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Maria Tallchief, RIP

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It is sad news indeed. And important news, though it' wasnot even mentioned on national news tonight (CBS, PBS). A very great ballerina. An American Indian ballerina. They could give her 30 seconds.

I never saw her dance. I've seen the clips posted here, and thank you all very much for posting them. We now have a lovely Tallchief archive.

RIP, Ms. Tallchief.

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Respectfully, pherank, Tallchief was the cornerstone of Balanchine’s young company, which company became one of the greatest in the world if not the greatest, and one of his wives. It’s unsurprising that she should be identified as his ballerina and I don’t think Tallchief would have expected anything else. That is the fate of the muse, for better and worse. Tallchief would also be the first to say that she was transformed by Balanchine’s training. This doesn’t take away from Tallchief’s own personality and gifts. No question she was on the rise in the Ballets Russes, and she might have become America’s first prima without Balanchine. She might also have become an artist as well as a star without Balanchine, but certainly a different one. And Tallchief is also part of ballet history not only because of her status as America’s first international ballet star but because qualities unique to her inspired Balanchine to create a series of classic ballerina roles – not only the new ones made on Tallchief but his recreations of canonical ballerina roles such as those in Swan Lake and Nutcracker just for her. That’s a tribute to Tallchief, not a denigration.

Certainly other aspects of her career shouldn’t be neglected, though, and I think the obits so far could have spent more time on her years as an artistic director.

I guess calling the Tall Chiefs an oil family is misleading in that they weren’t Rockefellers, but I think it was just a quick way of indicating where their money came from.

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It is sad news indeed. And important news, though it' wasnot even mentioned on national news tonight (CBS, PBS). A very great ballerina. An American Indian ballerina. They could give her 30 seconds.

They did mention her on CBS and even showed a clip from Swan Lake. I am sad that the other networks did not mention her. I am surprised PBS did not even cite her death but instead did a profile on Jonathan Winters who was also born in 1925.

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Respectfully, pherank, Tallchief was the cornerstone of Balanchine’s young company, which company became one of the greatest in the world if not the greatest, and one of his wives. It’s unsurprising that she should be identified as his ballerina and I don’t think Tallchief would have expected anything else.

Ah, but would she have wanted something more? ;)

That their lives, and careers, were intertwined, I think is obvious to us all. My sore point was just in the NY Times labeling. This person's life has ended, and who were they? A "Balanchine ballerina". Not a bad thing at all, but it doesn't explain why she needs to be mentioned on the front page of the Times.

In your words, "Tallchief was the cornerstone of Balanchine’s young company". So of course there's more to the story than just Balanchine's contribution. I see this type of headline in the arts press everyday: people being identified according to their relation to Balanchine, or Diaghilev. The practice is lazy and superficial, imo, and it just makes gods out of B and D but doesn't actually do so much for everyone else involved in the art.

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As one of the most important American Ballerinas and, too, specifically for her role as a history-making Balanchine Ballerina,Tallchief deserves every accolade. I never saw her except in video clips--which do indicate what a thrilling, beautiful dancer she was. RIP.

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Such sad news!! I was most familiar with her wonderful interviews in the documentary Dancing for Mr. B, as well as her autobiography. A great loss for the ballet world. crying.gif

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Oh, I'm so sad. The world has lost a great soul. Rest in Peace, Ms. Tallchief.

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In the mid-50s, liking some ballet music I'd heard on records, I took the opportunity to go and look at some of the ballets when they came to Chicago, and I remember Maria Tallchief's entrance in Balanchine's Firebird from NYCB's visit to the Civic Theater:

The stage having gradually grown dark in the first scene, where Francisco Moncion as Prince Ivan expressed through alternating gestures and movements the two ideas in the printed synopsis that he was the ruler of this realm and supreme in it, and that he was in an unfamiliar part of it and afraid, fascinating me by the exactness and clarity of their meaning - as though words had been spoken - it was prepared for a spotlight circling the edge of the stage counterclockwise in time with the heavy rising and falling of the bass line in the music with which Firebird begins and which returns here:

Once around - twice - on the third pass downstage audience left, the empty spotlight suddenly was occupied by a ballerina in a brief red costume pirouetting so rapidly around the stage she was blurred in the light, until she reached upstage audience right, where she and the light stopped suddenly. (Uproar in the house!) Upstage she began the adagio variation we have seen in recent revivals of the ballet, but when I began to visit New York regularly in the early 70s, no one who had seen Tallchief's Firebird recalled that entrance. At the time, I had to see that again, and went back the next night, and there it all was again, including the audience uproar. (Another dancer was cast as Firebird according to the program, but on the way out, I noticed a slip drop from my mine which stated that Tallchief would dance that evening too. Until then, I thought, "That's a pretty good understudy.")

My guess is that Balanchine, who I think didn't like too much reaction, thought the audience was too distracted to see the variation properly or something, and discontinued this spectacular introduction, which he may have been "trying out on the road".

Much more recently, she had a few speaking engagements in the Chicago area, at Ravinia in 2004 and in the city in 2008. Both times, as my notes convey, she exhibited the directness she was noted for.

Another one of the greats is gone, although we might feel a little better if we remember not only that a few performance clips and many of her words remain, but also that she participated in some of the Balanchine Trust's Performer's Archives recordings, coaching young dancers in her roles. And there are some videos of her Chicago City Ballet dancers.

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Respectfully, pherank, Tallchief was the cornerstone of Balanchine’s young company, which company became one of the greatest in the world if not the greatest, and one of his wives. It’s unsurprising that she should be identified as his ballerina and I don’t think Tallchief would have expected anything else.

Ah, but would she have wanted something more? ;)

That their lives, and careers, were intertwined, I think is obvious to us all. My sore point was just in the NY Times labeling. This person's life has ended, and who were they? A "Balanchine ballerina". Not a bad thing at all, but it doesn't explain why she needs to be mentioned on the front page of the Times.

In your words, "Tallchief was the cornerstone of Balanchine’s young company". So of course there's more to the story than just Balanchine's contribution. I see this type of headline in the arts press everyday: people being identified according to their relation to Balanchine, or Diaghilev. The practice is lazy and superficial, imo, and it just makes gods out of B and D but doesn't actually do so much for everyone else involved in the art.

I guess I don't necessarily see it as laziness, or an insult to Tallchief's achievement; it seems reasonable to me to refer to Tallchief as a muse to Balanchine.

A nice quote from d'Amboise in the NYT obit below, echoing what you said earlier:

“When you thought of Russian ballet, it was Ulanova,” he said an interview on Friday. “With English ballet, it was Fonteyn. For American ballet, it was Tallchief. She was grand in the grandest way.”

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I've started to look about for some nice quotes - here's one from Paul Mejia (choreographer, nycb dancer, artistic director, and, Suzanne Farrell's ex-husband). It also naturally refers to Balanchine since it is from the book "I Remember Balanchine"...

We must remember Balanchine’s teachings. That's where I think a lot of people have failed. As Maria Tallchief says, "I don't know what he did in the end, but I do know what he did when I was there." Somebody else has to teach the next step.

I learned a lot from Maria Tallchief. I re-remembered, thanks to her. That which came before what he taught us is a very important step, because what he taught us doesn’t always make sense if you don't remember what came before. I am extremely fortunate to have worked with Maria for seven years.

She is a tireless lady, and she teaches the same thing day in and day out. She beats it into you with infinite patience and will not accept anything else. Between Maria Tallchief's time and our time with Balanchine, there were changes in Balanchine’s teaching. For example, Maria's épaulemenf and intensity were intrinsic in her. Not all dancers can be like that. If you look at what's happened since, there's been a lot more freedom, not all of which works.

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Here's hoping NYCB will give Maria Tallchief a special evening tribute like they did with Melissa Hayden when she passed away some years back. I would be very surprise and disappointed if they don't. From everything I've read Tallchief was literally the face of New York City Ballet in it's first several years. It was her performance in Firebird that almost single-handedly put the company on the map and that shouldn't be forgotten.

They would have to do some reshuffling but an evening of Allegro Brillante, Scotch Symphony and The Firebird seem to be in order.

What a great lost. Maria Tallchief will be missed!.

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Respectfully, pherank, Tallchief was the cornerstone of Balanchine’s young company, which company became one of the greatest in the world if not the greatest, and one of his wives. It’s unsurprising that she should be identified as his ballerina and I don’t think Tallchief would have expected anything else.

Ah, but would she have wanted something more? ;)

That their lives, and careers, were intertwined, I think is obvious to us all. My sore point was just in the NY Times labeling. This person's life has ended, and who were they? A "Balanchine ballerina". Not a bad thing at all, but it doesn't explain why she needs to be mentioned on the front page of the Times.

In your words, "Tallchief was the cornerstone of Balanchine’s young company". So of course there's more to the story than just Balanchine's contribution. I see this type of headline in the arts press everyday: people being identified according to their relation to Balanchine, or Diaghilev. The practice is lazy and superficial, imo, and it just makes gods out of B and D but doesn't actually do so much for everyone else involved in the art.

I guess I don't necessarily see it as laziness, or an insult to Tallchief's achievement; it seems reasonable to me to refer to Tallchief as a muse to Balanchine.

I sort of understand the thought. In her memoir, just as we can read from many other ballerinas that once were the focus of B's creations, she clearly remembers the time and place when she knew...she felt that Balanchine had lost interest in her and was about to move on to another woman dancer. In certain way they knew that this was a huge wall for their careers, for which for many of them-(not necessarily Tallchief, as we know she danced out of City Ballet scope)-Mr B was the epicenter of their professional life. I have read two different thoughts on this from two other great ballerinas related to their desire to try not to be only remembered as professional products of Balanchine: Alonso and Kirkland. The first one having never considered the idea of changing companies, even after having tried the sweet taste of success in Balanchine's uber masterpiece-(and we know also that Balanchine, just as he overpassed later on young Rudi, never had interest in incorporate this sort of diva-like personalities into his troupe)...the second one deciding to get out and explore-(Farrell can be quoted as declaring this move Kirkland's grand mistake, but then...was't her Giselle and Kitri great achievements in her career...?). It is not an insult to name her as a "Balanchine ballerina"...it is definitely not untrue, but there were also other achievements of her, I believe, without him.

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....Tallchief was the cornerstone of Balanchine’s young company, which company became one of the greatest in the world if not the greatest, and one of his wives. It’s unsurprising that she should be identified as his ballerina and I don’t think Tallchief would have expected anything else. That is the fate of the muse, for better and worse. Tallchief would also be the first to say that she was transformed by Balanchine’s training. This doesn’t take away from Tallchief’s own personality and gifts. No question she was on the rise in the Ballets Russes, and she might have become America’s first prima without Balanchine. She might also have become an artist as well as a star without Balanchine, but certainly a different one. And Tallchief is also part of ballet history not only because of her status as America’s first international ballet star but because qualities unique to her inspired Balanchine to create a series of classic ballerina roles – not only the new ones made on Tallchief but his recreations of canonical ballerina roles such as those in Swan Lake and Nutcracker just for her. That’s a tribute to Tallchief, not a denigration.

Well said, Dirac. Ms. Tallchief was THE face of New York City Ballet for a good, long time not to mention a wonderful dancer with enormous personality and grace. I loved what President Clinton said when he awarded her the National Medal Of The Arts in 1999. Here is the full text:

George Balanchine once told audiences not to analyze ballet. "Words cannot describe it," he said, "you cannot explain a flower." So it's impossible to explain the radiance and grace of Maria Tallchief.

She leapt from Oklahoma's Osage Indian territory to the center stages of the world. Her partnership with Balanchine transformed the ballet world for the ages. She was his inspiration for the title role in "The Firebird." She was the first sugarplum fairy.

A reviewer once said that hers will always be the story of ballet conquering America -- but also, I would add, the story of America conquering ballet.

Maria Tallchief took what had been a European art form, and made it America's own. How fitting that a Native American woman would do that. With magic, mystery and style, she soared above all.

Colonel, read the citation.

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Mme. Hermine and Paul, thank you for the clips. I just love the Allegro Brillante. Ms. Tallchief really owns the role and dances with such beauty, aplomb and grace. Great musicality and she is absolutely gorgeous. And evidently having a ball. And the Firebird clip! I am so well-acquainted with it - it's my favorite clip of Maria dancing. She has all the soul and mystery of an other-worldly creature. Breathtaking. It never fails to lift me up. How I wish I could have seen Ms. Tallchief perform.

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I sort of understand the thought. In her memoir, just as we can read from many other ballerinas that once were the focus of B's creations, she clearly remembers the time and place when she knew...she felt that Balanchine had lost interest in her and was about to move on to another woman dancer. In certain way they knew that this was a huge wall for their careers, for which for many of them-(not necessarily Tallchief, as we know she danced out of City Ballet scope)-Mr B was the epicenter of their professional life. I have read two different thoughts on this from two other great ballerinas related to their desire to try not to be only remembered as professional products of Balanchine: Alonso and Kirkland. The first one having never considered the idea of changing companies, even after having tried the sweet taste of success in Balanchine's uber masterpiece-(and we know also that Balanchine, just as he overpassed later on young Rudi, never had interest in incorporate this sort of diva-like personalities into his troupe)...the second one deciding to get out and explore-(Farrell can be quoted as declaring this move Kirkland's grand mistake, but then...was't her Giselle and Kitri great achievements in her career...?). It is not an insult to name her as a "Balanchine ballerina"...it is definitely not untrue, but there were also other achievements of her, I believe, without him.

Well put, Cubanmiamiboy - that's basically what I was pointing out (though not as eloquently).

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I hope NYCB posts a few words on Ms. Tallchief over the next few days on its website.......

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Maria Tallchief and Erik Bruhn - Don Quixote PDD (1961)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVMrsSndnq0

Maria Tallchief and Andre Eglevsky in Scotch Symphony

>> Beware the really harsh and garbled audio track - you may want to turn your speakers way down

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAb5EIHfjO4

Stills and short footage (silent) of Tallchief at Jacobs Pillow

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDbYI9-qjL4

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Respectfully, pherank, Tallchief was the cornerstone of Balanchine’s young company, which company became one of the greatest in the world if not the greatest, and one of his wives. It’s unsurprising that she should be identified as his ballerina and I don’t think Tallchief would have expected anything else.

Ah, but would she have wanted something more? ;)

That their lives, and careers, were intertwined, I think is obvious to us all. My sore point was just in the NY Times labeling. This person's life has ended, and who were they? A "Balanchine ballerina". Not a bad thing at all, but it doesn't explain why she needs to be mentioned on the front page of the Times.

In your words, "Tallchief was the cornerstone of Balanchine’s young company". So of course there's more to the story than just Balanchine's contribution. I see this type of headline in the arts press everyday: people being identified according to their relation to Balanchine, or Diaghilev. The practice is lazy and superficial, imo, and it just makes gods out of B and D but doesn't actually do so much for everyone else involved in the art.

I guess I don't necessarily see it as laziness, or an insult to Tallchief's achievement; it seems reasonable to me to refer to Tallchief as a muse to Balanchine.

...the second one deciding to get out and explore-(Farrell can be quoted as declaring this move Kirkland's grand mistake, but then...was't her Giselle and Kitri great achievements in her career...?). It is not an insult to name her as a "Balanchine ballerina"...it is definitely not untrue, but there were also other achievements of her, I believe, without him.

Interesting reflection, but in some ways not an appropriate comparison: There is more than a small difference between Kirkland (or indeed Alonso) as a Balanchine Ballerina and Tallchief. Balanchine "discovered" Kirkland; featured her early in her career, only "creating" two somewhat important roles on her and both of those simply revised versions of roles done for other ballerinas--notably Alonso and Tallchief. Kirkland was never a foundational muse to Balanchine, never married him (ahem), and was never the "face" of his company though she was briefly one of its "stars" insofar as it can be said to have had stars. But even that period when she danced w. his company was a relatively brief one: she left in 1974--I believe she was about 22 years old and she had not yet even arrived at her full maturity as a dancer artist. Moreover she radically and explicitly turned against (what she judged to be) his aesthetic. Something that continues in the rhetoric of her dance academy.

Kitri, Giselle among her great roles? -- yes and Kirkland gave many other great historic performances post-Balanchine including her creation of the lead in Tudor's Leaves are Fading and, I would add, her performance in Tudor's Lilac Garden as well. To say nothing of her Swanilda and her Sylphide.

The magnificent Maria Tallchief also had a great "non" Balanchine career--I remember goosebumps when I tumbled over some stunning black and white photos of her in Swan Lake with Erik Bruhn--but she WAS a Balanchine muse, did create/originate major roles in his oeuvre--giving performances people remain in awe of today. And she was the face of the company -- for which she danced as a mature ballerina at the height of her power, for years.

What would indeed be inappropriate to say of Kirkland (or, for different reasons, Alonso) is NOT inappropriate to say about Tallchief. There are other things to say about Tallchief as well -- for sure -- including things to say about her career as a director/teacher as well as a dancer beyond NYCB! She is major, major figure in 20th-century ballet. But her historic role in the Balanchine story is not just a part, but a big part of what made her so. It honors her to acknowledge that with the utmost forthrightness. Though by all means we should remember her entire career.

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The Internet being what it is, one of ViolinConcerto's links has changed, the one to the Miami Herald's running of a pretty good AP dispatch out of Chicago, apparently, in which some of the picture captions give some information omitted from some other stories that use them. Try this:

http://www.miamihera...tallchief.html

Maria Tallchief and Andre Eglevsky in Scotch Symphony

>> Beware the really harsh and garbled audio track - you may want to turn your speakers way down

Whew! Point well taken, pherank. AD Films dropped the ball. This - and many of the other clips linked here - is on VAI DVD 4234, The Art of Maria Tallchief, my copy of which gives smooth, sweet sound, steady in pitch, and an image so much clearer than this one you even get the light gauzy effect somebody put on the screen in Scotch (but you can see them fine through it). So maybe consider this as a kind of preview. There were several copies of the VAI disk offered on Amazon when I checked a few minutes ago; everybody use the ad on this page, okay?

Having seen Drew's post now, I just want to say, well done!

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Though by all means we should remember her entire career.

Amen to that. flowers.gif (BTW...did she ever dance Giselle...?)

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>> Beware the really harsh and garbled audio track - you may want to turn your speakers way down

Whew! Point well taken, pherank. AD Films dropped the ball. This - and many of the other clips linked here - is on VAI DVD 4234, The Art of Maria Tallchief, my copy of which gives smooth, sweet sound, steady in pitch, and an image so much clearer than this one you even get the light gauzy effect somebody put on the screen in Scotch (but you can see them fine through it). So maybe consider this as a kind of preview. There were several copies of the VAI disk offered on Amazon when I checked a few minutes ago; everybody use the ad on this page, okay?

I was a little surprised by this bad digital transfer - there may be a better version online somewhere. I too have seen the ones on DVD and they look a fair amount better (although the blurry vaseline lens effect used in Scotch was just a bad idea that can't be undone).

I thought this Indian Country news item would be of interest:

Osage Ballerina Maria Tallchief Walks On at 88

http://indiancountry...walks-88-148780

I like the term, "walks on"...

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The NYTimes.com front page has the following lead in:

Maria Tallchief, Balanchine Ballerina, Dies

Ms. Tallchief, a daughter of an Oklahoma oil family, found her way to New York and became one of the most brilliant American ballerinas of the century. She was 88.

I take exception to the declaration that all her importance lies with Balanchine - there's nothing without Balanchine! - which is just wrong. I'm an admirer of Balanchine the artist, but these other people had lives, and long careers, and there is so much more to a life than "they danced under Balanchine". I've always thought of Tallchief as being the first American Prima Ballerina. That's big. That's enough. She also happened to have been trained by Russians, and danced with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and so had a Russian-style of stage presence that wasn't seen in any of the following Amercian dancers - a grandes dame.

A newspaper obit, with its space constraints, cannot cover a whole life or even a whole career, and I would agree with those who said that the Balanchine emphasis was appropriate for reasons of each one's influence on the other. However, even Balanchine might agree with you, pherank.

I have long been intrigued by the fact that, at least while she was present, when Balanchine set his own versions of Petipa's, Ivanov's and Fokine's ballets, he did so on Tallchief. His Swan Lake, Nutcracker, [Raymonda] Pas de Dix, Firebird, Pas de Trois (from Paquita). (Exceptions were Harlequinade, starring McBride, premiered in 1965, the same year Tallchief retired, and Valse et Variations [later Raymonda Variations, another take on that glorious score] in 1961.)

I had the opportunity to ask her the significance of that pattern when she spoke at some event in New York years back. I'm sure I was inarticulate, flustered in the presence of such an important person. She didn't seem to understand what I meant. She seemed taken aback, as if I were asking why Balanchine chose to choreograph on her at all -- definitely not my point.

But that he would make of her a 20th C. Odette and Sugar Plum Fairy and also the Sanguinic lead speaks volumes about her range.

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(BTW...did she ever dance Giselle...?)

A rhetorical question? Not just a question, but a question with a point? Like, was she deprived, for not dancing Giselle?

Well, the simple, factual answer seems to be, no, she didn't quite dance it, although she had seen it at least a few times. Balanchine, who staged it more than once, according to her autobiography, thought it wasn't right for her; Odette, yes, Giselle, no. She told Vakhtang Chabukiani when she met him on tour in Soviet Georgia in 1960; he disagreed, and proceeded to teach her Giselle and Toni Lander Myrtha. Multiple rehearsals, but a few pages later, discussing the role with Fonteyn, she tells us, "I'd never danced the role..."

She certainly considered the role important, comparing it to Hamlet in dramatic repertory. Whether she felt deprived or something, I find no hint of. There are references to Balanchine's musical facility - Tallchief, a pianist herself, raves about it. I think that's a source of her satisfaction with working with him, and may have meant more than dancing certain roles, much as she respected them.

Yeah, Odette and Sugar Plum and Sanguinic. And Firebird, of course, not to mention Eurydice. (Tallchief's autobiography lacks a list of roles.)

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