Maria Tallchief: January 24, 1925 – April 11, 2013
Some of the best art, music, and literature to come out of the last century arose from the years, spanning 1920-1929, collectively known as The Jazz Age. Recuperation from the First World War, looked different on either side of the Atlantic. Stateside, we simultaneously doled out new freedoms while taking others away, by giving women the right to vote while prohibiting alcohol. Europe, France in particular, saw a blossoming of the arts, perhaps, because they were still allowed to imbibe.
At the mid-point of that decade, Josephine Baker lit up the stage at Follies Berger, literary powerhouses, Stein, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald were all hard at work with their publications, that year, of The Making of Americans, The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, and The Great Gatsby respectively. In 1925, the art world gave us The Three Dancers by Pablo Picasso, and, back in the U.S., it was the year of Maria Tallchief’s birth.
Ms. Tall Chief was born in Oklahoma at a time when her ancestral tribe, the Osage, had found economic prosperity in oil. The Tall Chief family, like the other Osage tribal families, prospered, allowing them to provide their daughters with an opportunity that would change the girls lives. Realizing dance as a passion, the family relocated to Los Angeles, California, where both Maria, and her sister Marjorie, studied with master ballet instructors. Marie’s exceptional talents fast tracked her to prominence and fame. By the young age of twenty-two, Maria Tallchief (changing Tall Chief to Tallchief) was offered, and had accepted, the coveted position of Prima Ballerina of the New York City Ballet becoming the first Native American woman to receive such an honor. She remained the company’s Prima for nearly the next decade and a half. Her first’s continued in her becoming the first woman from the U.S. to dance at the Paris Opera Ballet.
After a brief, but professionally constructive, marriage to famed choreographer, George Balanchine, Maria married Henry Paschen, with whom she had a daughter, Elsie, in 1957. Ms. Tallchief retired in 1965 but went on to found the Chicago City Ballet while also working as the creative director of the Lyric Opera Ballet.
Maria received numerous honors and awards during her life, including the Kennedy Center Honors for Artistic Contributions to the U.S., and the National Medal of the Arts. Before her death, in 2013, the ballerina also authored an autobiography, entitled, Maria Tallchief; America’s Prima Ballerina.
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