Prima Ballerina Maria Tallchief Dies at 88
Maria Tallchief, one of the American greatest ballerinas of the 20th century as, has passed away. She died Thursday, April 11 at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. She was 88. Kenneth von Heidecke, a choreographer and founder of the Chicago Festival Ballet, told the Washington Post that she died from complications following a broken hip she suffered in December.
"My mother was a ballet legend, who was proud of her Osage heritage," her daughter Elise Paschen, an award-winning poet, said in a statement. "Her dynamic presence lit up the room. I will miss her passion, commitment to her art and devotion to her family. She raised the bar high and strove for excellence in everything she did."
A daughter of an Osage Indian father and a Scottish-Irish mother, Elizabeth Marie Tallchief along with younger sister, Marjorie Tallchief, is one of the most prominent Native American dancers in ballet scene dominated by Russians and Europeans. New York Times reports that while many American dancers adopted Russian stage names, the Tallchief sisters refused to do so.
She's also an excellent piano player and once considered to pursue a career as a concert pianist before finding her true passion in dancing. In 1944 when she was still a teen, she began dancing for Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and caught the attention of George Balanchine, one of the world's foremost choreographers.
She later joined his company that would become the New York City Ballet in 1948. She became his muse and his main stars as the Swan Queen in his version of "Swan Lake", the Sugar Plum Fairy in his version of "The Nutcracker", Eurydice in "Orpheus", and the key roles in his works like "Sylvia Pas de Deux", "Allegro Brillante", "Pas de Dix" and "Scotch Symphony".
She married Balanchine, 42, in 1946 when she was 21 before getting divorce in 1950. She later tied the knot with Elmourza Natirboff, an aviator, in 1952 before splitting two years later. In 1956, she walked down the aisle for a third time to marry Henry Paschen. She's survived by two grandchildren, in addition to her poet daughter and her dancer sister.
In 1970s, she founded the Lyric Opera and started teaching at the ballet school. She was also the artistic director of the Chicago City Ballet. She retired from the stage as a dancer but continued to dedicate her life in dance community as a dance teacher. She's inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame and got a Kennedy Center Honor in 1996.
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