Prima Ballerina Maria Tallchief remembers her roots

Thursday, May 15th 2008, 5:07 pm
By: News 9

By Mary Joseph, NEWS 9

Oklahoma native Maria Tallchief became the first American prima ballerina, breaking barriers by receiving the highest title a dancer could be awarded.

Choreographer Ken von Heidecke, a former dancer, learned a contemprorary style of dance from Tallchief.

"She has something incredibly spiritual that was absolutely electifying on the stage," Ken von Heidecke.

Tallchief was born Osage County in 1925 and is Osage Indian. Her family is still well known in the area and signs of Tallcheif's life in Fairfax still remain.

"My father owned the local theater you know," Tallchief said. "It's called the Tallchief Theatre."

Tallchief started dancing at a young age. When she was eight-years-old, her family moved to California, where her training continued. Tallcheif's training lead her to New York, where she met Russian choreographer George Balanchine.

"Very often you are in the right place, at the right time, but you don't know it," Tallcheif said. "I knew it when I met Balanchine and I knew this was the way I wanted to dance."

Balanchine and Tallchief married, and though they later divorced, their partnership in ballet lasted for years as Tallchief carried on the Balanchine tradition.

Tallchief mesmerized audiences all over the world, becoming America's first prima ballerina. She performed the lead roles in all the classical ballets and with her delicate yet powerful style, Tallchief earned a reputation for bringing music to life.

"Those are wonderful memories for me," Tallchief said.

In 1966, to the surprise of the dancing world, Tallchief retired from ballet and moved to Chicago.

She became the artistic director of the Lyric Opera Ballet.

The 83-year-old respects Oklahoma and Osage culture, and said it's not surprising that she became a dancer.

Tallchief is one of the 5 Native American ballerinas that grace the walls of the Oklahoma state capitol, and said she's amused that her story is again being told.

"I'm very proud of my Indian heritage," Tallchief said. "I think it is an innate quality that Indians have to dance. They dance when they are happy, they dance when they are sad. They dance when they get married, they dance when someone dies."

Footage courtesy of Upstream Production.