MARIA TALLCHIEF by Maria Tallchief


America's Prima Ballerina
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 The tastefully yet candidly told life story of one of America's most gifted dancers, a former wife of George Balanchine. Tallchief was born Elizabeth Marie Tall Chief in 1925, to an alcoholic but loving Osage Indian father and a white mother in small-town Oklahoma. When the family moved to Los Angeles, she began studying ballet with Bronislava Nijinska (``It was from Madame Nijinska that I first understood that the dancer's soul is in the middle of the body''). Tallchief joined the Ballet Russe while still a teenager and changed her name to Maria at the suggestion of Agnes de Mille. She first worked with Balanchine in 1944, when he was hired as a choreographer by the Ballet Russe. A year later, the much older man of few words shocked her by saying casually that ``I would like you to become my wife.'' Although this collaboration between Tallchief and ghostwriter Kaplan (Prodigal Son, 1992) does not include much about Tallchief's firsthand view of Balanchine's revisionary classical technique, the book abounds with droll tales and with detailed descriptions of her roles in Balanchine's The Firebird, The Nutcracker, Orpheus, and Sylvia, among others. She chronicles, too sketchily, doings among her famous fellow dancers at the New York City Ballet. Her marriage to Balanchine ended in an annulment. Tallchief is equally frank and lively in describing her career after Balanchines, including an affair with the nubile Rudolf Nureyev. (``I taught him the twist . . . he picked it up right away.'') She also offers penetrating, if tactful, criticism of NYCB's post-Balanchine regime: ``The irony of George's remark that `ballet is woman' is that today most of the companies in the world are being run by men . . . the contribution former Balanchine ballerinas can make, ballerinas who worked directly with George and who created their roles, isn't being valued, not even in George's own company.'' What would happen, one wonders, if this remarkable woman were running things? (32 pages photos, not seen)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-8050-3302-5
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1997


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