The Early Days
Listening to the clip of Maria Tallchief talking about how delighted she was to be a part of the Ballet Russe, together with all the excitement about the new "Ballets Russe" film set me to thinking about her early years with the Company. She had been in the Company a short time when I began seeing her in 1944--ah, we were both so young! She was a dancer you noticed right away; her innate musical sensitivity was evident even in her small solo roles. As she led the can-can in "Gaite Parisienne", I will never forget her ferocious manege around the stage ending in a triumphant split. In "Le Bourgeoise Gentilhomme" she alternated in two of the divertissements--a charming American Indian dance and the leader of the pas de sept. She also led the czardas in "Coppelia".
It is easy to see why Balanchine singled her out so quickly. She often spoke despairingly of herself as a dancer in those days when comparing herself to Balanchine trained dancers Mary Ellen Moylan or Marie-Jeanne. Moylan, indeed, had beautiful legs and feet and Marie-Jeanne's sharp-footed technique was easy to appreciate---but Tallchief had something else---a commanding stage presence that could not be ignored. The finely honed technique would come.
She was an exciting dancer on stage, no matter how small or large the part. She came into her own with the soloist lead in "Ballet Imperial"---a performance hard to top, although I did see the same technical spark and attack in Monique Meunier's recent performance.
Her dramatic bent was fully revealed as the mysterious Fairy in "Baiser de la Fee" and as the tempestuous Coquette in "Night Shadow" (later, "La Sonnambula"). Although she did not speak too highly of working with Antony Tudor, I often wished she had come under his influence---she had it in her to be a rival to Nora
It was this dramatic undertone that I found so attractive in her performances. Later, it was her Eurydice ("Orpheus") and Firebird that I found so memorable. Most Firebirds I have seen are more bird than woman; Tallchief exuded a womanly sensuality. When watching her in "Scotch Symphony" I always feel it is a forced romanticism. It doesn't seem to come naturally.
It seems to me that nowadays when people write of upcoming 'corps' members or soloists they usually emphasize technical prowess--but that will take them only so far on the road to ballerina-status.