Maria Tallchief


Maria Tallchief was born in Fairfax, Oklahoma, United States on January 24th, 1925 and is the Dancer. At the age of 88, Maria Tallchief biography, profession, age, height, weight, eye color, hair color, build, measurements, education, career, dating/affair, family, news updates, and networth are available.

Date of Birth
January 24, 1925
United States
Place of Birth
Fairfax, Oklahoma, United States
Death Date
Apr 11, 2013 (age 88)
Zodiac Sign
Ballet Dancer
Maria Tallchief Height, Weight, Eye Color and Hair Color

At 88 years old, Maria Tallchief has this physical status:

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Hair Color
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Eye Color
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Maria Tallchief Religion, Education, and Hobbies
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Maria Tallchief Spouse(s), Children, Affair, Parents, and Family
George Balanchine, ​ ​(m. 1946; annulled 1952)​, Elmourza Natirboff, ​ ​(m. 1952; div. 1954)​, Henry D. Paschen Jr., ​ ​(m. 1956; died 2004)​
Elise Paschen
Dating / Affair
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Maria Tallchief Career

Tallchief graduated from Beverly Hills High School in 1942. She had given up piano and wanted to go to college, but her father was against it. "I've paid for your lessons all your life," he said. "Now it's time for you to find a job." She won a bit part in Presenting Lily Mars, an MGM musical with Judy Garland. Dancing in the movie was "not gratifying" and Tallchief decided against making a career of it. That summer, family friend Tatiana Riabouchinska asked if Tallchief would like to go to New York. With Riabouchinska chaperoning, she set off for the big city at age 17 in 1942.

Once in New York, Tallchief looked up Serge Denham. A secretary told her that the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo did not need any more dancers, and she left crying. A few days later, she was told there was a place for her after all. Denham did not actually remember her, but she had something he needed – a passport. Many of his dancers were Russian émigrés who lacked passports and the troupe had a Canadian tour coming up. Based on a combination of her talent and her passport, Tallchief was taken on as an apprentice. Her first performance was in Gaîté Parisienne. After the Canadian tour, one of the dancers left the troupe due to pregnancy and Tallchief was offered the dancer's place and a $40 per week salary.

On her first day as a full member of the company, Tallchief was surprised to find Nijinska had come to town to stage Chopin Concerto with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. She soon cast Tallchief as first ballerina Nathalie Krassovska's understudy for the lead role. At the Ballet Russe, the Russian ballerinas frequently feuded with American ballerinas, whom they reportedly viewed as inferior. When Tallchief was surprisingly promoted by Nijinska, she became the primary target of their animosity.

At the same time, the company was preparing to stage Agnes de Mille's Rodeo, or The Courting at Burnt Ranch, an early example of balletic Americana. One day, de Mille suggested that Tallchief change her name. It was a sensitive subject for Tallchief; Denham had previously suggested Tallchief change her surname to a Russian-sounding name such as Tallchieva, a practice common among ballet dancers at the time. She refused: "Tallchief was my name, and I was proud of it." However, de Mille had a more acceptable idea – using a modified version of her middle name. Tallchief agreed and was known as Maria Tallchief for the remainder of her career.

Within her first two months at Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, Tallchief had appeared in seven different ballets as part of the corps de ballet. While in New York, she took classes at the School of American Ballet, but on tour there were no official classes. Instead, Tallchief studied the efforts of her more experienced colleagues. In particular, she admired Alexandra Danilova who was known for her work ethic and professionalism. Tallchief practiced whenever she could, earning a reputation as a hard worker. "I was always doing a barre," she wrote, "always giving it my all in rehearsals."

Krassovska feuded with management regularly, raising the possibility of a sudden promotion for Tallchief. She nearly quit the company late in 1942 and Tallchief was told she would go on in her place. Krassovska was persuaded to return, but the incident made it clear to Tallchief she needed to be ready to perform Krassovska's technically difficult role on short notice – something for which she was not yet ready. In the spring of 1943, Krassovska argued with Denham and left the company. "Unprepared, I was numb with terror," Tallchief recalled. When the company returned to New York, Tallchief received positive reviews. The New York Times dance critic John Martin wrote, "Tallchief gave a stunning account of herself in Nijinkska's Chopin Concerto ... She has an easy brilliance that smacks of authority rather than bravura," and predicted she would be a big star in the near future. Glory, however, was short lived as Tallchief returned to the corps when the staging of Chopin Concerto was complete.

Back on tour, Tallchief saw her parents in Los Angeles. Seeing Tallchief's frail appearance – she had lost a lot of weight from a combination of poor nutrition and stress – and her minor role in The Snow Maiden, her mother attempted to persuade Tallchief to quit ballet and return to piano. Ruth Tallchief changed her mind when Lichine showed her Martin's column and explained that he was America's top dance critic. Tallchief's second year with Ballet Russe brought bigger roles. She was a soloist in Le Beau Danube and got the lead in Ancient Russia, another Nijinska ballet.

In the spring of 1944, well known choreographer George Balanchine was hired by Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo to work on a new production called Song of Norway. The move would mark a turning point in Tallchief's and Balanchine's careers. She was drawn to Balanchine from the start. Describing one of her first experiences with him, she wrote, "When I saw what he had done, I was astonished. Everything seemed so simple yet perfect: An elegant ballet fell into place before my eyes." At first, she was not sure if he was paying much attention to her, but she quickly found out he was. Balanchine assigned Tallchief a solo in Song of Norway and on the night before the premiere also informed her that she would be Danilova's understudy. The ballet was a success and Balanchine was offered a contract for the rest of the season. He was glad to get back into ballet after years on Broadway and in Hollywood and accepted the offer. Sensing Tallchief's star was on the rise, her mother demanded a raise for her daughter. Tallchief was "mortified" by the move, but Denham gave into the demands and increased her salary to $50 per week and promoted her to "soloist."

Balanchine continued to cast Tallchief in important roles. In Danses Concertantes, she was part of a jazzy pas de trois created for Mary Ellen Moylan, Nicholas Magallanes, and herself. The steps were classical in form, but they were presented in a unique manner. "The accent was sharp, the rhythm swinging and modern," she wrote. "Performing the steps seemed more like an exercise for pleasure and enjoyment than work. It was magical." In Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, she had a pas de deux with Yurek Lazowsky.

Shortly before Ballet Imperial was to open, Balanchine informed Tallchief that she would be second lead behind Moylan. "I nearly fainted," she recalled. "I couldn't get over it." As the season wore on, Balanchine grew fond of her both professionally – The Washington Post called Tallchief his "crucial artistic inspiration" – and personally. Tallchief was ignorant of the personal attraction for a long time and their relationship remained mostly on a professional level. Slowly they became friends; then one day, Balanchine asked Tallchief to marry him, much to her surprise. After some thought, she agreed and the couple wed on August 16, 1946.

One night on tour in 1945, Tallchief was doing her barre when Balanchine remarked, "If only you would learn to do battement tendu properly you wouldn't have to learn anything else." It was his way of saying she needed to start all over – battement tendu is the most basic ballet exercise there is. "I wanted to die," she recalled. "But I had seen the difference between Mary Ellen's [who was a pupil of Balanchine] dancing and mine. I knew he was right." Under the tutelage of Balanchine, Tallchief lost ten pounds and elongated her legs and neck. She learned how to hold her chest high, keep her back straight, and keep her feet arched. "My body seemed to be going through a metamorphosis," she recalled. Tallchief relearned the basic exercises the way Balanchine wanted and transformed her greatest weakness–turnout–into a strength. Danilova devoted a lot of her time to instructing Tallchief in the ballerina's art, helping her transform from a teenage girl into a young woman.

Tallchief rose to the rank of "featured soloist" as Balanchine continued to cast her in important roles. She created (was the first person to perform) the role of Coquette in Night Shadow, the ballet's most technically challenging role, after Danilova selected the other female lead for herself.

Also in 1946, Balanchine joined with arts patron Lincoln Kirstein to establish the Ballet Society, a direct forerunner to the New York City Ballet. Tallchief had six months remaining on her contract with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, so stayed with the company until 1947. When her contract expired, she joined Balanchine who was in France as guest choreographer at the Paris Opera Ballet. He had been called upon to "save" the famous troupe, but not everyone appreciated his presence. A group of supporters of Serge Lifar, who was on leave while accusations of aiding the Nazis during World War II were investigated, led a vocal campaign to get rid of Balanchine. Spectateur and Les Arts joined in, publishing articles attacking Balanchine personally. He ignored the company's hierarchy, further angering some dancers.

When Tallchief arrived, she was put to work immediately with roles in Le baiser de la fée and Apollo. Another dancer pulled out of Apollo shortly before opening night, forcing Tallchief to learn a more difficult role on short notice. In spite of all the difficulties, opening night was a huge success. The French press was fascinated by Tallchief's dancing, and even more so her background. "Peau Rouge danse a l'Opera pour le Roi de Suede" [Redskin dances at the Opera for the King of Sweden], read a front-page headline. "La Fille du grand chef Indien danse a l'Opera" [The daughter of the great Indian chief dances at the Opera], read another. Her colleagues never appreciated Tallchief's presence, but French audiences loved her. After six months in Paris, Tallchief and Balanchine returned to New York. During her time in Paris, Tallchief became the first American to perform with the Paris Opera Ballet.

When the couple returned to the States, Tallchief quickly became one of the first stars, and first prima ballerina, of the New York City Ballet, which opened in October 1948. Balanchine "revolutionized ballet" by creating roles that demanded athleticism, speed, and aggressive dancing like nothing before. Tallchief was well suited for Balanchine's vision. "I always thought Balanchine was more of a musician even than a choreographer, and perhaps that's why he and I connected," Tallchief recalled. He created many roles specifically for Tallchief, including the lead of "The Firebird" in 1949. Of her "Firebird" debut, Kirstein wrote "Maria Tallchief made an electrifying appearance, emerging as the nearest approximation to a prima ballerina that we had yet enjoyed." The role created a sensation and launched her to the top of the ballet world, granting her the prima ballerina title. Noting the great technical difficulty of the role, The New York Times critic John Martin wrote that Tallchief was asked "to do everything except spin on her head, and she does it with complete and incomparable brilliance."

Tallchief's popularity helped the fledgeling dance company grow and she was asked to perform as many as eight times a week. In 1954, Tallchief was given the role of Sugar Plum Fairy in Balanchine's newly reworked version of The Nutcracker, then an obscure ballet. Her performance of the role helped transform the work into an annual Christmas classic, and the industry's most reliable box-office draw. Critic Walter Terry remarked "Maria Tallchief, as the Sugar Plum Fairy, is herself a creature of magic, dancing the seemingly impossible with effortless beauty of movement, electrifying us with her brilliance, enchanting us with her radiance of being. Does she have any equals anywhere, inside or outside of fairyland? While watching her in The Nutcracker, one is tempted to doubt it."

Other notable roles Tallchief created under Balanchine include the Swan Queen in Balanchine's version of Swan Lake and Eurydice in Orpheus. She created the lead role of "Prodigal Son," "Jones Beach," "A La Françaix," and plotless works such as "Sylvia Pas de Deux," "Allegro Brillante," "Pas de Dix," and "Symphony in C." Her fiery, athletic performances helped establish Balanchine as the era's most prominent and influential choreographer.

Tallchief remained with the New York City Ballet until February 1960, but also took time off to work with other companies. She made guest appearances with the Chicago Opera Ballet, the San Francisco Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet, and the Hamburg Ballet, among others. Working for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1954–55, she was paid $2,000 a week, reportedly the highest salary ever paid to a dancer at the time. In 1958, she created the lead in Balanchine's Gounod Symphony before taking a leave of absence to have her first child.

After leaving the New York City Ballet, Tallchief joined American Ballet Theatre, first as a guest dancer then as prima ballerina. That summer, she appeared alongside Danish danseur Erik Bruhn in Russia, where she was recognized for "aplomb, brilliance, and dignity of the American style." In so doing, she became the first American dancer to perform at Moscow's famed Bolshoi Theater. From 1960 to 1962, Tallchief expanded her repertoire taking on dramatic, as opposed to abstract, roles such as the title roles of Birgit Cullberg’s Miss Julie and Lady from the Sea, as well as the melancholy heroine of Antony Tudor’s Jardin aux Lilas.

Tallchief's dancing was not confined to the stage. She appeared on multiple TV shows, including The Ed Sullivan Show. She portrayed Anna Pavlova in the 1952 movie musical Million Dollar Mermaid. In 1962, Tallchief was Rudolf Nureyev's partner of choice for his American debut which was broadcast on national television. Her final performance in America was on television's "Bell Telephone Hour" in 1966.

On the urging of Balanchine (to whom she was no longer married), she relocated to Germany, briefly becoming the lead dancer of the Hamburg Ballet. One of her last performances was a 1966 title role in Peter van Dyk's Cinderella, before she retired from dancing., not wishing to dance beyond her prime. During her career, she danced throughout Europe and South America, Japan, and Russia. She made guest appearances with several symphony orchestras.

After retiring from dancing, Tallchief moved to Chicago, where husband Buzz Paschen resided. She served as director of ballet for the Lyric Opera of Chicago from 1973 to 1979. In 1974, she founded Lyric Opera's ballet school, where she taught the Balanchine technique. Explaining her teaching philosophy she wrote "New ideas are essential, but we must retain respect for the art of ballet–and that means the artist too–or else it is no longer an art form."

With her sister Marjorie, Tallchief founded the Chicago City Ballet in 1981. She served as co-artistic director until its demise in 1987. Despite the company failing, the Chicago Tribune called her "a force in the history of Chicago dance," and said she arguably increased the popularity of dance in the city.

Tallchief was featured in the documentary film Dancing for Mr. B in 1989. From 1990 until her death, she was artistic adviser to Von Heidecke's Chicago Festival Ballet.