, Balanchine brought his wife home to the New York City Ballet. The couple’s marriage was annulled in 1952.

Tallchief then married Elmourza Natirboff and they divorced in 1954. Her third marriage was to Chicago-based construction magnate Henry “Buzzy” Pashen, Jr. in 1956. They have one daughter Elise Pashen.

Maria Tallchief was teacher and artistic director of the Chicago Lyric Opera Ballet from 1975 to 1980 and artistic director of its successor company, the Chicago City Ballet, from 1981 to 1987. Although both companies folded for lack of funds, Tallchief is still associated with the Chicago Lyric Opera.

In 1996, Tallchief was presented with the Kennedy Center Honors. She also received the National Medal of the Arts and Humanities from President Bill Clinton.

Tallchief is the author of an autobiography, co-written with Larry Kaplan, entitled, Maria Tallchief, America’s Prima Ballerina, 1996.

From the guide to the Maria Tallchief papers, 1948-2005, (The New York Public Library. Jerome Robbins Dance Division.)

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Subjects:

  • Dance teachers--United States
  • Ballerinas
  • Dance teachers
  • Ballerinas--United States

Occupations:

  • Ballerinas
  • Dance teachers

Places:

  • United States (as recorded)