cubanmiamiboy

Maria Tallchief's autobiography

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I'm reading "Maria Tallchief: America's Prima Ballerina". I started reading this book after a conversation with a former new yorker friend in which he told me that back in the days all his friends and himself thought that Gelsey Kirkland had been the favorite candidate to become the first American ballerina to achieve an international stardom. I immediately thought about Tallchief, and even Farrell. I had read Farrell's book already,so I got my hands on Tallchief's to make some comparisons and see.

If anything, I find fascinating to find some common places among the authors of this books. This is the fourth book I read in which the dancer keeps making sure that her importance within the Balanchine world gets properly recognized. After reading Danilova's early memories of the choreographer, to Alonso's brief experience with B's early creations for BT, to the late narratives of Farrell, and even Kirkland, Tallchief comes somewhere in the middle, I guess when Balanchine was at his maximum physical-mental capacity. Lovely pics included, and as I said, there are the obligated phrases..."Balanchine created this or that for me", along with the usual descriptions of his working method...something in which all this women seem to convey and agree.

I think Leclerq will go next...

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I think Leclerq will go next...

Kind of hard to do seeing as she's no longer with us, and she steadfastly refused to discuss Balanchine and her life with him.

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Yes, your friend's sense of ballet history seems a bit off, cubanmiamiboy, as Tallchief was indeed the first American to become an international ballet star!

This is the fourth book I read in which the dancer keeps making sure that her importance within the Balanchine world gets properly recognized.

Surely any dancer would want to talk in detail about roles made on her, as her intimate knowledge of those roles would go beyond anyone else's. Nothing wrong with that. :)

The missing links are Le Clercq and Adams, both of whom worked with him, along with Tallchief, at a time when he could be said to have been in his prime. It is interesting that none of Balanchine's wives and lovers ever wrote anything even resembling a tell-all, although Tallchief does hint at a few things if you read between the (vast) spaces in the lines of her story.

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Tallchief was indeed the first American to become an international ballet star!

American-born maybe...? What about Alonso, with her acquired citizenship...? (I always remember atm711 when talking about her as a truly American ballerina... :) )

And yes, there are some hints in between Tallchief's lines, but she doesn't go that deep...even less than Danilova.

So...there's NOTHING by LeClerq...? ...and what about Zorina...?

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.and what about Zorina...?

By Zorina there is . . . "Zorina." :) Copyright 1986. I hope some day to hear your thoughts on it.

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Maria Tallchief was very instrumental in the success of the infant New York City Ballet, and not to take anything away from her immense talent and charisma but I think the fact that she was also a Native American added to her international appeal.

I rather like the fact that none of the dancers that knew and worked with Balanchine intimately (I'm not counting Kirkland) have written a salacious, catty account of their time with him. I appreciate a little class and restraint in my biographies.

Cubanmiamiboy I don't really know that much about Ms. Alonzo but I have the perfect solution. I think you need to write that biography yourself! Get busy! :)

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Cubanmiamiboy I don't really know that much about Ms. Alonzo but I have the perfect solution. I think you need to write that biography yourself! Get busy! :)
I'll second that motion! There are still so many people alive who remember her from almost every stage of her career, and many are in Miami.

By the way, I've always considered Alonso to be an "American" artist, including her long and amazing service to ballet in Cuba.

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I appreciate a little class and restraint in my biographies.

I hear you, perky, as salaciousness saturates most biographies of the famous. But it's difficult sometimes for me to read genteel commentary about events when I know what really happened. Or just uninteresting, especially if the gentility is mixed with a lack of thoughtfulness. For all her faults (and yes, perhaps, exaggerations), I appreciate Kirkland's candor.

I think MT is often surprisingly candid--especially in interviews--but she also has a very selective memory--the right of any autobiographer, I suppose. But I'd much rather read a bio than an autobiography of most famous people, unless they happen to be writers.

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Well, I think the reason that there hasn't been a "salacious" tell-all of Balanchine is that in that "department," not much ... happened. I've read it consistently from enough of his ballerinas to believe them, that for Mr. B, matters of the heart pretty much stayed at the heart. For instance Allegra Kent's autobiography certainly holds nothing back in terms of her marriage to Bert Stern, but her description of Mr. B is consistent with everyone elese's.

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Tallchief says Balanchine had only one lung, had to reserve his energy and focus for his work. It sounds as though their domestic life was fairly uncomplicated, and maybe a little boring for biographers. Artists' works are usually more interesting than their personal lives--though Picasso is sort of a type apart (T J Clark in this year's Mellon lectures--online at the National Gallery of Art--has promised little or no biography in his discussions of Picasso's post cubist paintings, where structure and substance and space have their own domestic arguments with each other).

Anyway Leclerq's taped interview that was posted here earlier seems to back up Tallchief's comments. That said, Joan Acocella's talk at UC Berkeley in 2005 (online as a podcast), "Balanchine & Sex," did have some provocative insights.

What would be interesting to hear would for Tallchief to fill in more of Dirac's "(vast) spaces between the lines". For me this would be what was really happening behind stage in the late forties and early fifties when the company was just coming together as an institution--how the dancers interacted and who thought of certain parts as only theirs and how Balanchine the psychologist pulled the everything together (the old Mike Leigh Balanchine movie idea).

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I remember Tallchief saying something to the effect that there was too much work to think about whether something was going to be a great success or a masterpiece while it was being done. They worked hard, then they hoped for the best, after which they fell asleep and got up the next day to do barre. They don't have much time to analyze and reflect, if they're in the thick of things.

Tallchief was the alpha, until she wasn't any more, and when she began to be "treated alphabetically", she stopped. Until then, from the time she was a late teenager, she got the new stuff, and then passed those roles to other people when she got more new stuff. In the "Six Ballerinas" documentary, although Moylan was the originator of Sanguinic, Tallchief said she took over the role after Moylan danced it a few times. The observations of alphas and natural talents tend to be top down, which is what makes Merrill Ashley's -- a self-made dancer's -- memoir from, for the most part, lower in the food chain, a fascinating source.. Also Tchinarova-Finch's recent memoir and Barbara Fisher's brilliant book.

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Well, I think the reason that there hasn't been a "salacious" tell-all of Balanchine is that in that "department," not much ... happened. I've read it consistently from enough of his ballerinas to believe them, that for Mr. B, matters of the heart pretty much stayed at the heart. For instance Allegra Kent's autobiography certainly holds nothing back in terms of her marriage to Bert Stern, but her description of Mr. B is consistent with everyone elese's.

Kent is a special case – she always kept some distance from Balanchine ‘that way’ and it was not for lack of interest on his part. We do know that Balanchine had a number of affairs apart from the marriages and more well known muses. I'm sure that Balanchine was devoted heart and soul to each lady in turn, but if these had been only 'affairs of the heart' then it wouldn't have been necessary to bring such fierce pressure to bear upon the young Suzanne Farrell.

Tallchief says Balanchine had only one lung, had to reserve his energy and focus for his work.

From what Tallchief did describe of their marital life, I thought that was actually a not so veiled hint that there wasn’t much excitement in the bedroom.

For all her faults (and yes, perhaps, exaggerations), I appreciate Kirkland's candor.

Yes, a candid (auto) biography is not necessarily a mean-spirited or salacious one.

What would be interesting to hear would for Tallchief to fill in more of Dirac's "(vast) spaces between the lines". For me this would be what was really happening behind stage in the late forties and early fifties when the company was just coming together as an institution--how the dancers interacted and who thought of certain parts as only theirs and how Balanchine the psychologist pulled the everything together (the old Mike Leigh Balanchine movie idea).

Yes, definitely. There does seem to have been a kind of friendly competition between Mary Ellen Moylan and Tallchief, for example, which Tallchief “won," and Moylan's departure from the company seems to have been related to this. It would be interesting to hear more about that and how Balanchine dealt with personalities and problems.

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I remember Tallchief saying something to the effect that there was too much work to think about whether something was going to be a great success or a masterpiece while it was being done. They worked hard, then they hoped for the best, after which they fell asleep and got up the next day to do barre. They don't have much time to analyze and reflect, if they're in the thick of things.

Absolutely - but one of the things a good autobiography can do is allow the writer to look back and reflect on past events, which there wasn't necessarily time or freedom to do while they were happening.

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I remember Tallchief saying something to the effect that there was too much work to think about whether something was going to be a great success or a masterpiece while it was being done. They worked hard, then they hoped for the best, after which they fell asleep and got up the next day to do barre. They don't have much time to analyze and reflect, if they're in the thick of things.

Absolutely - but one of the things a good autobiography can do is allow the writer to look back and reflect on past events, which there wasn't necessarily time or freedom to do while they were happening.

Ah, but there's the rub--often times larger-than-life personalities don't also possess the powers of self-reflection.

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Kent is a special case – she always kept some distance from Balanchine ‘that way’ and it was not for lack of interest on his part. We do know that Balanchine had a number of affairs apart from the marriages and more well known muses. I'm sure that Balanchine was devoted heart and soul to each lady in turn, but if these had been only 'affairs of the heart' then it wouldn't have been necessary to bring such fierce pressure to bear upon the young Suzanne Farrell.

Well Mr. B was a man after all, but the portraits people have painted of him, from his wives to his "muses" to the corps de ballet girls is remarkably consistent: a reserved, polite, somewhat remote man, not the type to have torrid affairs. Even with Farrell, she kind of hints that despite his ardor something held both of them back, and "even if it had been bliss we would have lost something." I always interpreted it as her incredibly tactful manner of saying that she just didn't feel it for him "that way." Considering how many people have told their "Balanchine story," I think that in that department if there had been more to tell more would have been written.

And at this point I don't think it's lingering reverence for Balanchine that's holding anyone back.

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It would be interesting to hear more about that and how Balanchine dealt with personalities and problems.
This would be interesting. Especially in those early days when everyone in the company came with a prior history: their own training, careers, expectations.

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Well Mr. B was a man after all, but the portraits people have painted of him, from his wives to his "muses" to the corps de ballet girls is remarkably consistent: a reserved, polite, somewhat remote man, not the type to have torrid affairs. Even with Farrell, she kind of hints that despite his ardor something held both of them back, and "even if it had been bliss we would have lost something." I always interpreted it as her incredibly tactful manner of saying that she just didn't feel it for him "that way." Considering how many people have told their "Balanchine story," I think that in that department if there had been more to tell more would have been written.

And at this point I don't think it's lingering reverence for Balanchine that's holding anyone back.

While that may have been true of his most of his working life, I think both Taper, in his descriptions of Balanchine pursuing Zorina (and her own description) and his infatuation with Holly Howard (?), tells a different story in his personal life. Ruthana Boris, in "Balanchine's Ballerinas", wrote how they saw Balanchine and Howard (?) driving down the street in his open car and all of the young dancers dying with envy. While he was reserved and polite enough to have shocked Tallchief with a marriage proposal, her description of how once a couple, he chose and presented her with L'heure Bleue perfume wasn't swashbuckling, but it was ardent. She also describes how she realized that he was interested in Leclerq when she walked behind them, and recognized his flirtatious behavior from their relationship. Farrell may not have felt for him "that way", but what she describes as his courtship behavior in "Holding onto the Air" is far from reserved, polite, or remote, apart from his strategy of sucking up to her mother. Throwing jewelry across the room is quite melodramatic.

If anything, it sounds to me like he was quite intense during courtship, with the ability to focus entirely on the object of his affection. The pattern I see is that when he was fully engaged with ballet, soon after he got the girl, he set her aside, but during the periods where he did ballet intermittently or not at all, his lovers got more of his attention longer.

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I think both Taper, in his descriptions of Balanchine pursuing Zorina (and her own description) and his infatuation with Holly Howard (?), tells a different story in his personal life. Ruthana Boris, in "Balanchine's Ballerinas", wrote how they saw Balanchine and Howard (?)...

Yes, that was Holly Howard. She was never interviewed, as far as I know. Too bad.

Balanchine seems to have been absolutely mad about Zorina. She was special, I think.

I loved the pictures in Tallchief's book of the two of them on holiday in Oklahoma. Balanchine must have felt he was really seeing America!

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