Maria Tallchief Dead at 88, Dance World Mourns Loss of First American Prima Ballerina

By Logan K. Young on Apr 12, 2013 03:44 PM EDT

Born Elizabeth Maria Tallchief in Fairfax, Oklahoma in 1925, Maria Tallchief died of pancreatic cancer at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago on April 11.

Tallchief, considered by many the first American prima ballerina, was 88. Her daughter, the poet Elise Paschen, confirmed the passing. 

A vital figure in 20th century dance, Tallchief danced professionally for over 23 years, serving as both wife and muse for the choreographer George Balanchine. In fact, the role that catapulted her to stardom came by way of the 1949 version of Stravinsky's Firebird

"What an extraordinary career Maria had," said Ashley Wheater, artistic director of the Joffrey Ballet. "She really paved the way for dancers who were not in the traditional mold of ballet. And reaching such a high rank, she was crucial in breaking the stigma."

Tallchief's mother was Scottish-Irish, while her father, Alexander Tallchief, was indeed a chief in the Osage Nation. Her great-grandfather, Peter Bigheart, was a crucial figure in the negotiations of oil revenues for the Osage tribe. 

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TagsMaria Tallchief, obituary, prima ballerina

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