TBT: Rarely Seen Photos of the Incandescent Maria Tallchief
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