Osage County Native, Prima Ballerina Maria Tallchief Dies - NewsOn6.com - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - KOTV.com |

Osage County Native, Prima Ballerina Maria Tallchief Dies In Chicago

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Maria Tallchief, a legendary ballerina and American Indian royalty, died at the age of 88 on Thursday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. [File photo] Maria Tallchief, a legendary ballerina and American Indian royalty, died at the age of 88 on Thursday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. [File photo]
Maria Tallchief was hailed as one of the 20th century's greatest ballerinas. [AP photos] Maria Tallchief was hailed as one of the 20th century's greatest ballerinas. [AP photos]
CHICAGO -

Oklahoma treasure Maria Tallchief has died, the Chicago Tribune is reporting.

Tallchief, who grew up on Osage tribal land in Oklahoma and is the granddaughter of legendary Osage Chief Big Heart, was hailed as one of the 20th century's greatest ballerinas.

She died at the age of 88 on Thursday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, family members told the newspaper.

"My mother was a ballet legend, who was proud of her Osage heritage," her daughter, Elise Paschen, an award-winning poet, said in a statement to the 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."

A public memorial will be announced at a later date, and the burial will be private.

In a 2008 interview, Tallchief talked about the pride she has for her American Indian heritage.

"I'm very proud of my Indian heritage," Tallchief said. "I think it is an innate quality that Indians have to dance. They dance when they are happy; they dance when they are sad. They dance when they get married; they dance when someone dies."

5/6/2008 Related VIDEO: Prima Ballerina Maria Tallchief Remembers Oklahoma Roots

5/6/2008 Related Story: Prima Ballerina Maria Tallchief Remembers Oklahoma Roots

An excerpt of Tallchief's obituary published by the Tribune follows:

"Elizabeth Marie Tall Chief was born on Jan. 24, 1925 in Fairfax, Okla., a small town in Indian reservation country, a territory covering hundreds of miles of Osage tribal lands, rich with oil. Her mother had moved west from Kansas to become the second wife of her father, Alexander Joseph Tall Chief, a widower with three children.

 

The Tall Chiefs were a family with noble traditions. Her grandfather, Chief Big Heart, had served as a negotiator for the tribe's treaties with the United States government. Her paternal grandmother, Eliza, later led her awed granddaughter, known then as Betty Marie, to watch Osage ceremonial dances, grand spectacles of movement, fervor and deep cultural meaning.

 

Her father turned his share of the Osage oil millions into profitable real-estate ventures. He owned the local movie theater, pool hall and ice-cream stand. From her mother, Tall Chief acquired a strong sense of discipline and a love of learning.

 

She was playing the piano at 3. At 4, she was taking ballet lessons from a Tulsa teacher who drove to Fairfax twice a week. At 5, to the horror of her later ballet masters, she put on toes shoes and twirled round and round with her sister, Marjorie, younger by 21 months, until she was dizzy.

 

When Betty Marie was 8, the Tall Chief family set out for California. Besides sunshine and year-round golf, which father Tall Chief liked, there were good ballet schools.

 

Later, she studied with Bronislava Nijinska, sister of the legendary Nijinsky. "Madame spoke no English, but you could feel her greatness," Tallchief later said. "She would mumble something, and her husband would say, 'You are like spaghetti. You must pull, pull.' She was kind, but very intense."

At 15, she made her debut: "Chopin Concerto," which she danced in the Hollywood Bowl with another talented youngster, Cyd Charisse. To her chagrin, young Tall Chief slipped. But Nijinska shrugged it off, noting "Happens to everybody.'' But for that, the evening was considered promising.

 

In 1942, Maria, a grave, almost dreamy child, with what some called "a touching dignity,'' graduated from Beverly Hills High School. She also danced in the corps de ballet of an MGM musical, "Presenting Lily Mars." That summer, an old family friend, Tatiana Riabouchinska, wife of choreographer David Lichine, wondered if Maria would like to go to New York? ... "


To read the rest of the Chicago Tribune's obituary, click here.

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