Great Performances mourns the passing of Maria Tallchief, a Native American who grew up on an Indian reservation and later became a world famous prima ballerina. She died in Chicago at the age of 88.
She had studied with Ernest Belcher (father of dancer Marge Champion) and with Bronislava Nijinska, formerly of Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes.
She is best known for her work with the New York City Ballet, from the company’s founding in 1947 to 1960. While with NYCB, she originated many parts for choreographer George Balanchine, including the role of the Sugarplum Fairy in his version of The Nutcracker. She and Balanchine were married from 1946 to 1950.
She appeared in the 1990 Great Performances program “Dancing for Mr. B: Six Balanchine Ballerinas.”
She published an autobiography (co-written with Larry Kaplan) in 1997 entitled “Maria Tallchief: America’s Prima Ballerina.”