TBT: Rarely Seen Photos of the Incandescent Maria Tallchief

February 10, 2021

The February 1956 issue of Dance Magazine marked Maria Tallchief’s fourth of six appearances on our cover. (The total increases to seven if the April 1961 cover, simply displaying the names of that year’s Dance Magazine Award recipients, is counted.) By then, her career, which had started in 1942 at the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, was studded with firsts: She was the first Native American prima ballerina, New York City Ballet’s first star, and the originator of leading roles in George Balanchine’s Orpheus, Firebird, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Scotch Symphony, to name but a few. (Allegro Brillante would debut the very next month.)

In the December 1999 issue of Dance Magazine, Tallchief recalled of working with Balanchine, “He would show us how to walk, how to run, how to present your foot. He wasn’t technical. He would just say things so that your whole body becomes very poetic. Being vulnerable is the most important thing of all, and he taught us how to be vulnerable.” She remained with NYCB until 1965, though during her nearly 20 years with the company she also spent time performing elsewhere, notably with American Ballet Theatre and opposite Erik Bruhn and Rudolf Nureyev.

She retired from the stage in 1966, relocating to Chicago with her third husband (Balanchine having been the first). There, she directed the ballet school at the Lyric Opera, and founded the short-lived Chicago City Ballet. Tallchief was celebrated at the 1996 Kennedy Center Honors and received the National Medal of Arts in 1999. She died in 2013 at age 88.

Courtesy DM Archives

Maria Tallchief, age 12

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In a black and white image, a pre-teen Maria Tallchief poses in a room filled with flowers. She gathers the voluminous skirt of her poofy dress at one hip and curls her wrist as she holds castanets.

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Maria Tallchief, wearing a nice patterned dress, and George Balanchine, in a suit with a bow tie, stand shoulder to shoulder, listening to someone speak off camera.

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Maria Tallchief balances in parallel retiru00e9 en pointe, chin tucked down and arms extended to the side. She wears a short, ruffled tutu and a headpiece with a long feather.

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The Tallchief sisters, both wearing heels, old-fashioned calf-length skirts and elegant jackets, pose together balletically. A young boy standing at the edge of the platform watches.

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Maria Tallchief relevu00e9s out of her heels and smiles in profile as she looks down at a newborn baby being held by a nurse in a white dress and face mask.

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Maria Tallchief stands at the front of a wood-floored classroom in fifth position, arms in low fifth, as a man in shirtsleeves holds up a clapperboard next to her face. Behind her, younger dancers do the same.

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On the cover of Dance Magazine, Maria Tallchief and Erik Bruhn pose together in costume as Odette and Siegfried. The banner reads "Dance Magazine, July 1961, 75 cents."

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