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Ballerina Maria Tallchief dead at 88

April 12, 2013 at 6:40 PM   |   Comments

CHICAGO, April 12 (UPI) -- American ballerina Maria Tallchief, former wife and muse of choreographer George Balanchine, has died in Chicago, her daughter, poet Elise Paschen, said Friday.

She was 88.

The New York Times said the famed dancer died Thursday, but the newspaper did not report the cause of her death.

Considered the most technically accomplished ballerina ever produced by the United States during the height of her career with the New York City Ballet, Tallchief danced with the company under Balanchine for 18 years and for two years was its prima ballerina.

She was the wife of Balanchine, one of the world's foremost choreographers, from August 1946 until their divorce in 1952.

She was a slender woman with chiseled facial features that underlined her American Indian ancestry. Her father was an Osage Indian and her mother was Scotch-Irish, and she was born on an Osage reservation in Oklahoma on Jan. 24, 1925.

During her childhood she studied both piano and dance but gave up the keyboard to concentrate on the requirements of a ballerina. Among her teachers were Bronislava Nijinska and David Lichine.

In 1942, Miss Tallchief, still in her teens, joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and spent the next five years building a reputation as a ballerina.

She also created dancing roles for two Balanchine ballets, "Danses concertantes" and "Night Shadow." She and Balanchine left the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1947 to appear as guests in other companies. Later that year they joined the Ballet Society, the forerunner of the New York City Ballet.

Tallchief specialized in the ballets composed or choreographed by Balanchine, including Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" and "The Nutcracker." She also danced in such American creations as Jerome Robbins' "The Guests" and Tony Tudor's "Jardin aux Lilas."

After her retirement from the New York City Ballet in 1960, Tallchief moved to Chicago where she served as artistic director of the Lyric Ballet from 1973-79.

She and her sister Marjorie founded the Chicago City Ballet in 1981 and she served as its artistic director until 1987. She was the artistic adviser to Von Heidecke's Chicago Festival Ballet from 1990 until her death.

In 1996, she was recognized with a Kennedy Center Honor.

She is survived by her daughter, sister and two grandchildren, the Times said.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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