Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Maria Tallchief, Dazzling Ballerina, Dies at 88 -

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Maria Tallchief, a daughter of an Oklahoma oil family who grew up on an Indian reservation, found her way to New York and became one of the most brilliant American ballerinas of the 20th century, died on Thursday in Chicago. She was 88.
She was born Elizabeth Marie Tall Chief on Jan. 24, 1925 in a small hospital in Fairfax, Okla. Her father, Alexander Joseph Tall Chief, was a 6-foot-2 full-blooded Osage Indian whom his daughters idolized and women found strikingly handsome, Ms. Tallchief later wrote. (She and her sister joined their surnames when they began dancing professionally.)Maria Tallchief, Dazzling Ballerina, Dies at 88 - NYTimes.comHer daughter, the poet Elise Paschen, confirmed the death. Ms. Tallchief lived in Chicago.
A former wife and muse of the choreographer George Balanchine, Ms. Tallchief achieved renown with Balanchine’s New York City Ballet, dazzling audiences with her speed, energy and fire. Indeed, the part that catapulted her to acclaim, in 1949, was the title role in the company’s version of Stravinsky’s “Firebird,” one of many that Balanchine created for her.
The choreographer Jacques d’Amboise, who was a 15-year-old corps dancer in Balanchine’s “Firebird” before becoming one of City Ballet’s stars, compared Ms. Tallchief to two of the century’s greatest ballerinas: Galina Ulanova of the Soviet Union and Margot Fonteyn of Britain.
“When you thought of Russian ballet, it was Ulanova,” he said an interview on Friday. “With English ballet, it was Fonteyn. For American ballet, it was Tallchief. She was grand in the grandest way.”
A daughter of an Osage Indian father and a Scottish-Irish mother, Ms. Tallchief left Oklahoma at an early age, but she was long associated with the state nevertheless. She was one of five dancers of Indian heritage, all born at roughly the same time, who came to be called the Oklahoma Indian ballerinas: the others included her younger sister, Marjorie Tallchief, as well as Rosella Hightower, Moscelyne Larkin and Yvonne Chouteau.
Growing up at a time when many American dancers adopted Russian stage names, Ms. Tallchief, proud of her Indian heritage, refused to do so, even though friends told her that it would be easy to transform Tallchief into Tallchieva.
She was born Elizabeth Marie Tall Chief on Jan. 24, 1925 in a small hospital in Fairfax, Okla. Her father, Alexander Joseph Tall Chief, was a 6-foot-2 full-blooded Osage Indian whom his daughters idolized and women found strikingly handsome, Ms. Tallchief later wrote. (She and her sister joined their surnames when they began dancing professionally.)
Her mother, the former Ruth Porter, met Mr. Tall Chief, a widower, while visiting her sister, who was a cook and housekeeper for Mr. Tall Chief’s mother.
“When Daddy was a boy, oil was discovered on Osage land, and overnight the tribe became rich,” Ms. Tallchief recounted in “Maria Tallchief: America’s Prima Ballerina,” her 1997 autobiography written with Larry Kaplan. “As a young girl growing up on the Osage reservation in Fairfax, Okla., I felt my father owned the town. He had property everywhere. The local movie theater on Main Street, and the pool hall opposite, belonged to him. Our 10-room, terracotta-brick house stood high on a hill overlooking the reservation.”
She had her first ballet lessons in Colorado Springs, where the family had a summer home. She also studied piano and, blessed with perfect pitch, contemplated becoming a concert pianist.
But dance occupied her attention after the family, feeling confined in Oklahoma, moved to Los Angeles when she was 8. The day they arrived, her mother took her daughters into a drugstore for a snack at the soda fountain. While waiting for their order, Mrs. Tall Chief chatted with a druggist and asked him if he knew of a good dancing teacher. He recommended Ernest Belcher.
As Ms. Tallchief recalled in her memoir, “An anonymous man in an unfamiliar town decided our fate with those few words.”
Mr. Belcher, the father of the television and film star Marge Champion, was an excellent teacher, and Ms. Tallchief soon realized that her training in Oklahoma had been potentially ruinous to her limbs. At 12 she started studies with Bronislava Nijinska, a former choreographer for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, who had opened a studio in Los Angeles.
Nijinska, a formidable pedagogue, gave Ms. Tallchief special encouragement. But she also had classes with other distinguished teachers who passed through Los Angeles. One, Tatiana Riabouchinska, became her chaperon on a trip to New York City, which, since the outbreak of World War II, had become the base of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, a leading touring company. She joined the troupe in 1942.
Nijinska, one of its choreographers, cast her in some of her ballets. But Ms. Tallchief also danced in Agnes de Mille’s “Rodeo,"a pioneering example of balletic Americana. It was de Mille who suggested that Elizabeth Marie make Maria Tallchief her professional name. Her sister, who survives her, went on to achieve fame mostly in Europe.
In the summer of 1944, the entire Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo served as the dance ensemble for"Song of Norway,"a Broadway musical based on the life and music of Grieg, with choreography by Balanchine. And Balanchine remained as a resident choreographer for the company, casting Ms. Tallchief in works like “Danses Concertantes,""Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme,""Ballet Imperial” and “Le Baiser de la Fee.”
Balanchine paid increasing attention to Ms. Tallchief, and she became increasingly fond of him, admiring him as a choreographic genius and liking him as a courtly, sophisticated friend. Yet it came as an utter surprise when he asked her to marry him. After careful thought, she agreed, and they were married on Aug. 16, 1946.
It was an unusual marriage. As she wrote in her autobiography: “Passion and romance didn’t play a big part in our married life. We saved our emotions for the classroom.” Yet, she added, “George was a warm, affectionate, loving husband.”
Ms. Tallchief had become a prominent soloist at the Monte Carlo company. But Balanchine wanted a company of his own. In 1946, he and the arts patron Lincoln Kirstein established Ballet Society, which presented a series of subscription performances; it was a direct forerunner of today’s City Ballet.
At the time, Ms. Tallchief was still a member of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, and she remained with it until her contract expired. Then she went to Paris, where Balanchine had agreed to stage productions for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1947. In her autobiography, she speculated that because Balanchine was a Francophile he might have felt tempted to remain in Paris, but that the intrigues riddling the Paris Opera drove him to leave and return to America.
Balanchine then devoted himself to the City Ballet, which gave its first performance under that name on Oct. 11, 1948. Ms. Tallchief was soon acclaimed as one of its stars.
In addition to “Firebird,” Balanchine created many striking roles for her, including those of the Swan Queen in his version of “Swan Lake,” the Sugar Plum Fairy in his version of “The Nutcracker,” Eurydice in"Orpheus"and principal roles in plotless works like “Sylvia Pas de Deux,” “Allegro Brillante,” “Pas de Dix” and “Scotch Symphony.”
After she and Balanchine were divorced in 1950, she remained with City Ballet until 1965. But she also took time off to dance with other companies, and she portrayed Anna Pavlova in"Million Dollar Mermaid,"a 1952 MGM extravaganza starringEsther Williamsas the swimmer and actress Annette Kellerman.
She returned to the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1954-55, receiving a salary of $2,000 a week, reportedly the highest salary paid any dancer at that time. When she appeared with American Ballet Theater, in 1960-62, she showed she could be an exponent of dramatic as well as abstract ballets. She was cast in such varied parts as the neurotic title role of Birgit Cullberg’s"Miss Julie” and Caroline, the melancholy heroine of Antony Tudor’s “Jardin aux Lilas,” who must enter into a marriage of convenience with a man she does not love.
At City Ballet, Ms. Tallchief’s partners included AndrĂ© Eglevsky, Erik Bruhn and Nicholas Magallanes. She appeared withRudolf Nureyevon television and on tour in Europe and made guest appearances with Ruth Page’s Chicago Opera Ballet, the San Francisco Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet and the Hamburg Ballet. One of her last roles was the title role in Peter van Dyk’s “Cinderella” for the Hamburg company in 1966. She retired from the stage soon afterward.
Then Ms. Tallchief became part of dance life in Chicago. She founded the ballet school of the Lyric Opera there in the mid-1970s and was the artistic director of the Chicago City Ballet, which presented its first season in 1981. More successful as a teacher than as a director, she resigned from the post in 1987.
Among her honors, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and received a Kennedy Center Honor in 1996.
Ms. Tallchief was married to Elmourza Natirboff, an aviator, from 1952 to 1954. In 1956 she married Henry Paschen, who eventually became president of his family’s business, Paschen Contractors, in Chicago.
Besides her daughter, Ms. Paschen, and her sister, her survivors include two grandchildren.
Ms. Tallchief remained closely identified with her Osage lineage long after she found fame and glamour in Paris and New York, and she bridled at the enduring stereotypes and misconceptions many held about American Indians. Recalling her youth in her memoir, she wrote of a dance routine that she and her sister were asked to perform at Oklahoma country fairs, making both of them “self-conscious.”
“It wasn’t remotely authentic,” she wrote. “Traditionally, women didn’t dance in Indian tribal ceremonies. But I had toe shoes on under my moccasins, and we both wore fringed buckskin outfits, headbands with feathers, and bells on our legs. We’d enter from opposite wings, greet each other, and start moving to a tom-tom rhythm.”
The performance ended with Marjorie performing “no-handed back-flip somersaults.”
“In the end,” she added, “we stopped doing the routine because we outgrew the costumes. I was relieved when we put those bells away for good.”

Freedom for California's Indians -

On April 27, 1863, nearly five months after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, California abolished its system of forced apprenticeship for American Indians. Under the apprenticeship provisions of the state’s Act for the Government and Protection of Indians, several thousand California Indians, mostly children, had suffered kidnapping, sale and involuntary servitude for over a decade.
Newly elected California Republicans, eager to bring California in line with the national march toward emancipation, agitated for two years in the early 1860s to repeal Indian apprenticeship. And yet those Republicans’ limited vision of Indian freedom — one in which Indians would be free to reap the fruits of their labor, but not free from the duty to labor altogether — made for an incomplete Indian Emancipation Proclamation. Although California was distant from the battlefields of the Civil War, the state endured its own struggle over freedom that paralleled that of the North and the South.
The Republican campaign to abolish Indian servitude ran up against nearly a century of coerced Indian labor in California. Under Spanish and Mexican rule, thousands of California Indians worked on missions and ranches, bound to their employment through a combination of economic necessity, captivity, physical compulsion and debt.
With the United States’ conquest of California in 1847, the discovery of gold in 1848 and the formation of a state government in 1849, new American lawmakers expanded and formalized Indian servitude to meet growing demands for labor. The 1850 Act for the Government and Protection of Indians authorized whites to hold Indian children as wards until they reached adulthood. Indian adults convicted of vagrancy or other crimes could be forced to work for whites who paid their bail.
Skyrocketing demand for farmworkers and domestic servants, combined with violence between Indians and invading whites in the northwestern part of the state, left Democrats in war-torn counties clamoring for the expansion of the 1850 Indian act. A “general system of peonage or apprenticeship” was the only way to quell Indian wars, one Democrat argued. A stint of involuntary labor would civilize Indians, establish them in “permanent and comfortable homes,” and provide white settlers with “profitable and convenient servants.” In 1860, Democrats proposed new amendments to the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians that allowed whites to bind Indian children as apprentices until they reached their mid-20s. Indian adults accused of being vagrants without steady employment, or taken as captives of war, could be apprenticed for 10-year terms. The amendments passed with little debate.
As the nation hurtled toward a war over slavery, Californians watched as their own state became a battleground over the future of human bondage. Apprenticeship laws aimed at “civilizing” the state’s Indian encouraged a robust and horrific slave trade in the northwestern counties. Frontier whites eagerly paid from $50 to $100 for Indian children to apprentice. Groups of kidnappers, dubbed “baby hunters” in the California press, supplied this market by attacking isolated Indian villages and snatching up children in the chaos of battle. Some assailants murdered Indian parents who refused to give up their children.
Once deposited in white homes, captive apprentices often suffered abuse and neglect. The death of Rosa, a 10-year-old apprentice from either the Yuki or Pomo tribes, provides a grim case in point. Just two weeks before the repeal of Indian apprenticeship, the Mendocino County coroner found the dead girl “nearly naked, lying in a box out of doors” next to the home of her mistress, a Mrs. Bassett of Ukiah. Neighbors testified that the child was sick and restless and that Basset shut her out of the house in the middle of a raging snowstorm. Huge bruises on Rosa’s abdomen suggested that Bassett had mercilessly beaten the ill child before tossing her out into the blizzard. Mendocino officials never brought charges in the case.
The horrors of kidnapping and apprenticeship filled the state’s newspapers just as antislavery California Republicans swept into power in 1861-2. Republicans assailed the apprentice system and blamed Democrats for the “abominable system of Indian apprenticeship, which has been used as a means of introducing actual slavery into our free State.” George Hanson, an Illinois Republican whose close relationship with Abraham Lincoln earned him an appointment as Northern California’s superintendent of Indian affairs, vowed to eliminate the state’s “unholy traffic in human blood and souls.” He tracked down and prosecuted kidnappers in the northwestern counties (with mixed success) and petitioned the State Legislature to abolish the apprenticeship system.
In 1862, Republican legislators proposed two new measures to overturn the 1860 apprenticeship amendments. Democrats blocked these bills and insisted that apprenticeship “embodied one of the most important measures” for Indians’ “improvement and civilization.” Indian servitude lived on.
By the time the legislature met again in the spring of 1863, however, all signs pointed to the destruction of the apprenticeship system. Republicans won firm majorities in both houses of the State Legislature, and in January California became the first state to endorse Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Republicans again proposed to repeal the apprenticeship amendments, and this time they achieved their goal with no debate or dissent. Involuntary labor for American Indians died quietly.
The incomplete nature of Indian emancipation in California reflected Republicans’ own ambivalence toward Indian freedom. Most Republicans opposed the kidnapping and enslavement of Indians. They believed that Indians, like former African-American slaves, should be entitled to reap the economic rewards of their own work. On the other hand, they asserted that the key to “civilizing” Indians was to force them to participate in the California labor market. They could not be free to support themselves through traditional mobile hunting and gathering practices that removed their labor from white supervision and tied up valuable natural resources. Such a lifestyle was, in Republicans’ minds, little more than idle vagrancy. Just as their Republican colleagues on the East Coast argued that ex-slaves should be schooled to labor by being bound to plantation wage work through long-term contracts, California Republicans began to advocate compulsory labor as the only way to cure Indian vagrancy.Or did it? Republicans had eliminated all the 1860 amendments authorizing the forced apprenticeship of American Indians. But they had left intact sections of the original 1850 act that mandated the forcible binding out of Indian convicts and vagrants. Moreover, repeal only prevented future apprenticeships; Republican legislation did not liberate Indians already legally apprenticed. After repeal, as many as 6,000 Indian children remained servants in white homes.
The Republican vision for Indian freedom quickly took shape after the Civil War. Republican appointees who oversaw California’s Indian reservations compelled all able-bodied Indians to work on the reservation farms. Those who refused, or who pursued native food-gathering practices, forfeited the meager federal rations allotted to reservation Indians. By 1867, one Republican agent declared that “the hoe and the broadaxe will sooner civilize and Christianize than the spelling book and the Bible.” He advocated forcing Indians to work until they had been “humanized by systematic labor.” These policies persisted long after the war. At Round Valley Reservation, one critic observed in 1874 that “compulsion is used to keep the Indians and to drive them to work.” Indian workers received no payment for “labor and no opportunity to accumulate individual property.”
The ambiguous postwar liberty of California Indians reveals that the Civil War was a transcontinental conflict that reached west to the Pacific. The freedoms won in wartime, and the unfulfilled promises of emancipation, encompassed not only black and white, free and slave, but also American Indian peoples who suffered from distinctly Western systems of unfree labor. The Civil War and Reconstruction are best understood as truly national struggles over the meaning and limits of freedom, north, south and west.