Maria Tallchief (1925-2013), the first American prima ballerina, was born in Fairfax, Oklahoma on the Osage Nation reservation. When she and her sister showed promise as dance students, the family moved to California with hopes that the sisters could get into Hollywood musicals. That didn’t happen but Tallchief had the opportunity to study with renowned choreographer Bronislava Nijinska along with other distinguished ballet teachers who visited Los Angeles.
After graduating from high school, Tallchief moved to New York City where she was hired by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo whose choreographer George Ballentine cast her in important roles. As a member of the New York City Ballet, Tallchief was the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker, the Swan Queen in Swan Lake and the lead in The Firebird. After retiring from dancing, Tallchief moved to Chicago where she served as the director of ballet for the Lyric Opera of Chicago. She founded the Lyric Opera’s ballet school as well as the Chicago City Ballet.
Throughout her life, Tallchief maintained ties to the Osage nation. Early in her career when American ballerinas were adopting Russian-sounding names, she was urged to change her name to Tallchieva. Tallchief not only refused but became known for speaking out against stereotypes and misconceptions about Native Americans.
Why this stop? The Washington/Wells station is a block away from the Lyric Opera House.
Listen to Maria Tallchief describe her experience dancing in The Firebird under George Balanchine’s direction.