Sunday, April 14, 2013

Osage Ballerina Maria Tallchief Dies

AP via NPR

I saw the news on Twitter yesterday that Maria Tallchief had died last Thursday. Tallchief was the first Native American prima ballerina of any major ballet company in the world, at a time when few Americans of any race could compete with Russian dancers. She married choreographer George Ballanchine and danced for his New York City Ballet, where he created most of her signature roles just for her.

Tall Chief was born in the Osage Nation in Oklahoma in the 1920s at the peak of the Osage tribe's wealth from oil production on their reservation, not far from the town where I spent my middle-school years. We learned about her and the other "Five Moons" dancers in school as I was growing up. The Five Moons were five famous Indian ballerinas who were all born in Oklahoma and went on to dance for world class companies.

Maria's sister Marjorie Tallchief danced for the Paris Opera. Yvonne Chouteau, a Shawnee-Cherokee from Vinita, OK, danced for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and founded the Oklahoma City Ballet. Rosella Hightower, a Choctaw from Durwood, OK, also danced for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and was the director of several French city ballet companies, including the Ballet de l'Opera National de Paris. Moscelyne Larkin, born in Miami, OK, of Peoria and Shawnee heritage, danced for the original Ballet Russe and founded the Tulsa Ballet Theatre. They are depicted in a mural by Mike Larsen, who is of Chickasaw descent, at the Oklahoma State Capitol Building entitled Flight of Spirit. All five danced together in 1967 in a performance of Louis Ballard's (also an Oklahoman, of Quapaw and Cherokee heritage) The Four Moons ballet, which honors them.

Flight of Spirit

Yvonne Chouteau was once quoted in an interview, "The Indian people are very artistic as a whole. We are also very non-verbal, and so I think dance is a perfect expression of the Indian soul."

Moscelyne Larkin, Marjorie Tallchief, Maria Tallchief, Rosella Hightower, Yvonne Chouteau with Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating in 1997.

Marjorie Tallchief and Yvonne Chouteau are now the only surviving members of the Five Moons. They are a national treasure and part of the beauty of my home state's history and culture. Rest in peace, Maria Tallchief.


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