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Maria Tallchief once said, “A ballerina takes steps given to her and makes them her own. As an American, I believe in great individualism. That’s the way I was brought up.”
Born on an Osage reservation, she studied with renowned dancer Bronislava Nijinksa after her family moved to Los Angeles. In the 1940s, Tallchief became one of America’s leading ballerinas, known for her dazzling technique and passion. She performed with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and then with George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet. She was briefly married to Balanchine, and two of his legendary choreographies, The Firebird and The Nutcracker, were created for her: she embodied the sleek athleticism that was his signature.
Tallchief joined the American Ballet Theatre in 1960 and was Rudolf Nureyev’s partner for his 1962 American television debut. She later founded the Chicago City Ballet.