The world is a colder place today: Maria Tallchief has died at the age of 88 at her home in Chicago. She was a dance legend, and one of the few given the title of Primadonna Assoluta. However, the most important part of her story is that she was not only one of the first American ballerinas to achieve international stardom, but she was of Native American decent. She came from the Osage Nation, a Native-American Siouan-speaking tribe that originated in the Ohio River valley in present-day Kentucky.
Tallchief quickly rose to prominence in the 1940s and was a prima ballerina through the early 1960s, dazzling the entire world. She retired in 1965, when she started teaching the next generation of dancers.
"My mother was a ballet legend, who was proud of her Osage heritage," her daughter said to the Chicago Tribune. "Her dynamic presence lit up the room. I will miss her passion, commitment to her art and devotion to her family. She raised the bar high and strove for excellence in everything she did."
Tallchief began her career at the age of 17 and early in her career danced with the Ballet Russe de Monte. However, she was best known for the roles she created after 1947 in many of Balanchine's ballets, such as "Orpheus" in 1948, and "Scotch Symphony" in 1952. She was the Sugar Plum Fairy in his original production of The Nutcracker in 1954. Their partnership was more than artistic: she was Balanchine's wife for some years.
Reached by phone, von Heidecke had this to say. "She was a great inspiration to the whole world. As an artist, she reached the highest level of technical abilities, but she was able to transcend dancing and become the character she was portraying. Ballets went through a period of trying to achieve the supernatural, appearing to float and be other worldly. Giselle and La Sylphide are examples. She achieved this with no apparent effort, but she would actually break it down onto the mechanical and physical requirements for us so we could learn."
When Tallchief retired from the stage, she moved to Chicago to take over the directorship of the Chicago Lyric Opera Ballet from 1973 to 1979. In 1981, she founded the Chicago City Ballet and served as its artistic director until 1987. From 1990 until her death she was artistic advisor to Kenneth Von Heidecke's Chicago Festival Ballet. Heidecke has been to Dallas frequently to choreograph for the Dallas Opera, most recently for the spectacular production of Aida earlier this season.
Maria Tallchief died in Chicago on April 11, 2013
She was survived by her sister, daughter and two grandchildren.
She is mourned by the world.