Magazine article Pointe

America's Ballerina

Magazine article Pointe

America's Ballerina

Article excerpt

Perhaps more than any other ballerina of her time, Maria Tallchief inspired a generation.

Maria Tallchief can look back on an incredible career. She was merely being factual when she entitled her 1997 autobiography Maria Tallchief: America's Prima Ballerina. She was our first dancer to attain world fame, and she was indisputably American, having been born on an Indian reservation in Fairfax, OK, in 1925, to an Osage father and a Scots-Irish mother.

Betty Marie Tall Chief survived beginning pointe work at age 3 and flourished under teachers in Los Angeles, where her mother moved in 1933. By 1937, Betty Marie and her younger sister, Marjorie (who also had an enviable career), were studying with Bronislava Nijinska, sister of the great Nijinsky. Impresario Serge Denham hired 17-year-old Betty Marie for the corps of his Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in time for the première of Agnes de Mille's Rodeo (1942). After de Mille told her, "there are so many Bettys and Elizabeths in ballet," Tallchief changed her name.

George Balanchine noticed her when he joined the Denham company between work on Broadway and in Hollywood, but he saw room for improvement. She was only momentarily flattered when he said all she needed to work on was battement tendu-the most basic step at the barre. "He...was telling me that I had to go back to the beginning, start all over again," she says. "[And] he was right." Balanchine cast her in the premières of Danses Concertantes (1944) and The Night Shadow (1946) and proposed to her after the 1946 revival of Le Baiser de la Fée. …

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