Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Born in Fairfax, Oklahoma, on January 24, 1925, Elizabeth Marie Tall Chief became the first American classical dancer to earn international acclaim as a prima ballerina. Her parents, Alexander Joseph Tall Chief and Ruth Parker, had acquired their wealth from Osage oil money, and from her early years Elizabeth Marie was schooled in music and dance. In 1930 Ruth moved the family to Hollywood, California, specifically to advance the music and dance careers of Elizabeth Marie and her younger sister Marjorie. Elizabeth Marie's talents as a pianist and dancer blossomed, and by her senior year at Beverly Hills High School she had chosen ballet for her career.

Elizabeth Marie joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1942 and gained soloist status in 1943, the same year she changed her name to Maria Tallchief. Following her 1946 marriage to George Balanchine, the Russian-born choreographer acclaimed as the father of American ballet, Tallchief became the first American featured as a guest artist with the Paris Opera Ballet. She joined Balanchine's Ballet Society in 1947 and contributed to the company's development into the New York City Ballet the following year. Tallchief was featured in twenty-two major works created by Balanchine and is recognized as the prototype for what is known today as the "Balanchine ballerina." During her career with the New York City Ballet, which ended in 1965, she appeared as guest artist with companies such as the American Ballet Theatre during its 1958 Russian tour and the Royal Danish Ballet. In addition to honors bestowed on her by the Osage Nation, the state of Oklahoma, and the dance world, Tallchief was named Indian of the Year in 1963. She received the Capezio Award in 1965, a Kennedy Center Honors in 1996, and a National Arts Award in 1999.

Lili Cockerille Livingston Tulsa, Oklahoma

Livingston, Lili Cockerille. American Indian Ballerinas. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997.

Reynolds, Nancy. Repertory in Review: 40 Years of the New York City Ballet. New York: Dial Press, 1977.

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