Obit of the Day: Wa-Xthe-Thomba*
Maria Tallchief would tell her students, “Be in the right place at the right time.” Of course having immeasurable talent helps. Ms. Tallchief, who was muse of famed Russian choreographer George Balanchine and the mother of modern ballet in Chicago, died on April 11, 2013 at the age of 88.
Ms. Tallchief began dancing at the age of three while living in Oklahoma. When she was eight her family moved to California where she met the first of several influential teachers - Bronoslava Nijinska, sister of the famed dancer Nijinksy.
In 1942, Ms. Tallchief was in the “right place at the right time” when she arrived in New York to join the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. The company was desperately in need of dancers because it’s Russian performers were stuck in their war-torn home country. Ms. Tallchief was not only an adequate dancer, she was an American and available.
Two years later George Balanchine joined the Ballet Russe, and the two artists married in 1946. She was 21, he was 42.
Over the next several years, Balanchine would create iconic roles for Ms. Tallchief in various ballets for the New York City Ballet: The title character in Stravinsky’s Firebird (1945), Eurydice in Orpheus (1948), the Swan Queen in Swan Lake (1951), and the Sugar Plum Fairy in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker (1954). (The couple divorced in 1950 but Ms. Tallchief stayed until 1965 while Balachine remained with the City Ballet until his death in 1972.)
Ms. Tallchief moved to Chicago after her final public performance on Bell’s Television Hour in 1966 to join her husband and five-year-old daughter. (Her daughter is poet Elise Paschen.)
In the mid-1970s, Ms. Tallchief created the Chicago City Ballet the first company of prominence in the city. It was originally connected with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, where Ms. Tallchief served as the director of ballet. In 1981, the City Ballet separated from the Lyric Opera and opened its first season. Under Ms. Tallchief’s direction, and funded by her husband Henry Paschen, a construction magnate, the company would perform for six seasons before closing in 1987 because of financial difficulties - and the hiring of a new artistic director.
Ms. Tallchief, who was a member of the Osage tribe^, was awarded a Kennedy Center Honor and inducted into the National Womens’ Hall of Fame, both in 1996. In 1999 she was a recipient of the National Medal of the Arts from the National Endowment of the Arts.
(Image of Maria Tallchief in George Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments. Tallchief danced the role of Sanguinic in early performances of the ballet, which featured elaborate costumes later replaced by plain leotards. - Ann Barzel Dance Research Collection, The Newberry Library, Chicago, and courtesy of The Dance Heritage Coalition.)
* The name means “Woman of Two Worlds” and was given to her by the state of Oklahoma when they honored her in 1953.
^ Ms Tallchief was considered one of five “American Indian Ballerinas of Oklahoma.” The group included her sister Marjorie, who would perform mainly in Europe, and Moscelyn Larkin, founder of the Tulsa Ballet.
Also a nice piece from WBEZ in Chicago on Ms. Tallchief.