Tallchief, Maria

Tallchief, Maria, 1925–2013, American ballerina, b. Fairfax, Okla., as Elizabeth Marie Tall Chief. Tallchief, of Osage descent, was trained both as a pianist and a dancer. Deciding on a career in ballet, she studied under Bronislava Nijinska, Ernest Belcher, and George Balanchine, whom she later married. A fiery and passionate dancer, she performed with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo from 1942 to 1947, when she joined the Ballet Society (later the New York City Ballet). Tallchief was particularly known for her performance of The Firebird (1949), a ballet created for her by Balanchine. Through 18 years as the City Ballet's prima ballerina and through her tours and television appearances with the American Ballet Theatre and other companies in the 1960s, Tallchief contributed greatly to the fame and prestige of American ballet. From 1973 to 1979 she was ballet direct at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and then was co-artistic director (1981–87) of the Chicago City Ballet.

See her autobiography (1997, with L. Kaplan).

Her younger sister, Marjorie Tallchief, 1926–2021, b. Denver Colo., was première danseuse with the Paris Opéra Ballet from 1957-62. (Her husband, George Skibine, was its ballet director and choreogapher.) She also performed with many other companies, retiring in 1966.

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