Maria Tallchief

Picture of Maria Tallchief dancing in the Firebird ballet

Who: Maria Tallchief, America’s first world-renowned prima ballerina and the first Native American to achieve the status of prima ballerina

Why She Dazzles: She broke down ethnic barriers in the dance world and became one of the world’s most famous ballerinas when Russian and European dancers dominated the stage.

Why You Need to Know Her Today: BITD, the New York City Ballet was not a place to see or be seen by glamorous people (a la today: chairwoman SJP). The company began in 1948, interesting few New Yorkers. When Maria joined, her beautiful and artistic performances made the company flourish and she drew the crowds in every role she danced.

What She Would Say Today—Because She Said It Then: “From your first plié you are learning to become an artist. In every sense of the word you are poetry in motion.”

Picture of a Tiffany brooch with diamonds
One of Maria’s greatest dance masterpieces was “Firebird,” a ballet depicting a beautiful Russian fairy tale and its curious creatures.

 

What She Would Wear to a Performance Tonight: A timeless bling piece for her dance. This Tiffany brooch pairs a cushion-cut aquamarine diamond with round diamonds, including a pink sapphire diamond to catch your eye. Perfect for a performance of “Firebird.”

A picture of a Nutcracker card designed by Ron Butt for FineStationery
Maria was the very first Sugar Plum Fairy to perform in George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” at the New York City Ballet. Balanchine’s “Nutcracker,” which includes many child performers, is the most popular ballet performed in the U.S.

 

What She Would Send to Her Friend: Maria danced as the Sugar Plum Fairy in the 1954 production of “The Nutcracker,” which transformed the ballet from obscurity to America’s most popular. She performed the lead role in many productions directed by her former husband and famed choreographer, George Balanchine; his choreography for “The Nutcracker” is still performed at the New York City Ballet this holiday season.

Picture of the Five Moons sculpture at the Tulsa Historical Society
“The Five Moons” is an outdoor sculpture of five iconic Native American ballerinas from Oklahoma, including Maria Tallchief, her sister Marjorie Tallchief, Rosella Hightower, Yvonne Chouteau, and Moscelyne Larkin.

 

Where She Would Instagram: Oklahoma. Although she spent only eight years in her hometown of Fairfax, Oklahoma—before she relocated and joined the prestigious Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo—she learned the traditions of the Osage tribe. The state of Oklahoma later honored Maria for her international achievements as a prima ballerina and Native American, and gave her the name Wa-Xthe-Thomba, meaning “Woman of Two Worlds.” Today, her statue appears alongside four other Native American ballerinas from Oklahoma in front of the Tulsa Historical Society.

Tweet This: #DYK Maria Tallchief is the first American ballerina to dance at the Paris Opera Ballet, the world’s oldest ballet company #anewlady

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